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 this....it 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 it....my 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 one...you 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 it.....in 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 sauce...like 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 five...in 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.