Thursday, September 27, 2012

Plum Cake, Plum Cheated

I went to tea last weekend with some of my favorite English speakers.

We are a group of anglophone women living in the Montpellier area and we get together every month or so to speak our language, tell stories of bureaucratic woe, laugh out loud to jokes we fully understand and decompress.There are always new people with new stories and new paths to France. It's fun.

To quote the founder of the group, 'the only things required to join are two x chromosomes, English as your native language and living in or around Montpellier'. If you meet those requirements and are interested in coming along, send me a note and I'll add you to the list. The Haute Housewife went with me and she liked it.

We met at a member's house and everyone brought along something to eat while the hostess provided the beautiful outdoor space and all the Irish tea or French coffee you could drink. One of the things I love about living in France is how we all slowly and quietly succumb to the rules of life here. In this case, the proof was literally in the pudding in the form of seasonal plums.They were everywhere!
There were no less than four plum cakes of some variety. Plums are at the end of their season here and you can find wooden crates full of them, small and juicy, their skin and flesh ranging from deep violet to light green. My guys love the sunny, yellow ones the most.

{source, plums in crates}
I had to laugh as one plum thing after another was brought out. I had done the French cheat's thing and made my cake from the pink and brown Maman Gateau box. Think Betty Crocker, only a sweeter talker. It's boxed cake mix taken to a new level. All you do is add three eggs and 20 cl of heavy cream, mix and bake. They  have different flavors, lemon, chocolate and even boxes of macaron fixings to choose from, but I prefer the basic moelleux nature or plain butter cake.

{plum cake, chez nous}
And since I had a wooden crate of violet plums ripening in my kitchen I decided to use them along with the mix to make my own version of a plum cake. I halved and pitted the plums and sprinkled them with a tablespoon of sugar and a small spritz of lemon juice. Then I let them sit for awhile.
When I was ready to make the cake I covered my round cake pan in a layer of parchment paper up, enough to come up and over the sides, and then arranged the plum halves, skin side down in a circle at the bottom. I mixed the cake as instructed and poured it over the plums, sprinkled on some powdered sugar and popped it in the oven.

I didn't taste it at the tea, choosing instead someone else's plum clafouti, but inundated as she was with plum cakes, the hostess sent me home with a slice of mine for P-Daddy and the kids.
I ate it myself. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream and it tasted just like cobbler.

And then, because I felt guilty for not sharing, I made it again this week. Also because I have a weakness for cobbler.

{my breakfast.why not?}

I'm sharing this with you as a recipe but really it's more of an idea, a way to spruce up your basic white box cake,and to use up the last of the late summer stone fruit. Of course you could put anything you like at the bottom of the cake pan. I'm thinking softened and cinnamony green apples for next time.

The Cheat's Plum Cake

1 box Maman Gateau Nature cake mix
3 eggs
20 cl crème liquide full fat or entier (use light cream if you like)
10 or so ripe plums, halved and stoned
1- 2 tablespoons sugar
dash lemon juice
powdered sugar

Mix the cake as per box instructions.
Cover the bottom and sides of a round or square cake pan with parchment paper.
Layer sugared plum halves, skin side down, on the bottom of the pan.
Pour over cake batter.
Bake for 50-55 minutes at 150C/300F.

Serve the cake warm if you can with a spoon of vanilla ice cream.

Don't tell anyone how you made it. Just say, 'merci!' and move on.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Guest Post: Bilingual Babes

Since I've stumbled backwards into raising what appear to be bilingual children I've had to give a thought or two to the English side of things for the kids, especially but not limited to, grammar rules for Ma Fille, reading for the Middlest and now with the Littlest well and truly in love with his French teacher, E-leez-a-bet!, teaching him how read Dick and Jane and not just Lapinou Caramel.

Tallulah over in England has a wonderful blog called Bilingual Babes in which she shares some polyglot tips and love in the raising of her two beautiful children. As school  has gotten back into full swing and the class meetings with all the serious French talk of forming letters properly, how to hold a crayon and everyone working together towards la vie collectif I thought it was the perfect time to share some of her insights. 

Now, without further ado, Tallulah from Bilingual Babes....

Since the children were born, we've always lived in the UK, surrounded by English. As I had studied French and German, I was really keen to pass some language on to my own kids and wondered how to do it in an English-speaking community. I speak fairly good French, but am in no way fluent and once I started talking in French with Schmoo, I realised it was going to be pretty tough to keep it up until she was 18 without any other input! Then I remembered that there was a French lycee in London, because one of my university friends had been a student there. I wondered if there were other immersion schools, perhaps one closer to us (we were living in Scotland at the time!) and how easy it was to get in... and how much it would all cost! 

I started making enquiries, and eventually ended up with a list of all the French schools in the UK, thanks to the French Institute website. I rang around, getting advice and application forms in about equal measure. Pretty soon I had ascertained that unless you were French, or coming from a French school it was almost impossible to get into the French lycee. We are both British, despite my French roots. But then I discovered that there were some lycee feeder schools. If you got your child a place in one of these schools, then after a certain age they were guaranteed a place at the French lycee! This was brilliant news, so I set about applying to all of the feeder schools. 

The rejections started pouring in. Even though I applied when Schmoo was one, many of the schools already had long waiting lists from children who'd been on the list since birth! But eventually we got her a place at a wonderful feeder and we knew her future at the lycee was secure. There was just one teensy weensy little problem... the school was in London, and we lived in Scotland, about 300 miles away! 

We took the decision to move back for the school. We had family in London and wanted to move back at some point, but suddenly everything speeded up. My husband applied for a transfer and got it. We organised a place to live. I remember sitting in our living-room, looking around at all of our stuff (mainly an explosion of toys and games) and just thinking how, how, how are we ever going to cart all of this to London? But it happened somehow in a blur of cardboard boxes and parcel tape! 

Once Schmoo started at the feeder school, I continued to speak with her and Pan-Pan in French at home. For a start, Schmoo was in the English section of the school for the first 2 years and wasn't actually getting all that much French input yet. And I wanted Pan-Pan to have the same booster of French that Schmoo had while still at home. Once Pan-Pan started at the school, he went straight into the French section and I was able to finally and blissfully switch to speaking English with my kids. The non-mother tongue French had been a hard act to keep up, especially as Schmoo demanded ever more complex conversation! 

So nowadays most of their French input comes from the school, although I do a bit of extra work at home to help maintain it. Our main rules are:

- TV & movies are only allowed in French (I am absolutely rigid about this rule!)

- Bedtime stories are only allowed in French for Pan-Pan (Schmoo's French is so fluent, I let her pick now)

- At dinnertime, which they have together as Papa gets home late, I almost always use as French quiz time, which they adore. We have a lot of books that ask questions about the story, or I read from general knowledge quiz cards. Sometimes we'll play a game, like 'describe the word' in French.

- French talking time, eg I'll ask them to only talk French while they're in the bath. If I'm lucky, they'll do this spontaneously, and always when they're playing schools!

So far, it's working out well, and way better than I could've imagined when the idea of bringing them up with 'a bit of French' first popped into my head! Schmoo is a balanced bilingual, with accent-free French. Pan-Pan has dominant English and hasn't yet mastered all the French sounds, like the French 'r', but has 100% passive knowledge and is very comfortable talking and playing in French. And I am one delighted non-native mama!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin

We were on a pork tenderloin kick around here last week. P-Daddy has proclaimed it his favorite cut and type of meat ever, in all its immeasurable variations. And immeasurable they are. The immeasurableness outweighs my appetite for pork, I can tell you.

I bought a big famille pack of three loins and flexed my creative muscle to keep each appearance interesting.

{via Pinterest,}
We had it three ways: my favorite and easy as can be leeks with pork served with mashed potatoes and green beans, coated in mustard, garlic studded and grilled with more green beans (they can't get enough, seriously) and herby pasta slick with olive oil and finally last night's balsamic glazed, slow-cooked loin with black beans and rice.
Gosh, do I want some chicken!

To the balsamic glazed variety of pork tenderloin. I found a recipe on Pinterest (of course I did) and it struck my fancy. I think most people would use a regular old pork roast but it worked with the loin cut rather nicely. It's a slow cooker recipe but I don't have a slow cooker with a French plug so I cooked it for a real long time on a very low heat in the oven. It turned out beautifully. And the house smelled so good too. It made me hungry for my dinner as I sat at my table clicking away on the computer.

Maybe you'd like to try it for your mid-week dinner.
I'm sure you can't have too many recipes for pork tenderloin, can you?

Slow Cooked Pork Tenderloin with a Balsamic Glaze

1 famille-sized pork tenderloin, 2 lbs. if you need exacts
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper, freshly cracked
1 garlic clove, smooshed and roughly chopped
water, to cover if you're cooking it in the oven
if you're doing this in the slow cooker, aka crock pot, use 1/2 cup

If you're using a dutch oven dish and cooking the pork in the oven like I did then follow these instructions:
Pat your tenderloin dry and trim any excess fat.
Mix the herbes, garlic s&p together and then rub all over the meat. This makes the meat happy.
Turn the oven on to 140C/275F and put the lid of your dutch oven or pot in there to get warm.
Heat a tiny bit of olive oil in the bottom of the dutch oven and brown all sides of the meat.
Pour in the water just to cover. The slow-cooker doesn't need as much water, note above.
Take the lid out of the warm oven, careful, it's hot! and put it on the pork filled pot.
Put the whole thing, lid on, in the oven for 3-4 hours. Check it after 3 but the longer it stews away at that heat the softer the meat will become.

When it's done, shred it with two forks and put back in to keep warm while you make the balsamic glaze.

Balsamic Glaze

My guys don't like things too sweet mixed up with their savory so I always use less sugar than is called for in any recipe like this.

1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch or confusingly, corn flour here in Europe
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Put all of that in a small saucepan, stir the cornstarch in and bring to the boil. Reduce the mixture and let it simmer, stirring until thickened.

When the kids have washed their hands and set the table, remove the shredded pork from the excess water and serve it on a platter. Drizzle it artfully with the balsamic glaze. Your family will mmmmm and tell you to put it in your recipe book. I actually got a pretty, little spiral bound one covered in cherries for my birthday. Ma Fille presented it to me saying, 'You can put all the recipes we like in here and then share them on your blog.'
{merci, Ma Fille}

Adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. Thanks Mel!
The original glaze recipe calls for 1/2 cup sugar. Mel used sage instead of herbes de Provence for her rub but I was all out of sage and herbes de Provence are kind of a staple around here. I'm sure sage would be tasty.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

House Hunters International Questions

Well, it's done. Now it's out there. I feel relieved now that the anticipation is over. Whew!
Of course it's perfect that everyone is being so incredibly nice, saying that they liked the show, that we seemed normal and that we didn't make complete fools of ourselves on national television.

It's kind of bizarre because we hadn't seen any episodes of the show before we did it, besides two that I found on youtube while trying to decide, and we have not seen ours at all. Let me repeat. You've seen it. Your mother has probably seen it. All of my family and friends in America have seen it. But we haven't.

This is the post for questions. If you have any--about the show or the house or n'importe quoi--just send me a comment and I'll answer them. As best as I can.

After this, I promise to go back to writing about our lives in France (I just came home from the Littlest's class meeting and was scrawling Franglish notes in the margins so I would remember the things I have to tell you) sharing recipes and doing my regular thing. And I'll shut up about this blip, these 21 minutes condensed from the years of planning and waiting, loneliness and tears, mistakes and adjustments.

You have the floor....ask away!


{our house as you know it with the terrace and petite piscine}
{the PA and kids}

{Clementine helping our director Kim with her notes}


Monday, September 10, 2012

Coming Home via House Hunters International

We're coming to America! Well sort of. We'll be on your television screens this Thursday at 9:30pm Texas time. All five of us. Oh, and Clementine will be there too! 

You might remember that we filmed an episode of HGTV's House Hunters International back in May. It was an incredible experience and we loved every minute of it. We even got all into it and felt like pros for a few days.

{Day 3 of filming --with my boys}
Then the waiting set in. And the time in between was filled with doubt, vanity and anxiety. We may have looked silly. Why did we say that? How will it be edited and what parts will they show? Does the camera really add ten pounds? Oh, and when we spoke French on camera...losers!

Then I remembered that we did it for the same reason I started writing this blog.We did it so we could have a memento of this special time in our family's life. Something to document our time abroad; the indelible marks Ireland and France have left, individually and as a whole. We thought of the show as one whopper of a home video, living pictures of the children at this time in their lives, a professionally crafted keepsake. Priceless.
That's why we did it.

{Bray, Ireland 2009}
And hopefully that's what you'll see on Thursday.

The thing is, we can't watch HGTV here in Europe so we won't get to see it when you do. At first that had me all freaked out...I was going crazy searching for ways to stream or download it, even thinking of getting up in the wee hours (9:30 at home is 4:30am here) to watch it on P-Daddy's parents' television via Skype. But no. Now we're looking at it as a pleasant mystery, playing out for all of you at home, seen through your eyes first, just like the rest of American television.


I'll count on you to let me know how it turned out, what you thought and if you liked it.

I'm thinking of posting some crib notes on Wednesday. Just some things I think would be fun for you to know while you watch.
Deep breath. No one watches that show anyway, do they?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Stevie Ray Vaughan in the Wine

Last Friday we went into Montpellier for Les Estivales. I've told you all about how fun it is here.
There are two more Friday nights to enjoy so come on over if you can.

Back to Friday.
You may be surprised to know that here in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, they love themselves some line dancing. And country music.
And dressing up all Western stylee.

{American Style Frenchie, photo credit: la Canadienne}
Friday night was line dancing, western dressing, country music night at Les Estivales.The 'professional' group of dancers, including that guy up there, were wearing black western shirts with 'Arizona Wild' written in fancy script on the back. They got up on the dance floor and led their fellow Frenchies in step after step of honky-tonk shufflin'.
Billy Ray Cyrus style. It was fantastic.

While I was getting my third and final 10cl of wine from a booth belonging to a couple of vignerons named Pierrette (love that name!) and Dominic (loved his weather-worn face) the singer of the country band announced the next song, something having to do with Texas or 'Tex-ass' as they say.
My ears perked up.
So did the weathery wine-maker Dominic's. He laughed and said, "Oh-la-la, Tex-ass!" and I said, "Je suis Texane!" and he smiled bigger, approvingly, face creased deeper and said, 'J'adore Stevie Ray Vaughan! Texas Flood.'

He said that sometimes when he's making his wine he listens to Stevie Ray and his virtuoso guitar, crying sky, flying on little wings and pride and joy.

It made me so happy. I love it when worlds collide. That perfect moment of understanding, regardless of language, with another person. Who can listen to Stevie play and not feel something?  
Dominic and I, we understood.

The wine was nice. A rich red with notes of sorrow, imbued with the lament of Stevie Ray's guitar.