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.