Saturday, March 3, 2012

Speaking English, Roquefort Cheese Log & Cheese Crisps

I've been in France for two years now. I forgot to write my anniversary blog post in February because the days seemed to fly by, full of other things. So, two years of la vie francaise; listening to French radio, muddling my way through chit-chat at the school gates, ordering and arranging fuel for the heater, wood for the fire, navigating bureaucracy and going to the doctor, orthodontist, gynecologist and having mammograms. All in French. Which I speak at about a 2nd grade level when I'm on a roll, all cylinders pumping.
{two years ago}
I dream of being surrounded in English, my American English where 'ride' is innocent and 'rubber' isn't.
I wish I could take a big old bubble bath in my language; hearing it at the grocery store, post office, beach, while driving in my car, just walking the dog. What would it be like? Luxuriant, I think.

Last night I went to a party for foreign nationals, anglophones, expats; choose your favorite word for what we are. We have these get-togethers every once in awhile and it's great to meet new people and talk and laugh and share. It's usually all English, Irish, Australians and only a couple of Americans so I'm still kind of one of a handful. And it's different to be an American versus being British, very different in many ways.

My English, Irish and Canadian friends think I sound like Suki Stackhouse. To my ears, my accent isn't that strong. It's definitely twangy, Texan but it's been tempered and adjusted by five years in Ireland and some effort on my part before that to dial down the Suki. But last night there was a fellow southern American there, with long, lazy vowels, whom I'd never met. She was great. And so similarly American.

Similarly American, even though she's lived here for ten years, is a French citizen, is married to a French man and has children who were born in France.

You could see her 'Americanness' in the way she talked so frankly and openly, laughed loud and full, shared her confidence and positive attitude. And her teeth! It's so funny but that is one of the things that make us noticeable. Is it the flouride in the water?

I liked her so much and feel that she has got it right. She seems to have struck the balance so necessary to have when living far from home with your heart in both places. And she knows what it feels like to be both on the outside and inside of the two. You're standing there, absorbed. But always looking in at the same time, never quite fitting in, a floating ambassador for your country while you try to belong to the new one.

We talked about being surrounded by another language all the time and how you just want to communicate in a real way, your true self, and yet how can a 40 year-old woman fully communicate when she speaks like an eight year-old?

She told me how when she goes home and hears English, twangy, comforting American English, all around her she feels strange and happy and how it sounds so loud. I'm convinced that the loudness thing is two-fold; one, we are kind of loud, it's true, but in a cheerful, exhuberant way usually, and two, it just sounds louder because you can actually understand every bit of it without thinking and reordering and adjusting it in your head.

We all brought something to eat and I signed up for starters. I went straight to my Homesick Texan cookbook and made the Roquefort Cheese Log and the Queso Cookies (my Grandmother called these Cheese Crisps). These two appetizers really shout Texas, loudly!

{my Grandmother's cheese log recipe card}

I thought the Roquefort cheese log was the perfect combination of me and how I feel. It's French cheese, and we actually just went to the Roquefort cheese caves so I'll be sharing that with you soon, but Texased up by being mixed with cream cheese, imagine!, and rolled in pecans.
Plus, you eat it before the meal which is just bizarre to the French who only eat their cheese as the third or fourth course.
I thought it was perfectly perfect--Roquefort, Texas stylee.

The cheese cookies are a Texas staple; just good, cheesy, easy and filling and they smell great while you're cooking them.

{my Grandmother's cheese crisps recipe card}

Roquefort and Pecan Cheese Log
by Lisa Fain, Homesick Texan Cookbook

8 ounces cream cheese
3 ounces Roquefort cheese
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup crushed pecans
Crackers, for serving

Mix the cream cheese and Roquefort together. Add in Worcestershire sauce, garlic and cayenne. Place on a sheet of cling-film (plastic wrap) and roll into a sausage, covering as you go with the wrap.
Put it in the fridge to set for at least an hour.
When you're ready to serve; remove it from the fridge, take off plastic wrap and roll it in the pecans.
Serve with crackers.

Queso Cookies
by Lisa Fain, Homesick Texan Cookbook

210 grams/ 1 cup/ 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups all purpose flour
1 green chile, seeds and spines removed, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cumin

Preheat oven to 350F/190C.
Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Mix the butter and grated cheese together. In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt, cayenne and cumin.
Add the butter and cheese to flour mixture and blend well. I used my hands.
Finally, add in the minced pepper pieces and blend well.

Form the dough into a ball and pinch off marble-sized bits, roll into circles and put on the parchment paper tray. Continue. When all balls are formed take a small fork and press each marble flat with the fork tines. You'll have cute, latticed cookies.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove to cool.


  1. I agree! So much! It will be weird to go home and understand everything being said. It's kind of nice not being able to eavesdrop even if you wanted to, less stressful as the noise you hear is just noise, not conversation that distracts you. That said, it sure will be easier setting up the phone line in English.
    We still eat cheese as an apero too, even though I love the French cheese course. The more cheese the better as far as I'm concerned.
    Glad you had a great time and thanks for the recette!

  2. I'm in England and struggling with communication, I can't imagine living in a country where English is not the primary language. What a challenge that must be? And gawd, I miss queso!!!

    I love that you have your grandmother's recipe cards. So special!

    Congrats on two years!! I'm working on two months and can't wait to look back after a few years.


  3. I adore the recipes! Fantastically yummy! But the rest of your post just makes me want to weep because by the time I reach my two year anniversary of living in France coming up this summer I will be lucky if I have a two-year old toddler grasp of the language---not even close to second grade!

    Ugh....I have a post in my draft box of French language-hell and I just haven't been in the spirit to post it.....

    But otherwise! I loved your always! ; ) hee-hee.

    xx! Cat

  4. Aidan, Ai-dan! We need to meet. Truly. You are 45 minutes away and probably passed my exit on the way to your Aix sleep over. Admittedly, I don't drive but would be happy to take the train down or a bus or something.

    You really nailed it perfectly with this post--it is EXACTLY how so many of us feel. Today is that weird third day after coming back from the States where all of the sudden the jet-lag kicks it up a notch and the happiness rug is pulled out from under you--do you know this too?

    I've been here for ten years now and yes, I chatted up a storm when I went home. I am shy here still but at home? I love talking to everyone. Saying exactly what I mean, being witty. All of it. Luxurious is right! I can't remember if you read my recent post (Haunted 2) about the joy of sitting in an American coffee shop (Panera actually) and just listening to all of that bubbly exuberance. Sigh. I love our people.

    When I first moved here a friend said that it would take five years for me to start to feel more comfortable and that seemed about right. I think the fact that I don't have children makes a big difference, the "expats" that I know that do have had a far quicker assimilation time.

    Bisous for this post, just what I needed today,

    1. PS. Could your kids be more beautiful?

    2. Heather,
      I would love to meet you. We are so close that it would be silly not to. I'll send you a message offline and we can plan it.
      I did read your haunted 2 post and it really resonated with me. It is something I always think about and am shocked by how much I miss. I know neither of us would change a thing and we love what we're doing but everything is a give and take isn't it? Sometimes when things go wrong, even the simplest thing like the washing machine not working or running out of fuel, I totally freak and think how much easier it would be to be at home. And then I calm down, fix it in French and get back to the things I love about living here.
      I'm glad it helped you ease back into being back. It is quite difficult after you've been home or seen friends from home. I meet two of my best friends every year somewhere and when they're gone I feel a bit hollow.
      Have a wonderful weekend and look for my email.
      aidan x

  5. I had loved Heather's post on this subject and told her so in a comment and yours is great, too. Even though I have "only" had to adjust to Ireland, I know you know how that feels, too. It helps to be a bit of a chamelion - I have found it to be a survival tactic for my more than 10 years here. And yet, sometimes you just want to be who you are......

    As my French is pretty bad, I can imagine my experiences when we finally get there will be similar to what you describe although, alas, no young children anymore to force at least a small chat at the school gates. I have found on visits that I can barely scrape by - it sounds like you're managing very well, actually. Lovely recipes, too....thanks!

    1. Katherine,
      I read Heather's post too and it was incredibly true. I was more than a bit jealous of her moment in the cafe eavesdropping and feeling like she fit in.
      You're right about the chameleon thing but for me it's more like I've found my true self while trying on different things.
      You'll be fine when you arrive if you don't have the choice. Poor P-Daddy speaks English all day at work and so his French has suffered. He's actually jealous of all my trials and he says!
      I hope you enjoy the down home recipes. And thanks for your kind comments, as usual.
      all the best,
      aidan xo

  6. Great post! Your kids are very cute! I must try to be more sympathetic to my wife who trys to explain to me what its like to sit in a room while we are having a conversation with my French family and friends and not understand some/most of what is being said. I look forward to hearing about your visit to Roquefort as we have driven past to the family farm nearby but never taken the ride up the hill to the village and caves.

  7. Bonjour Aidan. It seems to me you are doing pretty well after living in France for just two years. Your French may not be fluent, but your posts show that you always have the right attitude, and open-mindedness, when you look around and reflect on strange French ways ;-) Still, I understand how frustrating life must be when a fully functioning adult can only express herself as a two-year old ;-) I often wonder what our life in the United States would have been like had I not spoken English fairly fluently when we arrived 16 years ago. I noticed that many of the French expatriate women I met over the years here in Seattle ended up going back to France after a while. I may have been one of them. Funny how we all miss our homeland eventually, wherever that may be. It is true what they say, that absence makes the heart grow fonder. There is no doubt about that... In the meantime, international travel helps get a temporary "fix" when we miss our culture too much. My turn will come soon. Happy for you you also have those fun gatherings with other expatriates. They certainly help. PS: Would love to hear your [admittedly] toned-down Texan accent! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  8. You are correct, it is so VERY different being American versus English or Australian. I'm grateful to have found expats in my area, but most grateful for the American whom I can relate to.

    1. Chickster,
      It does make a difference when you find someone with the same cultural background. I hope you have some Americans in your expat group. If not, you can always call on me. Vive les Etats-Unis!
      bon weekend,
      aidan xo

  9. It's ironic that the grass is always greener! I miss living in France and not understanding everything! I miss being able to speak French and learn something new everyday. I get so sick of close-minded people in the US (and south - I'm in SC). I long to hear beautiful French and nothing else!! :)

  10. I was an expat for 3 yrs in Geneva, Switz. in the early '80's with no email or easy internet access in my home as you have now (the personal computer was still not invented)...imagine the lack of communication with friends and family! I went to French class every morning while my children were in school at Ecolint and husband was at work(he worked for an international technology and computer company). I knew about 2-3 American families and that was it! All my afternoons were spent wandering around the city or walking my dog in the nearby dog park. I loved my stay in Europe but things are far different now, and that is good.

  11. You are SO right! I'm lucky - in a way - because my husband is English, and we have several English friends here. (although that means my French hasn't really come on as well as it should after 6 years here!) but it's the fact I can't really express myself well and, when conversations go straight over my head because I don't understand them. I never wanted to be in an ex-pat community, and I'm not really, but I do miss being able to eavesdrop!!!


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