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.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Feel Gassy or Diesel PS

To follow up on yesterday's post outing my shame at filling the tank of my husband's car with unleaded instead of diesel....

First, I am surprised to hear so many (well four) people have done the same thing. And not all of them were women either so the laughing Frenchies from the garage can suck it.

Second, yesterday I received a text from mon amie Canadienne asking me to duhn, duhn, duhn--help her mother fill up their car because they're not in town! and are afraid of the strike induced gas shortage. Seriously? At first I thought she was playing a tricky monkey on me. I cracked up and so did my lovely, patient husband.
Then I saw the second text she'd sent that said, "OMG! I just read your post and I am scared. Our car takes GAZOLE"

So this morning I went with her mom to fill up the tank. I have to admit I was super nervous. I think I will always second guess myself from now on. I hated getting gas before, doesn't everyone, but now it has taken on nightmarish proportions. Luckily, thanks to the strike and closing of 12 of 12 gas refineries, there is no unleaded, regular gas to be found. You'd better hope your car takes diesel this week.

I do have to say though that I've found the French to be very patient. They wait calmly in lines at the Carrefour and they wait calmly in lines for diesel. I guess they're used to this strike thing. No point in getting all heated up American style. It's not going to change the wait time only make it more miserable.

My new life motto: Patience. Acceptance. Wine.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Lot of Diesel, Time & Money were Wasted in the Making of this Story

What I'm about to tell you is a true story. Nothing has been embellished and I must insist you always keep in mind that everything that unfolds happened in French.

Ma Fille and I went to Geneva this weekend to visit friends. There have been strikes all over France and the news has been telling us that with 11 out of 12 refineries closed we may experience a shortage of petrol. Knowing this I decided it would be prudent to fill up on gas before beginning the journey even though the tank was 3/4 full. I was driving Mon Mari's car because it's new and left-hand drive and doesn't feel like the engine is powered by chipmunks running furiously, spinning and wheezing at top speed. But that's a story for another day. On to the shameful truth...

I stopped at the first station on the motorway and waited in a line four cars deep for the pump. Looked like everyone had the same idea so that made me feel better, efficient, responsible. When it was my turn I got out and filled the tank. Naturally. But as I was doing it the voice in my head was worried, buzzing, 'I don't think this is right....I don't think this car is sans plomb....I think this is all horribly wrong!'
Maybe that was because there's a little sticker above the gas tank that says 'gazol ou diesel' or maybe because there's a red ring around the nozzle that says 'diesel' or maybe even because the nozzle for diesel is yellow to match the little sticker and the nozzle for unleaded is blue. Hmmmm.

I have to tell you that I knew I had made a horrible mistake even as I was doing it. For some reason I could not stop myself! I was in a trance; all that talk of gas shortages, the long lines behind me, the people going about their efficient tank filling business all around me made me stubbornly carry on. There's no explanation for this bizarre act of stupidity. I knew it, knew it, knew it and felt sick but strangely hopeful that I could somehow get away with it. I was wrong to be hopeful.

Now to the part where you must remember the French thing.
I got to the window to pay. In a state of what can only be explained as denial. I handed over my gas card, 'bonjour, pompe huit'. Cool as a cucumber, as if nothing was wrong, firmly in fantasy land.

Cue cymbals, anvil falling, curtain being pulled back to reveal the horrible truth. French, French, French, don't forget.
Attendant: 'Your card says unleaded is forbidden'.
Me: 'Oh, how bizarre.'
Attendant: 'You can only buy diesel on this card. Did you put unleaded in your car? You cannot drive your car. I will call the man to push your car. You must not start your car. Do you understand?'
Me: 'Oh.'
Attendant: 'Do you understand?'
Me: 'I really messed up.' (insert English curse word of your choice)
Attendant, smiling: 'Yes. You did. Do not start your car. Do you understand?'
I laughed nervously. All the people around me laughed nervously. My ridiculous mistake was explained to all who would listen. Heads shook, eyes averted, more nervous laughter.

I walked the long walk back to the car and my waiting daughter. I had to explain this now. 'Mommy made a really bad mistake. I put the wrong gas in the car and now we have to wait for the man to come and push us, empty the gas and put more in before we can go.' I really thought it would be this simple. More reason for you to doubt my sanity and intelligence. The wall-eyed man from the station came out, irritated to have to deal with this, and pushed the car out of the way of the gas line that was at least six cars deep because of me. And so we waited. I sincerely thought that someone was going to come out of the station with some kind of gas removing device...I don't know, maybe a hose which said person would suck on to start the flow and the tank would quickly be emptied into something, he would push me over to another pump and I would fill up, with diesel this time, and be on my merry way. La la land.

Riding in the scary tow truck
So we waited. My lovely daughter telling  me not to worry, it was all going to be ok. And then. The tow truck arrived, lights flashing, reverse beep sounding, to take us away. As we climbed up into the back seat of the gigantic tow truck I finally realized, this was really not ok. First, it was going to cost some money. Second, we were going to be seriously delayed going to Geneva. Third, as we bumped along in the back seat, winding our way through no man's land with Monsieur Depannage in charge I finally started to freak out a bit. Things from roadside horror movies entered my head. The  headlines would read, 'American mother and daughter missing in the South of France after mother idiotically filled diesel tank with unleaded.' I asked Monsieur how long he thought it would take. One hour at least.
notice the burned cars behind
We finally arrived at the garage which we entered through a remote controlled gate. Msr Depannage the owner of said remote control. Burnt out cars were everywhere. Ma Fille squeezed my hand. I called Mon Mari for the 4th time just so everyone knew I had a phone and wasn't afraid to use it.
Flippin' yellow sticker!
Everyone in the garage had to come out and  have a look. What does a stupid American really look like? A man who I presumed was the boss because of his starched, tight jeans and cock of the walk air came out, looked us over. In an act of colossal understatement he pointed to the yellow diesel sticker above the gas tank and asked me, 'Did you not see this sticker?'
In French. All in French, people.

Monsieurs Depannage hard at work
They took out the back seat to get to the tank from the inside. Then they used a car battery with a hose and gas nozzle attached to suck out all the diesel/gas mix. 'Three quarters diesel, one quarter petrol.', chuckled Msr Depannage Deux. 'Oui, she was worried about the strike. It's her husband's car. Ha, ha, ha.', replied Msr Depannage Un.
So freakin' funny, huh Frenchies?! I can understand you! I know what you're saying!!!! Who's laughing now, huh??!!

An hour later, tank emptied, refilled to a quarter of a tank because they wanted to charge me 1 euro 50 for a liter of diesel....hang on there I'm not THAT stupid...a couple of squirts of air freshener (really) back seat replaced and we were on our way. Two hundred euros for the privilege. My sweet daughter said to me, 'Mommy don't feel bad. I'm sure there are at least one hundred people across the world who are doing this same thing right now.'

This really happened. I couldn't decide whether or not to tell you because of the shame of it. I decided laughing was more fun than feeling bad.
C'est la vie.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Life's a Souffle--Dare You?

I made my first souffle this week. And it turns out it wasn't as scary or nail biting as I'd always been led to believe.

Eggs and timing. That's all there is to it. Which is always the way with eggs. And life too for that matter.
You've got to get your oven hot, your white sauce thick, and your egg whites whipped into a frenzy of stiff peaks. And then it's all just a matter of sit back and watch as it rises in golden triumph, light as air but heavenly rich in flavor.

Just as with all things, to really appreciate it you have to live in the moment. Seize the souffle! Enjoy its magical rise to greatness because it will deflate while you watch, right before your eyes! its puffed pompadour will loosen and spring back, receding. It is a thing of beauty; rife with innuendo, fleeting in its perfection and consistent in its demeanor.

I wanted to take a photo of it, my first, but P-Daddy insisted, "No, look! You can see it deflating right before our eyes!" I gave in to timing, accepted the wild applause of the children, and pierced the center with fork and spoon, revealing egg air. Delicious, golden, diaphanous poufs that left us all wanting more.

I know there are many much more important things going on at the moment. There are more strikes this week in France. A miraculous story of survival and rescue is playing out in Chile. My children have begun lying to me in French. But sometimes you have to make souffle. Don't be afraid. I hope you make your own. And enjoy every minute of its ephemeral beauty.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thursday Things or What Happens While You're Waiting for Something to Happen

I've been waiting all day for something exciting to happen. Something I can tell you about and make you think, "awwww that's nice". Or, "that's pretty funny". I'd even settle for, "man, it must suck to have to speak French all the time".

Here's what I've come up with. I hope you like it.

You know how Mon Mari was gone for two weeks on business. Well he was. He was traveling around Europe talking to people in the press (who, I don't know) about his very exciting computer products. I know more than I let on but let's just say it's not the most mind-blowingly engaging and titillating subject, ok? He's good at it and I love him so I'm happy that he's happy. He's been videoed before and that's been on youtube which is nice and so I always ask him if his brilliant statements on computer storage solutions will appear anywhere exciting. This time he was talking to French and German press. In English. And he's been quoted. In French and German. I was very impressed because I didn't realize he could speak either language. And if he's been hiding his special talents for French while I struggle to get by, am summoned to answer the door or telephone or order McDo at the drive-thru window then boy, he's in a heap o' trouble!
Of course I'm just being silly. His intelligent and well-thought out quotes were translated. But the really funny part is he says that wasn't quite what he'd said. What a joker.

On to my next offering.
Earlier as I was doing a multitude of chores and the Littlest played with his cars I noticed the disconcerting sound of silence. You all know that with small children this can be a not so good thing, a bad thing, or a really bad thing. This time it was just a kinda cute and funny thing. Here's what I found......

And finally. Today the big kids came home for lunch. I made them rice pudding for dessert and Ma Fille, who is very good at food compliments, said that not only was it delicious and I could be super-rich like with the salmon tart, but this particular rice pudding was so good that I could have my very own cooking show and make just rice pudding for my audience. To which the Middlest asked, 'Will there be cameras in the kitchen or will you go somewhere else to do it?" I guess he doesn't like the cameras in the kitchen invasion of privacy that will ensue when a cooking show is filmed to celebrate my delicious rice pudding.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How NOT to Keep a Low Profile

With all this talk about terrorist threats and how Americans should keep a low profile I thought I'd do some research.
To be honest, I didn't mean to do the research. I'm just an American and so I do American things without even thinking it's American. Duh. And then I feel stupid.

How NOT to keep a low profile:
#1 For sure you should go jogging after lunch.
#2 Always wear shorts and a tank top.
#3 Be sure you have super shiny, neon green Nike shoes.
#4 By all means wear your hot pink ipod strap on your upper arm.
#5Of course you should stay to the main thoroughfares and never jog on jogging appropriate paths like a normal person.
#6 Have it be 100 degrees and be one of those unfortunates who turns super rock n' roll RED when exercising in the heat.

And if that's not enough, you might as well wear some of those American flag jogging shorts. I might as well have.

From now on it's jogging in the early morning hours when I don't stand out quite so much.
Or maybe I'll give in and start riding a bike everywhere. Definitely no helmet. Always a scarf and skirt. And there had better be cigarette smoking. That should do it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Back to Business

Michele is coming today. You probably know she's my French tutor. I think she's wonderful and charming and I've learned so much from her. It's just that I haven't had a lesson since the summer and I'm nervous. I wonder if I've forgotten it all...well, I know I haven't forgotten it all, obviously. But what if she's disappointed in my stagnation. What if it takes me five minutes to say something I used to be able to say in two? What if I have to do that thing where I look up at the sky, eyes distant, brow furrowed, while I'm thinking of what to say like I used to at my debut?

There's also the kissing and vousing. Everyone gives three kisses to say hello and goodbye to people they know well-- it takes a while. Michele would never kiss me because she's my instructor and I'm her student. It's more of a formal relationship and we shake hands. I have to use the formal vous with her as well, for the same reasons as no kissing and also so I'll learn the conjugations for vous because you use them with the general public and the verb changes. Of course.

She came for lunch during the summer to meet my mother. She is just that kind of cool woman. And before she came I was nervous. I wondered if she'd kiss me. It wasn't a lesson and we have become quite close through all the time we've spent together. Would she or wouldn't she? Would I still vous her? Yes, of course. But would she tell me I didn't have to vous her? Hmmm.

Lunch day came. Michele arrived. I went down to welcome her, happy to see her and introduce her to my mom. And, SHE KISSED ME! Right there on the stairs. A triple kiss with the half hug/squeeze thing they do. I was officially more than just a student. More than the sum of my very expensive lessons. I was a kissable friend.
As to the vous....well, she spoke English the entire time (more than I'd ever heard her speak my language) because she's polite and my mom doesn't speak French and it wasn't a lesson. Just three women hanging out, eating some Picard deliciousness and chatting.

Back to today. She's coming for a lesson for the first time in 3 months. Of course there'll be no kissing. And all the formalities will return.
At our last lesson she told me I only needed about five more lessons before I had a good base and wouldn't need her anymore. I held back a tear, no lie. Wonder will she still say that today? Wish me luck and bon courage. I'm off to cram, French style.