Friday, December 31, 2010

Merci 2010

To celebrate the ringing in of the new year I thought I'd compile a list of my own--my list of funny, weird, stupid and happy moments. 2011?  How did we get here?

Packing up the family and finally moving to France after the 5+ years of planning. I still remember sitting in our little cantaloupe colored office in Austin looking at jobs in the South of France...

Being told off by the French neighbor in our hotel in Lyon after our very first night in France. My kids are apparently 'unbelievably loud, like nothing he'd seen in all his travels through England'. Whew, he thought we were English.

The freak March snow that thrilled the kids and stranded us up on top of the hill in the beautiful village of Sommieres.

Not realizing that stores are all closed on Sundays with the exception of a small few that are open in the mornings. And yes, matin is morning, not afternoon and ouverture non-stop means they're open through lunch and nothing more. I've learned some French and then some people.

I filled up the rental car's diesel tank with gas. You know all about it.

We have a tiny, postage stamp swimming pool but the kids don't mind. Neither do Canadians.

Summer here is bliss. The perfect temperature for my once pasty-white Ireland skin and Texas heart.

Paillotes are these amazing bar and restaurant structures built right on the beach where you can spend an afternoon sipping cool drinks and eating food while baring your boobies on the beach.

I tried and failed at six weeks of home school while we looked for our permanent house.

All three kids, esp the big ones, soared in all French school and I can't begin to tell you how happy this has made me.

French is a beautiful, complex and wonderfully frustrating language.

My kids are learning it faster than me.

I really don't like escargots. But I do like wine...even from a box.

I've made some fantastic cyber-friends thanks to this blog and knowing them and that they're here doing all this too makes me feel less alone.

I've watched as my dark blonde, fish-belly white trio turned a burnished gold with hair the color of  farine
I made boeuf bourguignon, oeufs mollet en croute, foie gras canapes and a cheese souffle

I have talked to the postman, electrician, chimney sweep, appliance salesman, van rental, pool cleaner, estate agent, principal, kids' teachers, insurance agent, dentist, doctor, gas attendant, tow truck driver and mechanic, tennis instructor, football coach, horse riding instructor, pizza guy, car dealership and restaurant staff in French.

I enjoy cooking here even more than I usually do....maybe it has something to do with the wine.

I love having friends and family visit more than you can ever know. Thanks Mom, Denice, Abby and Annabel.

It's strange to think of a place where I can speak English just right out to everyone. It's like my whole life before this was spent in a dream of ease and understanding.

I met my guardian angel in the form of a group of French Muslim women in the Ikea parking garage. 

And finally, I'm thankful to all of you who still read this and who encourage me with your comments, kindness and support.

What's on your list?
I wish you all the best in the coming year and a heart full of wonderful memories of 2010.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For the Birds

To be honest I am quite tired of eating birds. All varieties and in their many guises; thick slices of their fattened livers served on toasted fig bread, shredded and spread on white American bread, stuffed with more bird parts and mystery berries and simply roasted. I honestly never thought I'd eat so much bird. I'm not a huge fan of the turkey anyway and roast chickens are a weekday meal. Me, I much prefer the ham.
Oh, ham where have you gone? I'd give a hundred blocks of foie gras for one good spiral cut honey-baked ham right now. I tried to make my own but all I could find was a shank of pork (jarret de porc) which I had to google translate in the grocery store to figure out what it was. It looked kinda like a ham in that it had a bone in the middle and a big cover of fat perfect for scoring and studding with cloves. I bought one to practice with and got sidetracked by a recipe for pork shank with lentils. It was delicious but not really 'hammy'. I'll post the recipe here for you soon. I pushed my doubts aside, bought another one and decided to follow a recipe that recommended brining the pork shank and then roasting with a glaze to serve alongside the duckling for the Christmas meal.
I let it sit in salty, brown sugary water for 24 hours, roasted it, basting with brown sugar and apple cider vinegar glaze every 20 minutes. And it still wasn't the real deal. Instead of being hammy pink it was dull brown. More like a pork tenderloin that had been soaked in water than a ham. All that brine and baste action turned out to be a waste of time.
Can someone please send  me an idea on where to find a proper cut of ham? I will cook that bad boy in Cherry Coke in no time flat and be in hog heaven.

 Because of this culinary disappointment and longing for familiar foods I've been dissatisfied food-wise lately. I know I'm surrounded by all this genius, gastronomic beauty and tastebud tingling perfection and that's wonderful. Fine and good; a discovery and enjoyment all its own. But I've been looking for something I know. Tastes from home and not the junk food that we all make fun of either. The real things you can only find regionally like Christmas tamales, homemade with love and celebration in Mexican-American kitchens, bbq brisket with tangy sauce poured over it and served with warm potato salad and coleslaw from The Salt Lick, and yes,of course, ham; a big one. Along with cranberries, pecans, cornbread, cheddar cheese, jalapeno peppers, bagels, evaporated milk for baking, Karo syrup and pumpkin all nice and handy from a can.

 It was with these cravings and the need to redeem my sad excuse for Christmas ham that I decided to make a brisket. And so began my search. I googled translation for brisket to French and found that yes, it is a cut here and it's called poitrine de boeuf. On a side note, did you know that bacon as we know it is also called poitrine?  So far so good. I went to the butcher, they were closed. I went to one grocery store and all they had was what looked like beef short ribs. I went to another, bigger grocery store with a butcher counter (it was closed) and had a look through their meat section ignoring the cheval. I was rewarded with a pack of meat called 'poitrine de boeuf a pot au feu'. It was a selection of one piece of smallish brisket looking meat and two big chunks that had bones and were some kind of shank. Again with the shank.
So, I bought the pack and went home to slow cook my faux brisket.
I knew I couldn't do it Texas bbq style because Liquid Smoke does not exist here and really it's a bit scary in a way isn't it? Leave that to the professionals with smoke pits for the authentic hit of pungent, woody flavor.
My goal was simply to make a slow-cooked, well-seasoned beef stew of sorts. A balm for all this rich, fatty bird spiked with fruit and booze we've been eating. And this is what it evolved into. Pot au feu a l'Americaine, if you will. Meat with carrots, onions, celery and bay leaves cooked for 4 hours with a bit of red wine and tomato paste. It was good. The family loved it and it was nice to have something homey to sop up the white thick-cut bread that you can find here.
And if this makes you think that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about food then you'd be correct. We've got to eat. It should be delicious, satisfying and scratch the itch of craving if at all possible.
My ham bone is itching something fierce.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Bubble Remains Intact, For Now

As we prepare for another Christmas morning it makes me think of Christmases past. For one thing, the belief in the Big Guy is still strong in spite of nonbelievers aplenty at French school. Ma Fille  and the Middlest have come home wondering why they don't believe here. While the Middlest lets it sail right by him it seems like ma Fille is believing even harder just to make it so. Plus we have the Baby to think of; at two we've many more years of magic to keep alive.

One year in Ireland we went to visit Santa Claus at a Christmas festival. The big kids were much younger then but had come to terms with the fact that Santa uses a lot of helpers for things such as this....he can't be expected to be at all those malls, fairs and festivals himself. Not when there's so much work to be done. Our particular Santa that day was a jovial, sparkly eyed Irishman with a genuine white beard who played his part well. He seemed to truly enjoy being Mr O'Nick and was a far cry from some of the bargain basement Santas you'll find around; the ones who smoke on their break, banging the soles of their black boots together as they shuffle to keep off the chill and itching under their synthetic beards. This Santa was decreed to be The One and the deciding factor was that his breath smelled like hot chocolate. How can we not believe when we've actually met him?!
We've another year with all three children feeling the magic of Santa's visit, the crackle of anticipation and excitement that can only be found in a child's imagination still charges through our house, intact and sizzling; for now at least.

I wrote the following post last year in Ireland and it is even more true now so I thought I'd repost it for you this year.
I hope your holiday is full of love, kindness, excitement and joy. No matter how you celebrate it. All the best from me to you.

This year was the biggest year for Santa in our house. It is as if the 7 almost 8 year old believes even more fervently than ever before in order to keep it true. Of course the kids talk in the yard. They ask questions, wondering: how could a bike really fit through the chimney….and how does the alarm not go off when Santa creeps in….and why does my guitar say, 'made in China'?

To all of these questions we answer, it's magic. And Santa has elves in China. I was kicking myself for not taking off that little gold sticker! The magic part is real to me. Only if you believe will Santa come to see you. I even believe in him when I am sneaking upstairs holding my breath, to retrieve the hidden crocodile in my closet. It is Santa's magic that keeps them asleep, keeps them from hearing the Elmo cry out, "Elmo needs a hug!" and muffles the deafening sound of that horrible thick plastic they like to ensconce toys in these days.

So, they believe because we believe and none of us want this beautiful bubble of childhood to burst.

At the park on the Sunday then, you can imagine my horror as a woman we were talking to wielded a sharp bubble bursting pin. She didn't mean to, but her comments made me want to grab Ma Fille by the arm and start running, singing la,la,la,la,laaaaa at the top of my lungs to distract her. Of course that would have been silly so instead I screwed up my eyes at the lady then opened them wide, then gave her a creepy smile and a subtle jerk of the head in my innocent daughter's direction.

The whole thing was simply a misunderstanding. The lady in question is from Slovakia and what I didn't know but found out on Sunday, is that in Slovakia they believe that Jesus himself delivers the toys to children on Christmas Eve. She was telling us this interesting bit of anthropological trivia, never thinking that it could call into question our Santa belief. After my bizarre motioning and grimacing she realized and started backtracking.

"Different places believe different things but Santa still brings our Christmas presents." And that was that--bubble intact, floating along iridescent and pure—for at least another year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Seasonal Sunday--Clementines with Dates & Sugared, Spiced Marscapone

It's raining and very cold and grey today in the South of France. If it were a few degrees colder we'd be watching snow fall but to the childrens' great displeasure all the snow is in other parts of France.
What I need is a bit of sunshine and since it's not coming from the sky I've decided to make my own with one of my favorite Christmas treats; clementines with dates and sugared, spiced marscapone cheese. I adapted this from a Martha Stewart Living recipe card years ago. It's Christmas in your mouth. Droplets of sweet sunshine.

Clementines, Dates & Sugared, Spiced Marscapone
6-8 clementines
a dozen or so pitted dates
1 container Italian marscapone cheese
1/4-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 c. or 75g powdered sugar/confectioner's sugar (mostly to taste and stiffness)

optional: you can add splash of pure vanilla extract or make it grown-up with a bit of brandy

This is really easy because it's only mixing the sugar with the marscapone cheese to the sweetness you like and until it's stiff enough to plop into the hollowed-out dates or scoop up with clementine segments. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla or brandy if you like and mix well.
The hardest part is pitting the dates because it gets really sticky. My kids love to help with this part.
Peel and section clementines.

You can serve this already assembled with a dollop of marscapone inside a hollowed out date with a crown of clementine or make it easy on yourself and leave the assembly for the table. If you do this, simply arrange the clementine segments on a platter with the sweetened, spiced marscapone in the middle and the dates opened or halved all around.

ps I served this for M&Mme Bons Amis last weekend after a lunch of  lasagna and they loved it. It's very light and bright and unexpectedly lovely in its simplicity.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rudolph. The Red-Nosed. Reindeer.

This was done when Ma Fille was two. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Great White

My car is something special. Not only is it over ten years old but we brought it over from Ireland so it has Irish plates and the steering wheel is on the right-hand side. That would be enough, right?  But there's more.

It is  a Toyota and originally from Japan. I know what you're thinking, 'of course it's from Japan, it's a Toyota.' But I mean it was driven in Japan. Did you know they drive on the right-hand side too? I had to go back and look at Lost in Translation again to confirm. When we first bought it from American friends in Dublin we would find receipts in Japanese for huge amounts of Yen. This means our great white, psychedelic blue interior Toyota was driven in Japan and then sent over to Ireland on a boat where an Irish person bought and drove it, sold it to Americans who in turn sold it to us.

And now She lives in the South of France. Not bad for a 7-seater born in Japan in 1997.

We have driven Great White to every corner of the Green Isle and back; loaded her down with all our possessions we didn't pack for shipping and brought her to France. She spent the morning on a ferry from Ireland to Wales, drove us across Wales and England to spend a night on the ferry to France and then made it across this Texas-sized country like a champ. How could I not love this car? Warts and all.

It does bug me a bit that she's such a head-turner here. I'm marked out as a foreigner even without opening my mouth. I can't even drive around unnoticed, pretending I'm just as much of a Frenchie as the next person. But it's hilarious to watch people take it all in. They do a double take. Look, pause, look again. Sometimes even stopping dead in their tracks to inspect the plates and then nod, 'Ah, Irlande.'
This is especially true when ma Fille is sitting in the front passenger seat. It's like when I first moved to Ireland and would freak out when the person in the passenger seat was reading the newspaper or happened to be a dog. "What?! Who's driving that car?!", I would think for the split second it took my brain to remember. Imagine when the Frenchies see a little girl in the driver's seat. It makes me laugh to watch their expressions and subsequent realizations.

Toll booths, parking garages, drive-thrus and gas stations are fun too. If I don't have a child with me to reach out and handle the ticket getting and bill paying then I have to put it in park, unbuckle and streeetch over. The other day as I did this to pay for gas the attendant smiled and asked, 'Where is your car from?' 'Ireland.', I answered.'Oh, are you Irish?', he asked. 'Ma voiture est Irlandaise mais je ne suis pas.'
Really the old girl is Japanese. But I didn't want to confuse things.

She's not sexy but she turns heads. And she's gotten us where we were meant to go. Long may she last. I hope the squirrels or sewing machine or whatever it is in there that keeps her moving along doesn't give up on us anytime soon.
Cheers to you Great White, the best dang car on four wheels, so y'are.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Big Texas-Sized Love

What is the point of worry? Does it help us to deal with sad and difficult things? Does it allow us to process each detail so we can feel better equipped to handle the worst outcome? Or does it just spin our brains into cyclical negative spirals?

I ask this because I've thought a lot about it this week. When you're far from home and something big happens to someone in your family it's difficult to be so far away. Not that my being in France and not Texas has any effect on what's happening there...that's a selfish emotion. Being far away when something is happening doesn't mean you would have been able to be any closer to the situation if you were actually geographically closer. I feel close to it from way over here and so I have two choices. This is the crux of what I've been thinking. I can worry and think of all the bad things that could happen. Or I can send love, strength and hope through positive non-worry thoughts.

In my past experience as a hard-core worrier I've found that it really doesn't help in dealing with troubling things nor does it prepare you if the worst happens. It only makes you sad and nervous and in turn send out all that negative toward the person or thing you're worrying over. And if things go south all that worry doesn't make it any easier in the light of harsh reality. Save your energy for the off chance of a downturn.

I've also found that things usually turn out better than I expected. The moves my family has made abroad have taught me this. Living in France, learning the language, putting the kids in French school, finding a house, blah, blah, blah. None of it worth worrying over. It's all worked out.
I firmly believe that I personally have wasted way too much energy on negative worry. And with this realization, France helped, I have given it up. I've gone cold turkey on worrying. And I've found that believing the best rather than worrying about the worst makes a difference; in how I feel, how I behave, even in the outcome of things in my life.
It's with these thoughts in mind that I send love, hope and strength to my family in Texas. I ask those of you who read this to do the same. There's power there.

I promise tomorrow I'll post something light and more like's going to be about our car--20 years old, Irish plates and right-hand drive. Quite an attention getter. Stay tuned.
And thanks.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Seasonal Sunday--Endive, Leek & Potato Soup

endives, leek and potatoes
I love endive. In my opinion it's a much neglected vegetable. Sleek, crunchy and the loveliest shades of green. You've probably eaten it in salads, especially those that come pre-washed in bags, and you might not have even noticed it. It's fantastic with bleu cheese and pears, shavings of parmesan and olive oil and as a healthy alternative to chips and crackers as a dip scooper.
I decided to cook it in a soup for two reasons: 1) Nigella has a great recipe for braised baby gem lettuces that we love in our family so it's not weird to cook lettuce and 2) I have a seasonal French cookbook that features endive braised in butter and cream. Not much of a stretch then to cook it with potatoes and leeks for a warm, thick winter soup.
aren't they pretty?
time for the stock
We had it for lunch today with drops of soft chevre and baguette alongside salt & pepper duck breasts and sauteed haricots verts.

Endive, Leek & Potato Soup

olive oil, drizzle
nob or 1 tblsp butter
2 heads endive, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 large leek, white and light green parts, coarsely chopped
3-4 medium potatoes
chicken or vegetable stock, enough to cover vegetables
salt and pepper to taste
soft goat cheese and fresh baguette to serve

Wash the leek carefully. Leeks are terrible for hiding dirt. I cut them lengthwise and spread apart the layers under running water and then coarsely chop and rinse under water in a sieve.
Wash and chop endive.
Peel potatoes and cube.

Warm olive oil and melt butter in a soup pot. Add washed and chopped leeks and endive. Let cook for a few minutes over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add potatoes and cook for a few minutes more. Then add enough chicken stock to cover vegetables and bring to a slight simmer. Stir occasionally and when potatoes feel soft, turn down heat and season with salt and pepper. You can leave it covered and on low heat like this for as long as you like. When you're ready to eat puree a bit with your trusty hand-held blitzer. I like to leave a few chunky bits of potato for texture but as you like.
bon apetit!
 Serve with drops of soft, creamy goat cheese.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Butterfly Emerges.....she's a papillon

Did you know that in French public school they take your kids swimming as part of the curriculum? I didn't either. And it's wonderful. They spend a semester going once a week and learning the basics. For free. One more thing to recommend school here as far as I'm concerned.

All they ask is that parents sign up to come along on the bus, help the kids change, and maintain some order to and fro. Yesterday was my day to chaperone Ma Fille's class.
As with all of these school functions and volunteering, the kids giggle when I speak French, ask me their two favorite questions in English, 'whot ees yourh nahme?' and 'how h'old arhe yoooh?' and stare, stare, stare. And in each case my kids are a strange combination of proud and embarrassed.

As I have just been randomly asked 'not to ever dance in front of my friends', as if she's got some big dance party planned and is afraid I'm going to start shaking it and doing my signature move--thumbs up, moving across and alternating sides, hips shifting with the thumbs (it's something very special)--I felt maybe the embarrassed might be inching up on the proud and I'd better be on my best behavior.

I was mostly quiet. Speaking only when spoken to, 'My name is Aidan.' 'I am 3* years old.' Tee hee, giggle, stare.

The best part was watching my lovely fille. She was giggling, holding hands and speaking French. The entire time. Even to me. This is the girl who used to say, 'Je suis timide' and refuse to talk. Now she's in on the jokes. Looking out from sparkling eyes, saying things I can't even understand and fitting right in. I cannot tell you how proud and happy it makes me feel to see this happening. I was told it would. And I hoped and believed and now it's coming true. If there was any one thing I was most 'inquiet' about before moving here it was the kids being in French school. I can whole-heartedly say that everyone was right. And like most worries, it was unfounded.
As I sat on that bus, rumbling back to the school, my heart nearly burst with joy for her. She didn't cling to me or want me to sit with her, 'sit behind me mommy'. But it wasn't like she didn't want me there either. She was happy for me to see. To know who she is out there in the French world without me and how well she's doing.

Is there anything we want more for our children than that? No matter where we live or who we are.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Seasonal Sunday--Celeriac & Pink Lady Slaw

I've decided to do a weekly post using something I've found at the market. The French eat seasonally. You've heard me get all excited about the seasonal cheese raclette and its fancy melter. Summer sausages for the grill are being replaced in the stores by sausage stuffing for vegetables and heavier cuts of meat. And cold soups and salads give way to rich stews and warm potatoes. I hope you like it and that your feel inspired to use something seasonal in a different way. Send me any suggestions and I'll try them too.
So to start: Celeriac

I worked up a little recette just for you using the treasure beneath the scenes of the prettily fronded, green celery show off. It's a tuber and like most of the undergrounders it's not much to look at. I've passed it over more times than I can say because I just had no idea what to do with it. Not so now.
Here's what I did....peeled and sliced celeriac into thin batons, added thin slices of pink lady apple and finished it with walnut oil, vinegar and some bleu cheese. I really wanted it to be served warm--a mix between warm german potato salad like you get in Central Texas and coleslaw. It turns out it's a lot like a fancied up, mayo-free Waldorf salad. I think it'd be great with sausages or a nice roast pork.

Warm Celeriac & Pink Lady Slaw

1 gnarled head of celeriac
1 or 2 Pink Lady apples or similar sparkling, tart apple
splash of olive or nut oil (nut oil's better cause of the waldorf salad thing)
3 tablespoons/soup spoons of walnut vinegar (noix)
bleu cheese, crumbled
pinch of sugar

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Prepare an ice bath for blanched celeriac.
Peel the celeriac and chop into thin batons. I used a knife because I'm super clumsy but a mandolin would be great if you have one.

Blanche celeriac batons in boiling water for 4 minutes. It should be crunchy and not limp. Immerse in cold water and then drain.
If you'd like it cold, then stop here. Mix your dressing and add the apples and cheese.
If, like me, you'd like to try it warm, continue this way:
Heat batons in a skillet with a touch of nut oil. Add celeriac and apples, warm through.
While warming, mix your dressing with the vinegar and sugar.
Remove warmed apples and celeriac to a bowl and pour over dressing tossing well.
Crumble bleu cheese over and serve warm.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Une Etoile for Chaque Frere or A Star for Each Brother

Last night we did something we've never done. We treated ourselves to a pre-Christmas dinner sans enfants at the only Michelin starred restaurant in Montpellier. In the entire Languedoc region for that matter. Because it's so famous around here and so well, starry, we decided we had to see for ourselves. It's a restaurant and hotel owned by twin brothers, les freres Pourcel, both chefs and both enjoying notoriety throughout France.

Super fancy, super delicious, super expensive. It was two out of three. Delicious and expensive to the super, but fancy not as much. And that was nice. It wasn't homey or rustic by any means but it wasn't over-the-top, make a couple of Texans feel uncomfortable fancy.
The service was impeccable. Just like you'd imagine when you pay 21 euro for a glass of 2002 Moet. It was fascinating to watch them work...a dance where everyone knew their part and performed perfectly, silently moving to and fro, being in the right place just when you needed them, refilling, brushing crumbs, removing plates.
We ordered the taste of the region menu which included a glass of wine from our region with each course. There were four courses and a tasty selection of nibbles for an apero with our 40 euro worth of Champagne. If you'd like to see the  menu for yourself, here it is. But if you'd rather me tell you I can do that too.

For starters we had little parmesan toasts that tasted like sausage balls (we didn't think they'd like to know that), goat cheese puffs, guacamole and brandade de morue (cod dip) in shot glasses like they love to do here, and fried cubes of pork and foie gras. Don't say a word. Don't judge. It's Christmas. And it's more delicious than you can even imagine.

Next, an amuse-bouche. Isn't that so perfect and adorable? Something that amuses your mouth and makes it feel all happy is a good way to start a meal. It was tiny cubes of sea scallops with clementines, also served in shot glasses. They really do love them. And with that we had a white wine from Northeast Languedoc that was a blend of chardonnay, grenache and a couple of other tasty grapes. Sublime.

Each course was presented by our waiter with an explanation. He'd place the food in front of us and then, with flourish, describe what we were about to eat and how it was prepared.

Then, a crayfish bisque with crayfish know, foamy crayfish cream fancied on top. Tasty and we got more of the white wine with this course. The wine and bisque fell in love with each other. I wanted to take photos for you with my phone but Mon Mari said it would be too embarrassing. You'll just have to imagine the rosy sunset orange soup with foamy clouds floating on top, two crayfish heads perched happily on the edge of the deep bowl, smiling delightedly that they'd been made into soup for my supper.

On to the main. It was a seasonal, bien sur, duck dish...layers of different parts of said duck artfully arranged with perfectly cubed (they dig cubes) butternut squash. There was a smallish roasted breast, perfectly cooked; a light, wafer-thin crouton with three heavenly slices of foie gras, again, have you tried it?; and then a three dimensional cone of thigh meat, braised, shredded and formed into a cone then battered and crusted in pistachios, fried crispy pale golden with a hint of green; a gilded peridot swaddling rich umber. With this we had a deep red minervois--perfectly rich and not at all fruity.

Not being a big dessert person, I'd have been happy to stop here. And then.
They brought out three plates of various sweeties. Donut holes (beignets) filled with cream, shortbread wafers shaped like leaves dappled with pine nuts, tiny chocolate planks sandwiching fruity conserve, madeleine shells with raspberry jam, a champagne glass of cold pineapple and coconut froth, white chocolate disks that gently melted in your mouth stuck like party favors on the ends of wooden sticks and tiny cones of ice cream poised in a glass of white sugar. All served in pairs, holding hands on the assorted plates; a Noah's Ark of confectionery. With this we enjoyed a sweet muscat, a wine famous in the region and served as an aperitif and digestif. It's very strong, dense and sweet but not to the point of cloying like some dessert wines can be.

We had a couple of 12 euro cafes and were ready for bed. Eating like that makes you sleepy. So we rolled ourselves home, thanking heaven we're in the South of France even though it's freezing cold like I hate, and tumbled into sweet dreams of plates of food, spinning around on silver trays, bow-tied waiters flitting in and around, pouring wine and presenting delights with a flourish.
Et voila!

ps funding provided by chez travaille for a job well done. merci!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Merci Madame, Gracias Too

Living every day in a cocoon of French can get old. It is tempting to remove yourself, to be tired and frustrated by it. But that only creates a downward spiral into no French, no communication, loneliness and isolation.

Grocery store French just doesn't cut it anymore; isn't enough of a connection to people. And when you get out of practice, like on school holidays, it can seem even more difficult to break through and say what you want to say. As Michele always said, 'the more you know, the less you think you know'. And that's a good thing. Really. Because it makes you want to learn more, keep going, express yourself more fully.

It is also frustrating as hell.

I could carry on all day long with the basics. And I would sound like a five year-old. Something like, 'I like there....Sorry, I have tired today.....Too far away words in my head....It makes cold and I like not it.' You get the idea. I joke, but I wonder how I must sound to someone who really does speak French and how on earth they keep from laughing. Which they don't ever do.
They always happily encourage and nod and move me along the path of conversation, holding my hand.

It's usually just when you're feeling like closing your ears and mind to the language that someone helps you open them again.

And so it was for me last week at the Middlest's football practice. I felt closed off and stood at the fence watching and daydreaming, thinking how much I missed hearing English and how hard this is sometimes.

Just then an older woman walked by and caught my eye. She smiled at me and started talking. And as she spoke she touched me; on the arm, hand, patting her words into me. It made me feel warm. After a few sentences of somewhat understanding her, my brain did a flip...I realized she was not speaking just French, but Spanish too. I heard the Spanish lisp and the familiar d for r sound of 'mira'.
So, we carried on that way. Her doing most of the talking; moving effortlessly between French and Spanish, patting, smiling, warming me.

As she continued on her exercise circuit around the football pitch she hugged me, 'a bien tot', 'hasta luego'. Kindness emanating from her regardless of language.

It is times like this when I am thankful that I am open. I would miss out on so many gifts if I tunneled down and buried my head in self-pitying English.

Once at a meeting with Ma Fille's teacher she said something that struck a nerve, 'It can be like a prison for you not to understand or communicate.' And she is right. It can. Only I don't want to be imprisoned by my ignorance so I force myself out. Open. Bumbling and stumbling. No matter what.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

One Word.....Cheese

I have to say it, shout it out, sing it to the heavens.....I LOVE RACLETTE! Oh yea, it's terribly stinky and probably not that good for you but boy is it fun to make and delicious too. We've had it the previous two Friday nights chez canadiene and I am hooked. So hooked that me and mon Mari bought our very own raclette grill yesterday afternoon. And now the raclette Friday night is on. There's no stopping us now!

To explain what it is and why I am waxing rhapsodical: raclette is cheese. Cheese that is very melty and stinky and that you can only find during the winter months. Mon Mari thinks it's akin to Velveeta because of all the melting but I'm not so sure. First of all, you have to keep it refrigerated. Second, it's a light white true cheese color rather than the garish seen-from-space yellow of our national melter. And that smell can't be man-made. It's cheese all the way....a savoyard cheese to be exact and it's called raclette because they used to heat it and then 'scrape' it onto the plate. When you type 'raclette' into google translate you get 'squeegee'. Makes sense. Squeeze cheese; but not from a can.

re-enacted raclette & grill photo; we were too greedy last night to bother with photos
How it works is comes in square slices and what you do is get your special raclette grill with its little individual cheese melting pans bought for this season and this purpose alone. You know how the French do fondue and crepes, well it's the same thing. Another gadget to buy for the sole purpose of eating a meal. Tres French.

It's cozily communal because the grill sits in the middle of the table, a pot of cooked potatoes warming on the top, along with sauteed mushrooms and green peppers, onions if you like. You serve various meats alongside too, like salami and parma ham. And of course cornichons. I also like to add grainy mustard. Then you melt the cheese in the square pans and pour it on top of the potatoes, meat, pickles--whatever tickles your fancy. It slides out of the pan, bubbly like cheese on cheese toast straight from the broiler.

Last night, my family got very creative with it and started piling the little square pan with chopped up potato, pickles and mushrooms so the cheese would melt ON TOP of these things rather than waiting to pour the cheese all on its own onto the plate full of goodies. I prefer waiting and pouring but to each his own.

And now I'm craving it again. If you live here and have never tried it (like me until two weeks ago) you definitely should. And if you don't live here I'm real sorry. Maybe you can find something like it. Or come visit. And if not, you've always got nachos and queso with melty Velveeta. I do love that too.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ewww, les Poux!

This afternoon when I collected the Littlest from the creche, this notice greeted  me:


Of course the Littlest is a butterfly so I paid attention. At first I thought it meant chicken pox....'poux' could be pox, right? And so I asked. 'What is les poux?' The answer still has my head twitching. Les poux is les lice. 'The lice attack the butterflies', so read the sign. 
Oh, dear. I rushed home and checked the soft blond hair of my own personal butterfly. He seems to be clean but I still can't stop itching. And examining his little head. I doused him with tea tree oil and gave him a good fine tooth comb-through. All's well here but oh, those other little butterflies! I think I'd prefer chicken pox.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ma Dinde...I Think I'll Call Her Tomasina

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You know I love to cook, love to eat and I try to be thankful a little bit every day so added all together it's a bonanza of happiness for me. This will be our 6th Thanksgiving away from home. I've had ingredients shipped, cooked very badly while unknowingly preggers, searched high and low for corn meal and shared two Thankful meals with wonderful Irish friends.
This year should be no different. We are Americans after all.
I'd heard that it's not such a snap to find turkeys here in November. As in Ireland the best birds are being fattened up for the big show....Noel. But you don't think a little turkey finding trouble is going to put the ixna on number six do you?

Having written the word for turkey phonetically on the palm of my hand--DEND, I always mispronounce it--I went to the butcher to ask for a bird. I had to talk on the phone with the turkey farmer Nadine. In French. In front of butcher and her husband, who kept chuckling. I think the way I say, 'une dinde noire' must be super hilarious. In the sunny South they have a tendency to put a flourish on the end of feminine words like, 'une' and 'dinde' and 'noire'. And so it sounds a bit I-talian when you put it all together. And hearing me do it, avec flourish, must have been more than butcher husband could take.

I got a noire turkey because from what I could piece together, the blanche turkeys are tres fat, right now....already up to 7 kilos. They are also tres expensive at 15 euro per kilo. Ouch. Not wanting a turkey that bad after all.
So it was that Nadine suggested the smaller noire lady. At a perfect four kilo and a bit less than 15/kilo I agreed. I think what's going to happen is this: my little turkey will live her last couple of days, today and tomorrow, happily on Nadine's farm, basking in the lovely crisp days resplendent with sunshine, gobbling a happy turkey song and kicking up dust; then thwack!, kapow! she gets it.

I keep referring to ma dinde as a girl. I don't know if she really is but with the feminine noun, adjective and article, I can't help thinking of her that way.

So when she arrives Thursday morning I will butter, garlic and herb her up, pop her in the oven and serve her to my American family for Thanksgiving. Along with my mother's famous cornbread dressing. I'm from Texas, ya'll. There won't be cream of mushroom soup in the green bean casserole but a homemade version of same with my new-found ability to make mushroom bechamel sauce. The ham isn't coming out this year so it only makes sense that the broccoli-cheese casserole will be omitted too...those two are just made for each other. But I will have cranberries a la ma soeur and pumpkin (fresh) and chocolate meringue pies too.

What are your Thanksgiving favorites? Any you just could not live without no matter where in the world you lived?

For your viewing pleasure I'm including photos of European (Irish) Thanksgivings past.
Thankfully yours. 

2008, 3 month old littlest

2006, just look at that middlest, the then littlest

2005, our first european thanksgiving

Monday, November 22, 2010

Oeuf! Enough Already

Ok people. I promise that this is final installment on the egg.

I made them. I really did it. And boy were they gooooood. If you don't believe me you can ask les canadienes. Or just take a look here and see for yourself.

innocent little eggs before the soft-boil

what perfectly browned mushrooms look like, thanks jc

soft-boiled and taking a cold bath

here's how you make egg drop soup--freaky egg yolk octopus
the smile is fake, i was freaking out people!

this is when it almost went pear-shaped, thanks canada

ma fille took this see those eggs?



Friday, November 19, 2010

Cheap Wine

1.45 euro baby!
One of the things we did in Paris that was worthwhile was a wine tasting at O Chateau. We did their 'tour of France' tasting which included six wines, one of them Champagne, along with a 'wine for dummies' type explanation on French wine; the regions, the grapes, the AOC and all. I recommend doing it, especially if you don't go in knowing too much about how wine works in France. I bought four bottles--two Cotes du Rhone reds and two Bourgogne whites. All four now long drunk but very much enjoyed. 

The main thing I got from the tasting, other than that the owner/founder/sommelier is a wholesomely cute, tousled hair, perfectly American English accented Frenchie who was a pleasure to listen to and watch tousle said hair, was that expensive doesn't mean good and cheap doesn't mean crap. 
I should have known this already for a few reasons: 
1) We've managed to drink some inexpensive red wine, wait for a box! since being here and never would have dreamed of doing that anywhere else.
2) My beau-pere (father-in-law) prides himself on truffeling out the best wines for the least money over in Texas. Cheers, Beau-Pere, I'm right there with you. 
3) The wine cooperatives, who sell wine grown in the area--like within a 5-mile radius, sell 3 euro bottles of wine that are perfectly drinkable
and 4) even a tres cher bottle can turn out to be crap.And then where are you? Displeased is where you are.

My suspicions were confirmed when the hair tousling O of O Chateau told us not to be suckered in by price, that Frenchies don't like spending loads on wine, and that we should not be afraid to try the more inexpensive bottles on supermarket shelves. 
I did some wine shopping with this in mind. And even though it didn't feel right to buy a 1.45 euro bottle of Cotes du Rhone red, I did it. I actually bought two. I mean, come on, if it's crap then it's crap at less than a fiver. It is wine after all. 

And I tried a handy tip I've learned over here--decanting. When we tasted the much more expensive Cotes du Rhone red that I bought two bottles of for almost 10 times a fiver, it took some time in the glass to taste its best. At first it didn't really do it for me. But after a few minutes of some air getting in there, some fancy swirling and some patience, it tasted divine. I figured I could apply the same methods to my cheap bottle(s) of CduR from the HyperGeantGrande store.
And it worked. It was ok, better than just passable and quite a bargain. It even won an award, which you can see on the left-hand corner of the bottle. Who else but the French would award a bottle of wine that costs as little as a couple of baguettes?
AND, to further prove my point. I bought a bottle of 3 euro CduR yesterday and mon Mari didn't like it as well as the cheap-o one.
How's about them grapes?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rainy Paris

When I say it rained this past week in Paris, I do not mean it sprinkled. Or drizzled. Or misted soft Irish rain every once in awhile. I mean it rained. Big rain. Sideways rain. Bona fide gullywasher. Huge pools of water forming between sidewalk and street forcing us to either slosh through or leap over to cross. Inundation flowing through the streets, carrying freshly fallen golden plane tree leaves. Turning our newsstand umbrellas inside out and trying to dampen our spirits. Every single day began covered in clouds, heavy with water that began to fall seemingly as soon as we stepped foot outside the hotel.

We tried our best. We saw the things we were supposed to see, ducking into the Metro or hiding in cafes when we couldn't take anymore. After all, we were in Paris....this was our mantra as we got soaked through.

The worst day of rain was our Louvre day and we were nearly blown off the Pont des Arts as we stopped to wonder what the thousands of locks meant. We didn't have time to linger and look at them all, romantic tokens of so many couples, locked together in love, keys thrown into the Seine for all eternity.

It was on this day that we did the smartest thing ever to be done on a wet, grey day when sight-seeing is impossible. We went to a spa, stripped off our wet socks, boots and jeans changing them for raffia flip flops and kimono pyjamas and were lovingly pampered by the kindest women you can imagine. They rubbed and massaged our feet and legs for an hour and turned us back into real people.

The rain obscured the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower. And it took us two sardined elevator rides to figure that out.

I shielded my phone in my scarf like a mother with her tiny newborn baby just to find our way around, (maps useless because they kept tearing apart, soaked through) peeking out from under bent umbrellas to check street signs. And the hotel umbrella, stolen from under the nose of our hotel neighbor who already hated us, turned out to be broken when I needed it most. Its tip sliding through the top causing the entire thing to collapse onto my head. I held onto the point with my gloved left hand all the way from Versailles to the train station, laughing as my arm went numb and my gloves were soaked beyond recognition. Karma for the much abused neighbor.

And the thing is, I single-handedly vetoed London because I couldn't stand the thought of cold wind and rain. Of course London was beautiful last week. But thankfully the besties didn't throw that in my face once. I can't say I'd have been as forgiving. That's why they're the best.
Next time we're going for warmth. Maybe somewhere with nothing to see. Any suggestions?

Photo of The Egg

Thanks to la Canadienne for the photo. And a mention to les deux canadiennes for the title of the egg post.

C'est existe!

It was just like this only no spinach. But that looks super good too. I didn't dream it after all.

And I didn't even tell you about the oeufs mayonnaise.....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Aidan & The Egg

I spent six days in Paris and I can't stop thinking about the eggs. One egg in particular.
We Americans eat eggs at breakfast. Sometimes we eat them in quiche for lunch. But we don't ever eat them for dinner. And that's a shame. A real shame.

We were at one of three restaurants owned by the same person on the meme rue. He has a super fancy one, a medium-fancy one and a bistro. We ate at the bistro, Cafe Constant, and it was amazing. I can't begin to imagine how good the super fancy one would be.The cafe was small, cozy, chock full of Frenchies and completely no nonsense.
And this is where the egg happened.

I chose the 'oeuf mollet' from the specials board for my starter.
It translates simply as boiled egg--a soft-boiled egg and in the case of Cafe Constant it is a soft boiled egg breaded and served on a bed of creamy wild mushroom the goose's golden egg cradled on a soft pillow of  mushroom cream.The creamy sauce was silken and smooth with a whisper of earthy mushroom flavor. Magnificent.

Then the egg.
Stop and think for a moment about what a soft-boiled egg looks like. How hard it is to cook the perfect one, how treacherous it is to peel, how fragile and dainty its wobbly white layer. Now imagine rolling it in egg wash and breadcrumbs and cooking the outer layer to the perfect crispiness; rolling and cooking without breaking it or over cooking the yellow, molten center.
Just the sort of thing the French take seriously. An egg. The kernel of life deserves to be elevated from scrambled.

When I cut into the gilded crust, through neige white, the yellow gooey and perfect; it was beautiful. Flavor matching artistry; a masterpiece. The mushroom cream the perfect foil to the luscious egg. Perfection. And as I ate it, marvelling at its gloriousness, the French woman at a neighboring table asked the waiter what it was...what heavenly concoction had I ordered because she wanted it too. Now that's something.

I really cannot stop thinking about it. So much so that I found a recipe. Will I attempt it? I don't know. I don't like disappointment.

A post script: You should know that I looked for a photo of a breaded oeuf mollet so you could see how lovely and improbable it is. I couldn't find one. And this just shows you how rare it is....sure, there were loads of photos of gooey, runny soft-boiled eggs on toast with a variety of sauces, but none of them were breaded. Did I dream it?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Versatile: Flexible, Multi-Faceted & Putty-Like

Oh, yeah. I'm versatile. And all because Sara in Le Petit Village, one of the best friends I've never actually met, thinks I am. She's forwarded on a blogger award to my little blog because we Texas girls living in the South of France by way of Ireland have to stick together. Blogs abroad make you feel like you're not flying solo. Bisou Sara!

So, what I'm supposed to do after receiving all this good blog lovin' is this: write something nice about the lovely Sara, an easy task already done, see above b) tell you seven things about me that you might or might not already know (depends on who you are) and 3) pass the versatile blogger award on to other blogs. It was originally meant to be 15 other blogs but Sara honed it down to seven to match the seven shared tidbits and I am going to follow her lead and make it an odd honor of the number of peeps in our far flung family and  'cause it's cute when the Middlest calls a 5 euro note a 'fiver'.

Ok. Seven things.....
a) Middlest wants me to tell you that a sign in our kitchen says: 'I kiss better than I cook.'
b) I think Ralph Fiennes should have won the Oscar for best actor for Schindler's List instead of Tommy Lee Jones.
c) Indoor swimming pools freak me out, especially when full of a bunch of peeing kids.
d) I'd like to get the Littlest a green t-shirt that says, 'Made in Ireland'.
e) Mon Mari bought me a vacuum cleaner for our first Christmas together. I wasn't understanding or gracefully amused.
f) I feel like my French is at a stand still and it is frustrating beyond belief.
g) I love Mad Men and am such a dork that I go online to read analysis after each episode. My favorite is Nelle Engoron, she's super smart and insightful and makes tv feel kinda like you're sitting a class at university on popular culture. Only just now starting season four so no spoilers please.

Now to the passing of the versatile blogger award.

To Kirsty at You Had Me at Bonjour for being so kind and inspiringly crafty. I love having people in my life who can do things that I can't. I mean, come on people. Have you seen the things she can do with a rice paper lampshade?

Tammy at La Vie Cevenole for all her beautiful photographs and delicious recipes. She's also been known to say a nice thing or two which always makes one feel good.Who else can take beautiful photos from an airplane? Really.

An American Mom in Paris' MJ for her hilarious outlook on life. She makes me look at the world as one big blogortunity. (that's blog +opportunity)

And a shout out to my Irish homies over at The Evening Herault for shedding Irish light on life abroad in France as well as keeping up on things happening on the little green island.

And finally, Charley's brilliant blog 365 Things That I Love About France. First of all, she's cool...ghost story writer...second of all she's smart...I've already learned a thing or two from reading her blog and third, I love the concept. Very clever.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Home Sweet Home

I'm back home. And it feels like home, with my four people around me, our own English speaking oasis in the middle of France. I missed them this time and was amazed to see how big they look and how many new words the Littlest learned in 6 days. 'Chicken Run' being two of them. Have you seen the movie?
Tour Eiffel before the rain
Is it possible that they really changed in that short time? Or am I just seeing them with fresh eyes as my mom says? Either way, I'm glad to be home with them and I think this is why it's so important to be away sometimes. Not only do I appreciate them more and see new things in them all, but the time they had alone with their Dad changes things too. It's always so Mommy-centered, at least in our family where I'm the stay-at-home parent, that it's nice for all of them to have time alone together. Without me.
women of a certain age
And it was good for me to laugh until my sides ached. To sleep in until 10am. To stay up until 2am and get a 'keep it down' call from the hotel desk because the laughter and screeches coming from our room woke our neighbor. Oops! Things are always super funny after a couple of bottles of wine.
We sloshed through the rain that would not stop, moaning and complaining in turns, umbrellas turned inside out, boots soaked through to socks and feet. We saw a lot of  the things you're supposed to see, check. But as usual my favorites were the food. And the laughter. And the new expressions and inside jokes that naturally come up when you're with two other people non-stop.
And now I'm back, sitting in my cozy, sunny living room alone with Mon Mari for a change because yesterday was Armistice Day (thank you) and a national holiday and since it was on a Thursday it only makes good sense that people would have Friday off too. It's classic French stylee and it even has a name...'faire le pont' or making the bridge. The bridge stretches from Thursday to Monday and makes a nice, long weekend.
Vin Chaud
Surprisingly, the kids have school today, as does the Baby, so it's just we two. It's 4 o'clock now. Too early for a glass of vin rouge? I think not.
Chin, chin.
More coming on Paris when I can get my brains around it. Most of it is about eggs and rain. Think on that.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I Love Paris in the Fall

Yay! Just so you know I made it to Paris without incident and am having fun, fun, fun with the besties. I'll have loads to tell you when I get back home. If anyone has any restaurant or shopping recommendations, send them my way.
Love from the city of light.....

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Msr Sarkozy Doesn't Really Care If You're On Strike...BUT I DO

I am a glass half full kind of girl. You know that. But today the Frenchies are making it very difficult for me to see anything but the smelly cheese. The stale end of the baguette. The corked wine.
If you don't want to see the dark side of yours truly please turn away now. If you continue reading you may be offended, shocked, annoyed. You've been warned.

OK then. Let's begin, shall we?

F*^# the bleeping strike already! The flippin' retirement age IS GOING TO CHANGE people! It isn't going to change by 10 years, 5 years, or 3 years but TWO F***Ing YEARS. I love the lifestyle here. I accept the closed for lunch thing. I smile through the Wednesday no school day.

But I am hot on the heels of a 10-day half-term break, a 4-day rained in weekend and the sweet promise of fun and happiness looms just within my grasp. Joyful adulthood. Dinners prepared in restaurants and no sticky fingers gumming up my clothes.
Selfish, selfish, bliss with my two besties from Texas is the promise. BUT. Even though the change in retirement age has been passed through the government, will be signed into law by Msr Sarkozy and all the refineries and every other industry has thrown in the towel, Air France has decided to stage a weekend of disruption because the reforms will make them have to pay taxes on their discount airfare. Air France's weekend of disruption just happens to be the very same as my weekend of jubilation, damn them.
And so it is threatened. Threatened but not yet ruined. As of yet, the ruination is unconfirmed. So I will try to keep my chin up. Keep looking on the bright side and start thinking of other possible ways to make it to Paris on Friday if it comes to that. Please, please it won't come to that. Please people, say a prayer, do a dance, light some incense.
I know it ain't the end of the world but I really need a super-duper Texas size dose of my besties.

Honorable mentions in the 'how Air France's last gasp of the strike of 2010 is screwing me over' are:
a) an acquaintance's husband works in Paris during the week and wasn't able to come home over this past weekend as well as others in the past months
b) parents of une canadienne are due to fly out of Paris tomorrow...good luck with that
c) my lovely amie irlandaise is here on business and is on the same flight as me Friday morning
d) add your own stories here because I know you  have them

And finally.
Mon Mari is not in France...he is scheduled to return to France to relieve me of mes trois enfants so I can go blindly and outrageously selfish into the weekend of bliss but I can't exactly do that if he isn't able to get back here because of the stupid, stupid strike now can I? Can I?
You tell me!!! CAN I?

I don't feel any better.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

White Bean & Bacon Soup

Because the kids are home for half-term and I'm having to share the computer between Club Penguin and Selena Gomez videos (ugh), I don't have much news or time.
So, rather than do nothing, I thought I'd share a recipe with you. To be honest I threw this together within minutes because I was freezing cold and fancied some warm soup. This being said, you will probably be able to do the same. Most of us have these ingredients in our cupboards.
Try it, it's perfect for a sunny, crisp autumn day.

White Bean & Bacon Soup
with roasted red peppers and goat cheese

1 package lardons or 4 pieces of bacon cut into strips
small chopped white onion
clove of garlic, chopped
teaspoon thyme (i am just really into thyme right now but you could use rosemary if you prefer)
chicken stock cube or canned chicken stock to cover beans
1 lg can of white or cannelini beans, rinsed
jarred roasted red peppers
soft goat cheese
olive oil for drizzling

Brown your bacon or lardons in a glug of olive oil with the garlic and onion. 5-7 minutes
Add the thyme and chicken stock cube, crumbled up.
Rinse the beans and add them to the pot with just enough water to cover them. Or the canned chicken stock if you're using it instead of stock cubes.
Stir and bring to a simmer.
Remove half soup mixture to a blender and blitz or use a hand held mixer to blend it up in the cooking pot. If you do this, leave some of the beans intact...and by this I mean don't liquify the whole thing. It's not the end of the world if you do but the texture of a few beans is nice.
Scoop warm ladle fulls of creamy soup into a bowl.
Chop up a jarred red pepper or two and add to the top with a spoon of soft goat cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Serve with buttered baguette. Scrumptious.
Littlest says, 'mmmmmm'

My favorite type of food is peasant food like this. Nothing beats some beans and pork mixed together in my opinion. And the kids like it too.

Note: here in France you can't get canned broth so I use cubes but if you're in America I'm sure you have a can of chicken broth in your kitchen. Also, I can't remember if you can find cut up bacon in the US but that's what I'm talking about when I say lardons.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hardware Man of My Dreams

We live tres close to the parking lot where the Sunday market is held. Today is not Sunday but there is a big truck trailer parked there. Sometimes there's a big butcher truck there on off days and all the old ladies on my street walk over for their roasts. My interest was piqued. What could be inside that thing? It was during lunch so it was all closed up, just sitting there, provoking my nosiness.
Later today, after the lunch two hours, I went by again. (not on purpose or anything...only to go to the boulangerie for tonight's baguette.)

This time its back and side doors were open and there were clothes drying racks, moving dollys and other hardware displayed around it. I didn't see the travelling proprietor but I immediately thought of the blouse man, aka Viggo Mortensen, from A Walk on the Moon. I thought about going back over there and seeing for myself. For you. 

But  I didn't want to ruin the fantasy I'd begun to create. The blouse man is now the hardware man and vice versa. He travels from village to village, country to country; wild and free as the wind, selling lonely housewives clothes pegs, drying racks, toilet cleaner. Gasp.Would he tell me I needed a particular grater because the blue handle brought out the blue in my eyes? Then I could daydream about the hardware man/Viggo as I grated cheese for so many croque monsieurs, onion soups and quesadillas.

I would not go. I would not let my head be turned by that useful looking drying rack. I would not succumb to the hardware man's persuasion. I would never visit the truck trailer of temptation. He can keep his fancy kitchen appliances and lie in wait for another, more susceptible housewife.

I'm sure that, like Viggo, hardware man would need dentistry. And I've always preferred Liev Schreiber. Plus Mon Mari would happily spoil me silly with efficient household items if I asked. Oh, honey? I feel the need for a cheese grater......

my own personal heart throb

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On Phobias, Procrastination and Strawberry Jam

I procrastinate. Not about everything although Mon Mari would probably disagree. The things that I put off are likely the same things you do, if you do; buying kid birthday presents for parties, cleaning out the file cabinet, sorting and sending the mountain of paperwork the French government requires for subsidized health care. I also procrastinate sending things by mail. I never have stamps, always have addressed envelopes floating around in my bag getting dogeared and wrinkled. This is because I have an irrational fear of the post office. Why?  I felt this way in Texas too; putting off sending that ill fitting JCrew sweater back or the baby gift to a friend far away. Thank goodness for internet shopping and shipping. It's saved me more than a few times.

To add teeth to this phobia my post office in Ireland was robbed at gunpoint more than once and now, here in France, there's the language issue. I am loathe to ever step foot in one. Have I filled out the paperwork properly? Have I packaged the parcel appropriately? Why do I feel guilty when they ask what's inside?

As you know my lovely friend Teresa sent me a big box of Texas love a few weeks ago. I felt it only right to send her one back. I bought some French stuff for her--things I thought she might like to try. I filled the box, wrapped the breakables in bubble wrap and the box sat open on the hall table, mocking me. I couldn't find the address, couldn't find the tape, the kids got into it and opened the strawberry jam, ate it on their toast. I bought more to replace it. The strike slowed things down. I bought paper to wrap the box when I bought a birthday present two hours before a birthday party last week.

So it was that I finally got myself and the box to the post office last Thursday; package full, wrapped, hideously over-taped and appropriately addressed. I juggled the box and the Littlest as I waited for my turn. When it came, I pushed the box through the big parcel window. The post office lady, POL, gave me the form to fill out. I did but did something wrong so she took it from me, ripped it up and gave me another.

She asked me what I was sending. I told her food. She rattled off that the Etats-Unis doesn't accept food from other countries...even showing  me the paper with FDA printed on it. This got the attention of post office man, POM, at the next window. And the attention of his customers; an elderly couple who I had seen and heard arguing about something in the parking lot. All eyes on la Americaine. This won't be the typically boring afternoon errand to the post office, oooo la la.

POM: "If you send food to Etats-Unis they will open it and eat it."
POL: "No, they will open it and send it back. And you will have to pay for the return shipping."
POM: "Why are you sending food? Do they not have food in America?"
Americaine, ingratiatingly: "Yes, of course. But they don't have French food. They don't have Bonne Maman strawberry jam for example."
POM & POL & elderly couple, nodding and smiling: "Oh, yes. It is very good jam. Very good."

They asked  me what else I was sending. More out of curiosity rather than official interest. And they made suggestions. Is there any saucisson sec? "Mmmmm. Oui, oui. Cassoulet is very good.," the elderly couple joined in.
It was suggested that I could lie on the form and put soap and hopefully the FDA customs goons would buy it. POL wasn't thrilled with that idea because she said they would probably open a 2 kg box marked soap and then where would I be?
We all decided that I should take my box and put the contents into smaller boxes sending things separately so as to not draw any unwanted FDA heat. Clever.

I took my box home. And now it is sitting on the hall table again. I'm not as afraid of the post office but now I have to find some small boxes to contain the goodies. Teresa, I'm working on it. Maybe some day you'll get the post office approved confiture fraise.

I don't have to keep telling you that these conversations happened in French. Do I? Assume it to be the case. And therefore, assume that I've gotten about 1/3 of it right.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Road Trip

So we got off to a rough start. That's cool. We girls know how to carry on smiling.

We left three hours later than planned so that meant we arrived in Geneva at midnight. I'm a Texas girl so a little night time driving doesn't bother me. What was freaky though was driving through the French Alps in the dark. I couldn't see the mountains but I knew they were there, looming; our ears popped, the signs warned of steep grades, and there were slow climbing lanes. There were also long tunnels cut into the invisible mountains which the girlie loved. As we passed through one of the longer ones--1900 metres, distance of tunnels is marked just outside the entrance, we decided we were glad to be in that super cool, lit up tunnel inside the mountain together. Ma Fille vowed she'd never forget it as long as she lives.

We ate McDo in the car and I have to admit it was one of the best Royal Cheese I've ever had. We stopped for hot chocolate and biscuits and were excited by the chill in the mountain air.

And we talked and sang and did French homework.
If you've ever been to France, especially Paris, and have tried to speak French to someone, you know how they repeat what you've said, only with a French accent as if to say...'um, so sorry, I think I've understood your butchering of my language but I need to make sure by repeating exactly what you said back to you in my langue maternelle'.
It goes like this:
Brave Tourist: 'Hello. I'd like a hot chocolate please.'
Paris Frenchie: 'Hello.What would you like? A hot chocolate?'
Brave Tourist going back for more: 'Yes, please. A hot chocolate. And a croissant too, please.'
Paris Frenchie: 'A hot chocolate and a croissant? Ok.' (smirk)

I always found this type of exchange off putting. It would totally throw me off my game. But then I started to think, perhaps they're just repeating it to be sure of what I'm saying. Maybe they're just helping me to get the pronunciation right. So it's like a mini-lesson. How nice. I'm a benefit of the doubt kinda girl.

But NOW, my own daughter does it to me. Her accent is flawless. Of course it would be because she's learning how to do it in French school and she has a sponge brain with no life lessons learned/college shenanigans/late nights/wine drinking neuron damage to slow her down. So when we practiced for her spelling test in the car and I said 'un coude', perfectly in my opinion, she repeated it with French gusto, 'un coude?'. With the up lilt question mark thing as if she wanted to be sure I was saying elbow even though she knew full well it's on her list.

No more benefit of the doubt. Listen up. When they do that to you at the train station, boulangerie, cafe, what they're really doing is showing off. What they're really saying is, 'this is the correct way to say it, this is how you're supposed to get the r stuck in the back of your throat and it offends me to leave the sound of your mispronunciation lingering in the air so I have to quickly replace it with my perfect one.' Don't give up. Keep saying it the way you feel is right. After all, when they speak English we find their accents charming, sexy, foreign. We can't all be lucky enough to learn two languages in childhood. And I will remind all mes enfants of this fact when they are older and hate me.

For a little sumpin' speshal, we replaced Nancy with a fake GW Bush. So as we (finally) drove north to Suisse he guided us there. As we were running late, had been sidetracked and taken a detour we were reliant on GW to get us back on track. 'Hang a left in a coupla secs.' Ma Fille asked, 'Do you think he was a good president?' Uhm. 'Imagine how he would sound speaking French with that accent?!' We had some laughs trying it out ourselves. She'd say, 'Come on 43rd....tell us which way to go!'. To which he'd reply, 'Upa head, there's gonna be a ex-it. Leave the motorway and hang a right.'

She fell asleep at 11pm. She missed Swiss border control, the last of the tunnels and her mommy singing loud to70s music on the radio. And when we arrived at midnight and I tried to wake her she started counting in French in her startled sleep. Beautifully.