Thursday, September 12, 2013

Au Revoir Summer of 2013

{scuba kids}
It's chilly in the Sud today and all I have to keep me warm are memories of summer.They've been all packed up and stowed away as we go about the crazy all-over-the-place business of 'la rentrée'. P-Daddy called it the 'summer of us'. Us, because he worked from home every single day, usually sans shirt, and just about drove me crazy. (Not really. It's nice to have him here.)

We stayed nearby and had a great time on the terrace with the visiting P-Quax and then we headed to Le Lavandou courtesy of a very brave and generous Viking, Mme. Plongeur.We sat on the terrace overlooking the bay of Le Lavandou and sighed.


We drank the most expensive pink wine in France (well, maybe not the most expensive but it wasn't pas cher) from Château de Brégançon, a beautiful vineyard along the Mediterranean Sea just a stone's throw from the Presidential summer digs of the Fort de Brégançon. A local in Bormes-les-Mimosas told us that Holland doesn't really like the house and Sarkozy only used it a few times. Chirac was the real beach bum, regularly spending les vacances chez Fort. I can just picture him sunbathing to a savage crisp on a Tunisian throw.

P-Daddy and the big kids spent an afternoon on a diver's discovery, wetsuits, oxygen tanks and all, plunging 10 meters around the rocks between two of Le Lavandou's offshore islands, Port Cros and Porquerolles.

We watched fireworks from the comfort of the hillside terrace (twice!) and clapped and cheered along with our unseen neighbors and honking boats in the harbor.

The Littlest and I spent an afternoon watching endless games of pétanque. We ate ice cream every afternoon and surveyed the village from a Ferris wheel. 'I love this place,' he exclaimed as we spun at dizzying heights. That and 'I need a little break' as we climbed the mountain back up to said hillside beach house.
Bestie K even came for her requisite four day visit, this time taking in Helsinki airport along the way. Grass doesn't grow under her feet. And boy, do I love her for it.

{Bestie K in Bormes-les-Mimosas}
Birthdays and barbecues (sausage galore!), ice cream and gin and tonic, string bikinis and boobie gawking, snorkeling and diving; not too bad for the summer of 2013.

{going native}
I hope you have a box full of memories from yours too. Take it out when it gets chilly and dark and bask in the summer glow of its warmth.

Bisous à tous... 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Quick Peanut Butter & Chocolate Ice Cream

This post is for Michel of Sablet House, a regular commenter and official new friend. It all started when I lamented the dearth of BIG jars of peanut butter chez France. Thank you, thank you Michel and Shirley!

If you're not an American, and maybe even if you are, you may not get this PB love. But P-Daddy seriously loves it. And as a consequence, maybe of its unicorn-horn scarcity, so do the kids. They also love the sometimes bag of crunchy, finger caking Cheetos sent by the Beau-Parents. If we lived at home, maybe we wouldn't crave these things. Maybe we wouldn't even notice. Another example of my you-always-want-what-you-can't-have consumer envy comes from the advertisements in my American magazines. They make me want to try things. They might do it to you too, only you can simply head over to Target and get yourself some spray-on lotion if you fancy it. And fancy it, I did. I can't say why, other than it sounded cool, a fun time saver. I digress, but this is to show you how we miss certain American things.

Back to the Peanut Butter. Michel and his lovely wife Shirley thought to bring me some, carrying two super sized jars of it in their luggage from California to France. We met yesterday to do the drop off. They are the sweetest people and I am thankful to have met them, am happy to know people from all over with all their varied and interesting histories and lives, glancing off mine and making it fuller.

As soon as I got home with the loot, slices of bread went into the toaster. The butter knife thick with creamy peanut butter, we slathered it recklessly on warm toast and varnished it with a top coat of creamy honey. The Littlest likes sliced bananas on top of his. We ate it happily, greedily, oohs of gratitude for Michel and Shirley coming from our sticky mouths.

The feast or famine mentality has hit. I hid one of the jars and will ration it when the time comes, but for now we are indulging. Last night, after the kids were in bed, I remembered a recipe that I found the last time we had big jars of PB. It is so simple, yet so good. (I can't remember where I found it, even tried to find it again so I could share the link. Maybe I imagined seeing it, I don't know.)

I whipped it up and P-Daddy and I spooned it in, umming and licking our lips in clandestine enjoyment of this special treat. I will make it for the kids, too. Of course I will. And I am also sharing it with you.

Quick Peanut Butter & Chocolate 'Ice Cream'

jar of creamy or crunchy peanut butter
your favorite chocolate ice cream
individual glass cups or small single serving bowls (you know how the French love to serve things in these little jars? what's happening to me?!)

Then, all you do is scoop a round ball of chocolate ice cream (we like dark) into the cup and cover with two tablespoons of peanut butter. Kind of spread it over the chocolate making a pretty layered icing with it. Then, cover right on the pb with a disk of parchment paper so it won't get all freezer funky and put the cups in the freezer. Wait as long as you can for the pb to get cold and then eat it while your kids are in bed, surreptitiously sneaking a bit of grown-up happiness undisturbed.

Or you can make as many as you like and  serve them to everyone for dessert. You're probably better at sharing than me.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Chateau de Montferrand and Pic St Loup à Pied

We've been on an adventurous kick. Hiking and biking and randonée-ing all over the place. The kids humor us. The Littlest sings, 'It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock and ro-oh-ohl.'

I make picnic lunches that sometimes include wine.

We have Stephanie to thank for lighting the spark, reminding us how much free fun is out there. She was our guide to the top of a garrigue covered colline and the medieval ruins of Chateau de Montferrand.

{Chateau de Montferrand}

{lunch with Stephanie}
After that success,we decided there was no stopping us. Not even a pair of 4-year old legs. They are actually quite sturdy.

We took off. Armed with a picnic and hearts full of vim and vigor, to the top of Pic St Loup. It's a craggy clump of mountain covered in wild thyme, scrub oak and pistachio trees. There was even black lichen. Have you ever seen black lichen?

{Pic St Loup peeking through}
Pic St Loup is a constant presence in the Hérault. Sitting firmly to the left of Montpellier, its ridged back ending in a finger point surrounded by vineyards.It was named after Thieri Loup, the oldest of three brothers, all in love with  the same girl, Bertrand. She died while they were off battling in the Crusades, having never chosen her favorite of the Loup brothers. Each Loup, heartbroken and bereft, took up residence on three different peaks in the region.

Pic St Loup wines have become quite popular in recent years thanks to vineyards like Puech Haut and neighboring l'Hortus, he of the dancing man on my favorite rosé

The best place to start your hike is at the edge of the small village, Cazevieille. There's a parking area there with picnic tables. When we went there were groups of families set up for the day, playing pétanque and swinging in staked hammocks. To the top and back is 6 kilometers. It took us, with the Littlest's sturdy legs and a bit of scrabbling near the top, around two and a half hours, give or take.

Getting to the top is the fun part. (Repeat this mantra to your pre-ado daughter all the way up.)

The terrain is mostly small rocks and an easy incline under shade until the middle when you break out and can see the vineyards below and out to the Med. Then, you're back under oaks and pistachios, ready for the hairpin climb to the top.There's a ruined chapel turned makeshift memorial where people leave trinkets and messages to loved ones as well as a guest book to prove you hiked to the top.

{leaving proof}

On the ridge, the views are breath-taking, the sheer drops nauseating. There is no guardrail or barrier of any kind.

{nauseating. he's delighted}

I was holding onto my people for dear life and kept thinking of that scene in Auntie Mame when Beau yodeled off the side of the Alps. There was a woman much braver than me lotus-posed on a rock, looking off to the horizon.

It made me want to hurl. 

{look how I'm holding on}

For some reason the kids started speaking French on the way down and I noticed something interesting. They don't whine in French. The Middlest tells jokes and makes French puns. Something about boobies playing off the word 'St' in Pic St Loup. Ma Fille actually laughs at his jokes and calls him names, 'minus' for example, which don't seem to be as insulting outside of English. 'Hey, Minus!' See. No biggie.

Like my Midi-Libre randonnée edition says, 'Le Pic Saint-Loup, mille fois vu et sans cessse redécouvert.' 
{Littlest looks wrecked, I look crazed, Big Kids look great}

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hooray, Hooray, the Month of May!

My friend Rachel, aka Ms Butt Bumper, taught me a saying. She learned it from her septuagenarian mother-in-law. It goes like this: 'Hooray, hooray, the month of May! Outdoor f***ing starts today!'

She's from Vermont. I think they go a bit loola up there when the snow stops falling.

I do love it though, I do. Don't you?

May in France is especially perfect for this saying thanks to all the extra outdoor time they give you in the form of school and national holidays. There are so many bridges (see this post) in France this May that we go, no lie, the entire month without a regular work or school week. That's a lot of kids and P-Daddy.

{happy birthday Clementine}
Other wonderful May things to consider: birthdays, lilacs, strawberries, asparagus, temperate weather (a-hem), naked gardening (here's to you Jacquie), pink wine, hiking, cycling, anniversaries, first swims of the season, painted toenails, and sunshine.

I love May. We begin to relax, warm up, slow 'er down. Yep, it's pretty much perfect.
And as the saying goes....

Friday, April 26, 2013

Confiserie Auzier Chabernac

Thank you blog, thank you.

Just had to get that out there. My thanks are for the people I meet via this blip in the ether some of you are so kind to visit and comment on regularly. Some of you, I only know virtually, but even so, my life is richer for your acquaintance. Others, I get to meet in person and that's always fun.

And so I thank you blog for introducing me to Stéphanie, a beautiful, feisty French woman with perfect English in an impeccable American accent. Stéphanie lives in the US, but is visiting home, which just happens to be a small suburb of Montpellier. And while she's here we decided it was time to meet for a coffee. So we did. And, no surprise, we liked each other just as much in person as we do on the page.

{Stéphanie, with her bag of goodies}
After our first coffee meeting, she invited me and the Littlest on a trip to the candy store, Auzier Chabernac. This particular candy store specializes in vanilla licorice, which Stéphanie loves. They also make sugared almonds or dragées in beautiful colors. I have to admit I did some Littlest bribing before our outing. Candy is a powerful enticement.

{dragées in assorted colors}
They let us taste the varieties of almonds, from the upscale and more expensive Sicilian Avola almond to the basic flat Spanish almond, all covered in candied sugar. They also have sugared hazelnuts and candied nougatine, which I bought in combination, not only for their nutty, sweetness but also for the pretty color combination of white and cream.

{Littlest with our loot}

The Littlest fell for a mixture of sugared, chocolate covered fruit candies in a combo of five flavors: lime, coconut, cherry, mandarin, and banana. You can see them bottom left next to the exotique blend that were the most expensive thing at 40 euros/kilo.

The candy is sold by the kilogram and so can mix and match to your heart's content. They had packages for baby showers and weddings and we waited for a bit while two large orders were being filled for parties. My sister Kate over in Arkansas asked me to fill an order for the grand opening of her design store, Fresh French Home. (She saw me sneaking nibbles from my candy bag while we were on FaceTime.)

You can visit the store in Montpellier centre ville or head out to the factory store in Saint-Gély-du-Fesc like we did and get a good deal on factory cast-offs of honey licorice and sugared fruit gums that weren't pretty enough to make it into the boutique in town.

How can you not enjoy an outing to the candy store? Thanks again, Stéphanie. Tu est belle!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chocolate Chicken Boobies + Yummy Brownies

It's been chocolate city around here lately. The French would say that I have a family of gourmands.
That just means that all my people really like sweets in general and chocolate specifically. Me, I can take it or leave it. Chocolate that is. But show me a tarte au citron and I'm a glutton.

Do you remember my neighborhood boulangerie? I talk about it often. It even got a valuable minute or so on our House Hunters International episode. If you saw it you'll remember the patisserie and chocolate; the glass case filled with delicate nibbles of airy meringues, pink marzipan piggies, and diminutive chocolate tarts with whipped cream crowns.

You may recall too, that they do a lottery for a gigantic chocolate sculpture at Easter. If not, you can read about it here.

This year was different in that they had two chocolate prizes to win.

First Prize was a BIG chocolate mama chicken surrounded by adorable chocolate baby chicks in yellow fondant hats and cardigans with sugar pearls for lace trim and buttons. Sweet.
Second Prize was a smaller (but still over a foot tall) chicken, with a big head and a round belly covered in a pink fondant bustier with fondant ties just barely covering two chocolate chicken boobies stuck right on the front, practically bursting off the coquettish chick's chest. I have to tell you that every time we went into the boulangerie for bread, the Littlest had to be coaxed out in a hypnotic state, mesmerized by sugary boobies.

So, we bought our square in the tombola or lottery this Easter, like we've done for the past two. And then we  bought an extra square, just because.

You know what's coming, right?

That's right, baby! Lucky number 51, cinquante et un! We won the bustiered, boobied chocolate chick.

{see, i wasn't lying about the bustier!}
You can't imagine the hysteria that ensued. Everyone was in a frenzy of chocolate bliss, like the scene at the end of  Chocolat when the ascetic Paul finally succumbs to chocolate temptation and gorges himself, weeping in cocoa laden ecstasy inside the chocolatier window.

The boobies were the first to go.

And, because I'm in a sharing mood, we have found the best ever brownie recipe that must not be made now that the weather has turned nice and it will be too warm for anything but a swimsuit soon. They're aptly named, Mmm-Mmm Better Brownies.

The last time Ma Fille made them, I found this note in the brownie tin.

She says it was meant for P-Daddy. He is the worst gourmand of the bunch, it's true.

If you'd like to try them, here's the recipe from

Mmm-Mmm Better Brownies

Grease a 9x9 inch pan and put line with parchment paper.

1/2 cup vegetable oil (we use sunflower)
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract ( we use white sugar from a jar that we keep vanilla beans in)
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, and vanilla. Beat in eggs. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; gradually stir into the egg mixture until well blended. Stir in walnuts, if desired. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the brownie begins to pull away from edges of pan. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Computer Phone Call Scam Comes to France--PSA

This really is a departure for me and my little blog, but I had to write it for you today.


This morning I received a phone call on my French land line. I usually don't answer it at all because it's mostly French telemarketers, and who wants to deal with telemarketers in their own language, much less one you barely, by the skin of your teeth, understand? Not me.
I answered though, because I thought it might be important. Can't say why, 'cause I don't know.

The first thing that was totally off about it was that the person on the other end began speaking. And I could understand him. I could understand him because he was speaking English; heavily accented call-center English, but nonetheless. It didn't make sense. People who call my French number do not speak English.
It freaked me out!

His spiel rolled out like this:

Him: 'Good morning madame. I am calling because we have detected a very serious problem with your computer and I would like to help you fix it.'

Me: 'Uhm, why are you speaking English?'

Him: 'Because English is the universal language and I am allowed to speak English.' (weird. allowed?)

Me: 'But you are calling my French number. How do you know I understand English?'

Him: 'Because we have access to your computer files and we can see that the language setting is English.' (WTW) That just means WTF in a nice way.

Me: 'Hold on for a moment please.'

This is the moment I ran downstairs and handed the call over to my computer-savvy, technology-job-having, work-from-home (merci!) genius of a very skeptical husband.

The problem with me is, usually I'm all trusting, expecting marigolds and kindness to be the thrown at me like sunshine. P-Daddy does not. And since I had a weird feeling because of the English talking and Mr. Call Center being able to see into my computer thing, I deferred.

P-Daddy asked all the right questions and strung the scammer along, delivering the final coup de grace when he asked if he had a number where he could call him back after giving this invasion into our personal computers some thought. The guy from 'Computer Maintenance Service Department' at some adjunct of 'Windows' did not like this question. P-Daddy was getting to him. He does that.

Mr. Call Center said he didn't have a number where he could be reached and that maybe P-Daddy was 'wasting his time'. Wasting his time?! No joke.

After a quick Google, I discovered that this is a well-known scam in the US, a throw-back from a couple of years ago, only now finding its sinister way to European shores. I wonder if they have a French-speaking division. If you get a phone call about your CLS id, HANG UP! I'm sorry. Didn't mean to shout. But, really. Don't give them anything.

Here's one of the articles I found for your perusal.

And here's a marigold. There's some kindness is thrown in there too.
Bon weekend.

{Yellow French Marigold}

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hey, Look Back There...

I was thinking over the weekend how I've settled in, gotten used to France and its seasonal, rule-following, sometimes (who'm I kidding, always) unintelligible ways. I don't strike out, do things, make mistakes to tell you about or put my foot in my mouth as much as I used to. And that makes me wonder...

Why so settled, anyway?

{wild abandon}
Back then I used to drive (yes, I meant to say drive, remember the diesel fiasco) headlong into foreign situations, push the boundaries of Great White, say all manner of ridiculous, yet hopefully, endearing things to the people around me.
Now, I just stand at the gate, staring ahead, shuffling my feet. Everyone knows I botch their language and so they either patiently listen or cleverly ignore me.

This settling in is what makes we wanders wander. Things aren't as fun when you've figured most of it out. It's an addiction; this looking for mistakes to make, social mores to test, laws of physics to defy.

{more wild abandon}

And so, today I'd like to look back, relive one of my favorite botched, bumbling, beguiling, (work with me) blunders. If you've never heard the story of the Ikea bed, Great White, the Baby and the Boss, then I hope you enjoy it. If you have, I hope you don't mind indulging my need to feel vibrant, unsettled, and alive with newness again.

The Boss and The Bed, originally published in June 2010

I’m really bad at spatial relations. It’s one of those things my brain just can’t do. I can’t judge what would fit where and always cut off either way too much or way too little wrapping paper and therefore it takes me an awful long time to get through Christmas presents.

We’ve been waiting for a month for our bed frame. It’s not because it’s some special, made-to-order item. Just that IKEA didn’t have it in stock until Friday.

Tired of sleeping on the floor and looking for more projects for P-Daddy to tackle this weekend, I decided to take the bull by the horns, pack up the Baby, and go get it myself.

I arrived before they opened and waited with all the other affordable (cheap) yet well-crafted (that depends on who’s following the directions) and attractive (nothing here) furniture junkies. As soon as we got in I made a bee line for beds only to find myself waiting with a sweaty and impatient British couple, a young French guy, and an American couple who kept trying to cut in line.

It was while I waited that the screaming started.
The Baby, not me.
{don't let this face fool you}
I started sweating, yet tried to look serene.

The screaming drew glances, stares, and thankfully, another person to the second register. It was finally my turn and I got the paperwork for the bed.

Downstairs to pick up the box for the slats.
I had the Baby in a small shopping trolley and had to get one of those long, big merchandise ones too. Pushing one with each hand, I maneuvered the box onto the big trolley.
No problem. I was feeling very organized and competent.

Next stop, retrait merchandise, where you collect your bigger items.
When my number was called and I saw the box I panicked a little bit on the inside but decided not to show it. The box was BIG! If you’re thinking that I shouldn’t have been surprised then you’ve forgotten about my problem.

Pushing a trolley with a 180cm x 220 cm box balanced on it while pushing a screaming baby in a smaller shopping cart is not recommended. I miraculously got to the car but this was only the beginning of my problems.

Undaunted by the sheer size of this box compared to the size of the back of my car, I carried on.

After I successfully wrestled the Baby into his seat, I set my sights on the box. ‘No problem, you can do this. Don’t panic. Just don't panic!' I kept repeating to myself.

As I tried to fit this very large square peg into the round hole, a car full of scarved Muslim women pulled up behind me, parking so close to the back of my car that the box bashed into their hood. Oh, for goodness sake! Now I’m sweating, stressed out, and have banged my box into a car and will have to explain this, en francais.

I have to tell you that I was not happy.

I usually try to see the good side of things but the entire production had gotten on top of me.
Angry Aidan was rearing her ugly head. With what could only be described as a scowl, I started complaining to them, saying how the box wouldn’t have fallen on their car if they hadn’t gotten so close to me while I was obviously struggling to achieve an impossible feat.

Before you get carried away, all of this was spoken in English and most likely very fast.

The next thing I knew, the oldest of the group ran up to me, grabbed a side of the box and started fluttering at me something about how it wasn’t ever going to fit. It took me a second to realize she wasn’t unhappy with me at all. Relief!

Someone was actually taking pity on me.

She began ripping open the side of the box while telling me what to do and flapping her arms and ordering the others around too. She was now in charge.

Everyone started ripping and tearing open the box. It was a frenzy of activity to a soundtrack of super-fast French. I couldn’t even get in there and ended up standing aside while they went at the box like some sort of ten-handed, French speaking machine.

They took out the pieces, threw aside the box, and started cramming the head and foot boards into the back of my car.

{the offending bed, delivered safely}

‘Oh, no…there’s a baby in there!’ said one.

‘You must move the baby. You must move the baby!’ cried the boss.

Oh, dear. Where?  Where should I move the Baby to?!?

She looked at me with such patience as if to say, ' You poor child, you really are a bit soft in the head aren’t you?'
Why in the front seat of course!

‘Move the baby, move the baby, or leave the bed behind!!!’
So I moved the baby.

I undid the car seat from all its protective harnesses and moved the Baby, gulp, to the front seat. This went against all of my American girl who had babies in the past 10 years training.

Two minutes later the entire contents of the enormous box were somehow contained in my car and the Baby was delighted to be up front with me. He just kept giggling and pointing, the happiest he’d been all day.

As the spatial relations angels left me in a dizzying whirr of arms, squeezes, and ça n’est pas graves, the boss kept calling back over her shoulder, ‘Roll up the windows or the bed will tumble out! You must roll up the windows!!!’

I laughed all the way home.

You never know where help will come from and it will always come when you least expect it.

Bless you boss lady, merci beaucoup a vous, wherever you are.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Expats Blog Contest

Do you remember my tell-all interview (I'm feeling very dramatic today aren't I?) over on Expats Blog a couple of weeks ago? Well, the friendly people there are having a contest. And I entered.

The idea was to write a Top Ten list sharing a unique, creative and informative insight into living in your chosen country. I couldn't resist writing about the 'Top Ten Life Lessons the French Have Taught Me'.

The contest is live on the Expats Blog website now and lasts for only a few days. The prizes are pretty good, too. I would love to win some do-re-mi so I can buy P-Daddy a case of peanut butter from!

This is where I ask for your help, right? Right. All I need you to do is to share my Top Ten list through Twitter, Facebook and any other way you see fit. But only if you like it, which I sincerely hope you do. And if you feel like commenting on my post on their site, please do that too.

If those links up there weren't enough, click here. I hope you enjoy my hard-earned life lessons.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Living France April Issue

I'm delighted to tell you that I am the featured expat foodie in the April issue of Living France magazine.

{April issue}

It's on UK newsstands if, like me, you like to feel your magazines, in app form for your tablet, or online where you can buy a single print issue or a yearly subscription.

'Living France is the indispensible source of information and inspiration for those who are passionate about moving to France, or who already live there. It is the perfect combination of sumptuous guides to destinations across the country, comprehensive expert advice on the practical aspects of moving and living there, and fascinating stories from expats already living the life they have always dreamed of across the Channel. Living France is published 13 times a year.' {Living France website}

Get your hands on the April issue and let me know if you think mine is a 'fascinating story from an expat already living the life they have always dreamed of...'!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Far, Far Away

One of the troubles with living far from home is that when things happen, as they will, you are, well...far, far away.

This past weekend I was faced with the worst case scenario of far far away when my dad became very ill from complications following back surgery. Complications escalated into full throttle as he fought for life and some very difficult decisions demanded to be made. My sister, who lives six hours from him, rushed back to his bedside. I could only call and thankfully, FaceTime while we cried, weighed options, and had to make the hardest decision of anyone's life. The hardest decision. No question.

Thanks to the time difference, I was on middle-of-the-night duty. Well, I put myself on it and tried to believe that it made some kind of difference to anything at all as I called every three hours for updates while my sister, living on East Texas time, tried to sleep.

Who knows why, it's one of those bizarre mysteries, but against it all and proving the doctor that told me I was going to have to 'call it' over the phone on Friday, my dad has made it. He is one tough, opinionated, stubborn old nut. (That description will thrill him when he's able to read this, by the way.)
He has surprised everyone. His regular doctor had tears in his eyes when he realized the extent of his improvement. I owe Dad some posts. Before he got so sick, he specifically asked that I write about the last two chateaux we visited back in October. I will write them for him, as soon as he's ready to read them.

Being far, far away has its wonders and joys and I wouldn't trade it for another life. But when things like this happen, I am so grateful for technology. For connections like this blog, texting, email and most of all, video devices like FaceTime. I was able to talk to my dad using FT. My sister took her phone into his ICU room and he heard my voice, smiled, mouthed my name. He knows I'm calling the hospital in the middle of the night Texas time. He knows I am thinking of him every minute. He knows that even though I'm in France and so far away that I am still with him.

PS Do you have a living will? Does someone know your wishes and have a legal voice to express them should you not be able to?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Easy Expat Interview (It's Not Like It Sounds)

Blog Expat is an online community, life abroad guide, and support system for all stages of your expat adventure. The lovely Erin asked me to answer a few questions for their fun and insightful Expat Interview series and I was thrilled to do so. Mine is the feature interview today.

Click here and you'll be popped over to the site where you'll find my interview. P-Daddy took the profile photo at Chambord back in October and loved it. Now, I'm wondering if maybe I should have sent in a photo where I was at least wearing some makeup! Oh, well. What you see is what you get.

Expat Interview

I wonder if any of my answers will surprise you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Murder Mystery Birthday Party

Ma Fille is officially eleven years old. Really, I don't know how it happened.

I can see a photo file flipping through my mind of her as a newborn, bobbing around in the Texas summers with her chubby tummy and curly halo of hair, holding her baby brother while they watched Sesame Street in the mornings, hiking around Ireland as brave as you please, wearing her burgundy pinafore and necktie to Catholic public school, pigtails, ponytails, another baby brother, French bob, braces, gangly growth spurts, bravely learning a new language, making new friends, holding hands, swimming and diving, running and laughing, sitting at the edge of it all, sparkly painted toes on the precipice of teenager. 

She loves Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and recently Nero Wolfe, which she watched while home from school with this last batch of la grippe, so she asked me if she could have a murder mystery party this year. It couldn't be something easy like bowling or bouncy playscape, and not outside because the weather in February is unpredictable, moreover her first choice, the ice skating rink, was booked through April. And so that left us with me writing a murder mystery to be solved by eight pre-ado French girls.

You may remember when we first moved here and I bravely (stupidly) wrote a treasure hunt birthday party in French for her 9th birthday. You may also remember the incident of the dumpster blackboard that was questionably abandoned and fortuitously reunited with its previous owner. But still, I persevered and started searching around on the Internet like crazy for mystery themed party ideas.

There are loads! But they mostly come in ready-made packets, in English, and at a price. I had to do it on my own. So, I took the idea of Clue and its five questions to answer: 1) who 2) why 3) where 4) when and 5) with what and got to it. I wrote two sets of clues, one set that led teams of two to the big five questions that had to be solved from riddles and word play. We decided on a flower theme and each girl was given a flower to dress as--tulip, jasmine, hyacinth, daisy, rose, you get it....

For example, I placed the 'who' clues in an envelope in the washing machine but in order to get the teams there, I wrote a poem about blood being spun free of clothing. They liked it. And so did I. I have to admit that I had the best time ever coming up with it all, writing it and translating, cutting up paper to distort messages, and keeping it all in order in so many blood-red envelopes. The best part was watching them figure it out. They had a ball running around the house, whispering and gathering clues that led them to the gruesome discovery that the birthday girl, Mademoiselle Rose had used her thorns to poison Monsieur Bouquet, a role played by her very own brother, the Middlest.

If you'd like some ideas or help pulling off your own murder or sommeil profond party, just ask me. I'd be delighted to help. In English or French, ce que vous voulez.

My favorite moment? When Ma Fille said, 'But you didn't actually write it all? Not the poem about the washing machine?' To which I happily replied, 'Mais oui! Yes, I did.' Anything for you, my love.

Oh, yeah, Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Paris Sur Vespa, 2 Wheel Tours

I'm an optimistic sort, as you know. As the days get longer (they have, have you noticed?) and sunshine teases us with soft bisous on our cheeks, I think of Spring. I know it's coming. It always does. Romantic Springy thoughts turn to Paris. Everyone talks about it. Paris. In the Springtime, April in Paris. You've heard the songs.

So, I ask you, what better way to see Paris, in the printemps, or any time for that matter, than on a Vespa?

A Vespa?! Why, what a marvelous idea.

Yes.Yes, it is.

It is Xavier of 2 Wheel Tours, Paris by Scooter's idea . He is a charming, professional, English speaking Parisien who will show you the sights of Paris and even out to Versailles, following along behind him on a Vespa. You can hop on with him, holding on like a romantic movie heroine, scarf billowing behind you, or you can rent your own. Either way, I think there is probably no better way to get around Paris. Especially in the Springtime.


The lovely Ella Coquine wrote about her 2 Wheel Paris tour here and while she was cold (it was the middle of winter) she still had nothing but wonderful things to say about Xavier and his business.

I have to admit I'd like a re-do of the Bestie Paris trip just so we can ride on Vespas with Xavier! I would love to see Bestie A on the back, holding onto Xavier while Bestie K and I relived our Italian tandem bike experience sur Vespa. Or maybe P-Daddy and I could hop on the train again and follow along behind Xavier, getting an insider's view of the Paris we've never seen. I would love to bump happily down Montmartre's hill while scooted all close up to P-Daddy; billowing scarf included.

{2 Wheel Tours' Vanilla Vespa, Ella Coquine}
If you'd like to turn your own Vespa-touring through Paris fantasy into a reality, just let Xavier know.
Have you booked your tickets yet? Paris is waiting...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Go Abroad's Top Expat Bloggers

It's nice to wake up to good news, isn't it?
This morning's good news is that I have been given the assignation of 'Top Expat Blogger' by GoAbroad. They gave me that nice looking badge over there (just to the right, do you see it?) to make it official.
That's cool. Thank you GoAbroad! Thanks so much! And thank you for getting my blog's name. The best of life is in those tricky verbs.

There are nine other great bloggers on the list, Canadians in Germany, British in Australia, Americans in Spain, that you should check out. It is a great website for study abroad programs, teaching English, and everything in between; like families with three kids thrown into French speaking school and flourishing.

If you'd like to see the full story, it's here on GoAbroad's website. Travel, learn, love and grow. There's nothing like a life abroad to change your point of view. And to make you homesick for a miga, refried bean and hash brown breakfast.

You can follow on Twitter and Facebook too.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Lemon-Yogurt Cake, Revisited

The Littlest's teacher has the flu. There weren't any substitutes available so he just stayed with me. And that's okay. He's still little and has been working so very hard. When we found out yesterday morning and were on our way home after waving goodbye to the big kids, he cheered, 'I'm free!' How could I mind?

We've been keeping busy, he and I. He's been my shadow; holding my hand, pushing the miniature-sized cart at the grocery store, and spontaneously saying, 'Mommy, I love you.' like a verbal pinch. He can't believe his luck.
If I've done it, he's done it with me. We discovered a very rocky path on Clementine's morning walk that he felt was just the right amount of 'scary' and 'cool', stomped through ice crusted mud puddles ('slippery') at the lake, played at the playground (we were the only ones there), read the same French story about a bunny a million times (in French and also on the fly translated into English) and have fallen for each other like only a mommy and her Littlest can.
'Littlest, I love you.'

Today, we also made lemon yogurt cake. It is the same lemon yogurt cake we made together two years ago.

Turns out the Littlest and I like lemon yogurt cake in January. This time we made it with blueberry yogurt rather than the passion fruit of the recipe back then. We did the rest the same, although he was able to hold the electric mixer on his own this time around. He's grown.

If you've got someone at home with you who likes to make cake or if you just feel like a little sunshine lemon in the middle of winter, may I suggest, lemon yogurt cake.

Lemon (Blueberry)Yogurt Cake

Butter a bundt pan.
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup each, natural Greek yogurt and blueberry yogurt (2 cups yogurt total)
3 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups all purpose flour

Mix the vegetable oil, melted butter and sugar with an electric mixer until well blended.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between each addition.
Add the yogurt and blend well. Add lemon zest, juice, and vanilla extract.

Mix dry ingredients and then add to the yummy lemony yogurt mixture. Blend very well.
Pour into a greased non-stick bundt pan, wiping any excess off the sides.
Put into the pre-heated oven and cook for 50-60 minutes.

If the top appears to be getting too brown but the inside is too moist, turn the heat down to 325.

Allow to cool completely and then turn onto a serving platter or cake stand. (This is important and was not heeded by me this time. I'm terrible for reading directions. Even my own!)

With the blueberry yogurt added in it tastes like the best blueberry muffin you've ever had. So, so yummy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beef Shanks with Garlic and Fresh Thyme

I've always thought that the ritual of preparing, cooking and eating food is similar to the rituals I was taught as a young girl in the Episcopal church. I learned how to kneel, what words to whisper, how to let the unleavened cracker melt on my tongue, hands crossed just so, before sipping the wine. This was communion. And I performed it under the watchful eye of my Grandmother. Afterwards, we would go to the parish hall, joyful and renewed. My sister and I would eat cake and drink sugary juice while the grown-ups drank black coffee drained from the spigots of grand, silver urns. All the while knowing the lunch was back at home in the oven, waiting.

When I cook something like beef stew or braised shanks, I think of those Sunday afternoons and ritual.

Today I performed it in my kitchen. I put on my apron, gathered the few, delicious and perfect ingredients--garlic, fresh thyme picked on our walks through the Garrigue and organic beef stock--and let the meat rest outside the refrigerator to allow it to come to room temperature before salting and peppering each thick, meaty side. Clementine stayed close by, watching and waiting, hoping for a bit of goodness to come her way. 'Not now, sweet girl.' I said. 'Later, after the kids have spooned the rich marrow from the bone, you can have the rest.'

I browned the beautiful meaty rounds, marbled with slivers of white fat, on the stove in olive oil, two minutes on each side and then I removed them, crusted and darkened from the pan to wait while I sauteed wafers of garlic and tiny petals of thyme. Then I added the beef stock and scraped up all the goodness that was stuck on the bottom of the pan from the browning of the meat. P-Daddy came upstairs about then, drawn by the smell  of beef, garlic and thyme from his home office and joined Clementine. 'That smells so good! What is it? What are you doing now?!'

I shooed him away, along with the gurley and put the browned meat back into the pot with the rest. Three simple things; garlic, thyme and stock.
Then I laid some parchment paper right on top of the meat and covered the pot with foil before putting the lid on and putting the whole thing in a warm oven to cook.

After a few hours, the garlic will have gone all soft and sweet, the meat will fall apart with spoons and the bone marrow inside will be sticky and rich. We will fight over those later.

Now the house smells divine and I can enjoy the glorious smell while I sit in my little chair and type, forever trying to make the story better.

To me, the best meals evoke reverence. Eyes closed, appreciative murmurs, ritual played out again and again over dining tables of all shapes and sizes, indoors and out, season after season folding one into the next. People carry out this ritual in France every day. It’s not a stretch to say that to some, food is a religion.

I am enjoying my tiny piece of cake and cup of tea with joyful anticipation. I'm patient, knowing that a delicious dinner is in the oven, waiting.
Beef Shanks with Garlic and Fresh Thyme

2 or 3 beef shanks with bones
one head of garlic
a few sprigs of fresh thyme 
olive oil

Pre-heat your oven to 350F/180C.

Pat dry, salt and pepper your room temperature beef shanks.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in an oven-proof pan until quite hot.

Peel and slice half of the head of garlic.
Crush and peel the rest, leaving whole.
Remove two sprigs' worth of leaves from the thyme and leave the rest intact.

Brown the meat one piece at a time, 2-3 minutes per side in the warmed olive oil.

Remove to a plate and turn down the temperature before adding the sliced garlic and thyme leaves to the pan. You may need a tiny bit more olive oil here, you will be able to tell.

Scrape up any bits of meat stuck to the bottom and be careful not to let the garlic brown. 

Pour in the beef stock, preferably warmed, over the garlic and thyme and continue to scrape the bottom of the pan. Don't let any of the good meaty bits left there go to waste.

Return the browned meat to the pan. Add the peeled and smashed remaining cloves of garlic and sprigs of thyme. 
Cover all of it over, down low in the pot, with parchment or baking paper. Then add a layer of  foil at the top of the pan before putting on the lid if you have one. 

Put it in the oven and leave to cook for at least two hours. After that time, lower the temperature a bit more and leave it for even longer if you like.The longer it stays there, the more tender it will become.

Serve with mashed potatoes or potato gratin and green beans.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pink Fizz

I made up a cocktail. It's tasty.

At first I didn't have a name for it and thought I would leave it to you to give it one. And then I had the Bons Amies over for dinner on Friday night and made it for them. And they loved it.

We played a tasting game with it where they tried to determine what was inside and La Bonne Amie got two out of three ingredients, no problem. Then I asked them what they thought of some names I'd thought of for it, Pomegranate Papillion, Bubbly Grenade, Fizzy Swizzy. They offered a couple of their own, Martini Rose, Grenade Martini. But none hit the mark like Pink Fizz. And so it was.

We had more than one, some of us more than even two. (Monsieur Bon Ami, I'm looking at you!) My invention turned out to be a hit. For the rest of the night we all kept shouting, 'Pink Fizz!' It was fun.

I thought you'd like to try it too.  Here's the recette.

Pink Fizz makes one cocktail so alter your glugs accordingly if you want to make a bigger batch. If glugs make you nervous, use a shot glass. The result will be the same.

2 glugs (count to two as you pour) Martini Bianco 
1 glug pomegranate juice, not nectar, not grenadine, but the juice
2-3 glugs of Champagne on top, or Cava or Prosecco, as you wish

Mix and serve.
It's the perfect resolution cocktail thanks to the healthy, choc-full of anti-oxidant pomegranate juice, plus it's not too sweet. Lo cal, if you like.

You could go super fizzy fanciful and tap some pomegranate seeds over the top or even rim the glass with pink sugar before pouring. It's up to you.

One word about the Martini Bianco for the Americans out there who (like me) used to only think of it as 'vermouth', a dash of something at the bottom of a vodka or gin martini glass and never as an aperitif in its own right. It's delicious; a bit bitter with a hint of vanilla, slightly herby. It is the Southern European woman's go-to cocktail, all by itself over ice.

Enjoy some Pink Fizz. Bon Santé!