Monday, January 31, 2011

What's Cookin'


For those who knew me in college, this might come as a shock. I cooked these. Myself. And there was no microwave involved...

This dish has grilled shallots, leeks, and mushrooms (the huge champignons de Paris type that come from Holland), a béchamel sauce with white wine and, of course, scallops, known here as Coquilles Saint Jacques.

The story: over the Christmas holidays, my in-laws came for about a week. What to serve? Mexican food--again? Shepherd's pie--again? Non, non, non. I needed to "jump in without my swimmies" -- an expression I heard in a movie recently. My mother-in-law's a fabulous cook. She arrived with numerous copies of Cuisine Actuelle and various cookbooks, and one night we sat and perused them all at the dining room table. This dish jumped out at me. It was time to leap in.

Okay, so that first time, we made it together, and it was awesome... My sauce was actually lumpless. So, I made it again--alone--for more guests at New Year's... and again when another guest came recently, as you see here.

I've come a long way since the days when I made friends' birthday cakes using microwaved mixes. But it's taken a long, long time...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

L'Harmonie Gâteau



Like the Opéra, this gâteau (cake) hits all the right notes with me... It's called L'Harmonie...

It's got croustillant praliné, mousse au chocolat, noisettes, a.k.a., a harmonious mix of praline crust, chocolate mousse and hazelnuts....

It's from one of our four local bakeries--the one closest to me. Too close. (The only thing worse was when we lived in eastern France and the nearest bakery was just around the corner from our apartment....)

Incidentally, this wine's one of my favorites. Monbazillac is a sweet dessert wine from in the village of Monbazillac in southwestern France. Simply délicieux. Ask me why the glass is empty.


keywords: French cake

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Butcher, The Baker....


....but no candlestick maker that I know of in our town...

In fact, as of fairly recently, it looks like we also have one less meat shop in town. Down the street from this delicatessen, a former boucherie (butcher) has space for rent signs out front.

A large butcher opened about two years ago on the outskirts of town, so... And then there were three.

For such a small town (pop. 7,000), there are a lot of businesses and shops here. We're spoiled in this way, and I try to do what I can to shop locally. Though, I must admit I'm ten times more likely to be found in one of the town's four bakeries than in a meat shop.

More on that tomorrow...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Creepy Tree


There's no way I'd be caught dead near this huge tree in Orléans on Halloween night. Not that Halloween's really celebrated in France anyway, but there's just something about this tree that says to me that it wants to just reach out and GRAB ME.
 
For some reason, as I passed by it on a chilly December morning it gave me the heebie jeebies... 
...which by the way is a really hard thing to explain to someone who doesn't speak English.

Go ahead and try... What would you say? "It gave me the creeps?" Then, you've got to explain the creeps. So, next you try, "It gave me the willies." Then there's my kids' favorite (because they read it in a book and had to ask what it meant): "It scared the living daylights out of me."

What are these living daylights I've got hiding in me somewhere?

So, it might be easier just to tell a non-English speaker that the tree really made me uncomfortable, and leave it at that.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Meat Spread Made of WHAT?


If terrine de sanglier is wild boar meat spread and terrine de faisan is pheasant meat spread, what's in terrine Francois the First?

It was Ellie who verbalized the latter part of this question, and I'll admit I found the name a bit unsettling too... But upon perusing the ingrédients printed on the jar, I can assure you that there are no remains of the famous French king. There's only pork belly, pig liver, veal, eggs, onions, shallots, milk and a bit of white Cheverny* wine.

Upon hearing the good news, Ellie quickly grabbed her bread.


*Cheverny is a nearby castle, known for its display on the comic book character Tintin.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Tram-atic Experience

 

My boots aren't made for walking. That was unfortunate yesterday.

After a nice lunch at Au Bureau (The Office) in Orléans, I said a hasty goodbye to my friend and grabbed a perfectly-timed tram (your chariot awaits, madame) to head back toward La Ferté. But moments later as we crossed the George V Bridge over the Loire River, the tram slowed to a stop and shut off. A problème, announced the conductor. Minutes later he strolled to the back and unlocked the doors. We were being released for "safety reasons."

Our safety, or his from angry passengers? He said he had no information except that there was a system-wide electrical issue and he had no idea when it'd be fixed. I quickly visualized how far it'd be to walk to my car, two towns away. After all, I had to get the kids, come electrical tram woes or high water.

It's nice to be from a small town at moments like this. Another former soccer mom from La Ferté then approached me and asked where I'd parked. I was at the further of two stations and Claire was at the closer one, which was already far enough. Exactly 3.7 long kilometers in ill-fitting boots, so I know now. We briskly walked and chatted through neighborhoods I'd often wanted to see up close and personal. (See Église Saint Marceau.) Just not like this -- I had people to see and places to go before picking up A&E from school.

As we finally reached our station nearly an hour later, bien sûr--of course--the trams started rolling again. First, two in the opposite direction, then one in ours. Claire still drove me to my car in case no others came, and I was finally on my merry way... blisters and all.

Okay, so it wasn't such a traumatic experience, but I learned an important lesson: it's time to buy new boots that are comfy for long distances. And soon--while it's still the Soldes, the sales period.

However, the best stores are in the city... So, I'll have to take the tram.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Masculine Taste


Hope it's okay I bought a pair of earrings off this rack...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Un Dîner Presque Parfait


Welcome to French reality TV.

This is a fun little kit I bought my husband from the hit show Un Dîner Presque Parfait, An Almost Perfect Dinner, launched here in 2008. It's got a book with some of the contestants' top recipes, blank menus and the all-important score cards. Front and center is a guessing game and trivia card set that includes such questions as "Brocciu, a goat cheese, comes from what region?" a. Auvergne, b. Brittany c. Corsica.

<Scroll down for the answer.>

The Concept: Five amateur cooks from the UDPP's chosen city must put on a dinner one by one in his or her home for the other four players. Guests grade the hosts from one to ten on ambiance, table decoration and of course, the food (quality, originality, cooking, how well the dishes complement each other). The week's winner gets 1,000€ and advances to the regionals. Finals are held in Paris, with the winner earning 10,000€. (No, that's not missing any zeros.)

Un Dîner Presque Parfait has surely inspired many French people to hone their culinary skills on friends and family. Like armchair athletes, there are many comments such as, "Oh, my <fill in name here> sauce looks better than that" and "Ooh, that looks a bit long to make," etc.... Marketers have done well with cookbooks, DVDs and board games based on the show. At least they have with our household.

The show's based on Britain's Come Dine With Me. Its U.S. equivalent would be TLC's Dinner Takes All.







c. Corsica. In French: La Corse.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Eggs of Grenoble


If you want to visit The Bastille in Grenoble, these eggs are the way to go. They're symbols of the city. Commonly known as "Les Bulles" (The Bubbles) they offer a stunning view of this major French city and the surrounding mountains. Constructed in 1934, this was the first urban cable car system in the world.

After checking out the Bastille, you can have lunch in one of the two restaurants. "Le Téléférique's" specials include roundtrip tickets on the cable cars and weekday lunch prices begin at 15.50€ / $20.86 for adults and 11.50€ / $15.48 for children.

Not sure if they serve any egg dishes, but surely you can get bubbly water.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Just in Case You Had Ideas...


Joy rides into the Seine aren't allowed.

I snapped this in Paris a few years ago near a bridge... Not sure what was under the tape, but it looked like it'd been there awhile...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Don't Get Push


I won't get pushy with you, if you promise to add a "y" to pushy...

At first, I didn't get it. I thought it was some rap song. (Note the turntable under Lady Liberty.) The only part I understood was the buy one, get the second for a euro part on the right...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Millefeuille Cake


I totally adore this cake, the millefeuille, which stands for thousand leaf. Also known as a Napoleon. This one, from our local grocery store, was supposed to serve eight people. There were only seven of us, but we managed.

These cakes traditionally have three layers of puff pastry and two layers of crème pâtissière. The supersweet white and chocolate icing is always designed as you see above.

A millefeuille is not something you'd want to eat at a formal dinner because as pretty as it may be, things all go downhill once you begin to tackle it. The crème comes oozing out of the puff pastry, making a gooey mess. And the puff pastry is sometimes hard to slice through.... So many layers, remember?

But ooh lala*, is it worth it. Grab a fork and a good, sharp knife and dig in....


*French people really do say this!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

French Doudous


Doudou = lovey (see the battered stuffed troll attached just above the license plate?)

I've never explained to my kids that doudou in English is doodoo, a.k.a. excrement. I didn't figure they needed to know this tidbit at first, not to ruin things for their new French friends. Now, after all these years, I've never let them in on the secret.

Someday.

Doudous are majorly important to French children. When we arrived in France Alex was four, so he was eligible to bring his to school. But he didn't have just one, like most French kids-- that one who follows them from crib to -- well, maybe the front of the work truck one day. Alex had about 40 stuffed animals then, and since they all had names, we were coerced into sending the whole lot on the boat. One by one, each got a turn being doudou du jour for nap time. When we'd arrive in the morning, he'd deposit The Chosen One along with other kids' in a big germ-filled bin outside the classroom. The teacher often shook her head in amazement that yet another different one was coming again today.

For parents whose children lose their doudous frequently, it's a cauchemar, a nightmare. In fact, one of my relatives had three matching doudous for her daughter to ensure a ready replacement was always on hand. Because being without a doudou substitute would be the equivalent of finding yourself in deep --

<Warning -- bad joke coming! You know what it is, of course...>




-- doodoo.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesdays/Wednesdays are Rough


...because this place is closed. They've got an awesome bread called Parisse that we get both as a baguette or as a loaf which they slice on site (unless it's hot, in which case you'd want to tear into it right away, anyway.)

A friend came last year and tried their macaroons, which got the rest of us into them. D-a-n-g-e-r-e-u-x.

And they've got a fabulous hazelnut cake which I'll feature sometime... (This of course gives me a good excuse to go buy one!)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tough Times for Tunisia


Each time I look at this little guy in our living room, I laugh at how my husband Bernard and I haggled with so many Tunisian vendors and shopkeepers for their very lowest price on one of these. Bargaining is a huge sport in Tunisia; we reluctantly played the game, and thought we'd done well. Then a few months later, I saw the EXACT same ones right there at our local Gifi, a home decoration/small furniture store found all over France. And for less than we'd paid.

I'm quite saddened to see the events these past few weeks in Tunisia. We spent a glorious week there in 2006, riding real live camels and buying leather products. The people left a very good impression on me. They're hard workers and they've got a great sense of humor. Yes, even the jokester cashier in the hotel gift shop who, after learning that I was American, would greet me loudly with "Monica Lewinski" each time I walked in. How people's heads would turn.

Tourism is a major industry for Tunisia. Much like Mexico (was) to the United States.... an inexpensive sunny southern destination with good beaches. I hope and pray that they'll be able to get back on track quickly!

Even if we did pay about twice as much as we should've for this guy....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Calendar Girl


This is just a part of my collection, since two have found homes on the wall...

This time of year, like in the US, we collect calendar freebies from places like the from the pharmacy (complete with my astrological outlook for 2011) and real estate agents (get a free estimate upon presenting this calendar.)

But in addition to the giveaways, beginning around early December, we'll get knocks at the door around dinner hour from a variety of sports and service organizations seeking €s in exchange for their annual publication.

Being deathly afraid of fire, I couldn't turn down les pompiers. Their calendar includes a run-down of some of last year's catastrophes, demonstrating all they handle in our little town community and those surrounding us. It's impressive, but I'm not so sure how my American compatriot who lost her hotel/home in the next town would feel about being featured on the March page... And looking at the frightful shot, I'm sure that my 7€ donation wasn't nearly enough. Note that it's a volunteer crew.

The new trash pickup company got in on the action this year too. I bought theirs merely because I've got two kids who are gaga for animaux adorables, and the cover shot had three Saint Bernards... We're a bit partial to Bernards in this house, since I'm married to one...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

From the Dept. of "Doesn't Fly in English"


When I lived in Switzerland, there was a brand of milk called Past. I couldn't get past that it wasn't supposed to mean past the date, and I never bought it.

Until now, I'd never bought this butter. Because, hey, if you bought this brand and afterwards you found your stomach (or other parts of you) making unpleasant sounds, who could you blame? After all, you chose to buy Noisy butter...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Frog Festival


As it's been raining for days now, French people would refer to these conditions as La Fête de la Grenouille... Weather suitable for making the frogs happy....

There's a French rhyme that goes like this:

Il pleut, il mouille,
C'est la fête de la Grenouille!

(It's raining, it's getting wet, it's the frog festival...)

Now if the frogs are thriving, shouldn't that make the French happy too? Just sayin'.

P.S. Who really likes a photo of rain, but I wanted to share the little poem, so here's "Georges" (named him myself) from the Museum of Natural Sciences in Orléans.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

La Compétition des Carottes


Judging simply from the looks of the two carrot varieties pictured here, which do you think is the more expensive? 

And which group (after meticulous scrubbing) would win in a single-blind taste test by a panel of discriminate food critics with highly trained palates?

Okay, the ballots are in, and the vote was unanimous: both of my kids opted for the standard carrots on the left, which are grown in good old-fashioned dirt. I had sliced both groups into bite-sized sticks and set them out in two different decorative bowls on the table. Hands down, the kids agreed (wow, agreement on something) that the normal carrots were much sweeter, tastier.

The "dirty" carrots are called carottes de sable, and they're grown in sandy soil. They are always found in the markets and supermarkets covered in sand. I suppose this is intended to preserve their flavor or to add something to it, but what I found from my recherche scientifique is that the only thing preserved was a bit of monnaie... The carottes de sable were 1.40€ a kilo, nearly twice that of the preferred variety, which were just 80 centimes a kilo...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Somebody Please Stop Me!


The holiday chocolates are all 50% off at Simply, the little grocery store around the corner. Time to hide my carte de crédit. But honestly these aren't all all for me... We've got many guests coming in the next few months, so these are stowed away safely on the third floor now, out of my sight... (While visions of Rondnoir danced in her head...)

Beginning today, there will be more than just chocolates on sales. In our department, like most in France, it's the beginning of the national sales period, which runs through February 15th. We'll find deep discounts on just about anything-- cookware, electronics, bath towels, etc. These dates are set and approved by the government. About five departments got derogations to hold them outside this time frame.

But like the Black Friday sales in the US, I've heard the first day can be a bit of madness, so I won't be out there braving it all. Maybe tomorrow. Today I'll just be here at home. Daydreaming about traveling... to the Pyrenees. Or maybe the Arc de Triomphe...

Only dreaming.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Don't Land In...


While out chaperoning a field trip a few weeks ago, our class stopped at the other class's school for our picnic lunch... This was among the games the kids played in the school yard...

The last section was a doozy... The kids had to land on one foot in the center, then hit two feet in each of the other eight sections as they twisted around to make it back to the start point, past number one.

And they also had to avoid touching a foot in enfer... which translates to hell...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Santa's Bilingual


And omnilingual, because --of course-- Santa speaks every language on Earth. (Omnilingual isn't a real word. I just made it up. You heard it here first...)

Now a question for a Monday: Why is it that I feel guilty that we're just now getting our Christmas decorations down, yet I see it as completely normal for all the stores to keep theirs up for several more weeks?

Translation note: Ici = here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

For Serious Wine Lovers


Why hunt for the wine bottle opener when you can attach it right to the wall? I can attest to the fact that this is quite an effective opener, having witnessed it in action a few times...

BTW, Orléans also comes in red and rosé, but I prefer the white... More on this nearby company in a future post...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Missing the Carrefour


One day in 2001, when I was driving along with my husband Bernard in the south of France, he told me to watch for our next turn at the Carrefour. We were on vacation, and were visiting a friend near Aix en Provence... I was cruising along merrily when he started telling me I'd totally missed the turn, and by the way, what was I doing?

I apologized, and explained that I hadn't seen a grocery store at all and thought I'd been paying close enough to the roads... Carrefour is a big supermarché chain that I knew from his hometown of Lorient. The only ones I knew at the time had been huge, though smaller stores exist like this one here. Yes, what had I been doing to have missed that?

Then Bernard realized something...

I'd never learned that the word carrefour means intersection...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Abba in French? Non!


When Bernard and I met back in 1995, Abba was one of the few favorite music groups we had in common. I had my likes -- Toto, Chicago and others I won't reveal here, and he had his -- Michel Sardou, Claude Francois and other classic French singers, but Abba was something we shared. Our two kids have learned all the words to their most popular hits. (How could they not after all our road trips?)

So we'd been talking about going to see Mamma Mia ever since we learned the show was coming to Paris. I practically became a Dancing Queen when Bernard came home with these tickets the other night from work.  I immediately rang up friends (Ring, Ring...) we'd asked long ago about babysitting and oui, the date was fine for them. All was set. But then my friend said something that instantly deflated me.

"The songs are all adapted in French."

Mais non! In French?

Abba's members are all Swedish, but their songs are, of course, played here in English, like elsewhere. And the CDs are sold here in English, etc. Of course, there are some French words in some of the songs that will get you in trouble in France, but for the most part, Abba's songs are in English, non?

I quickly checked the theater's web site. Confirmation. I was flabbergasted. In fact, Mamma Mia's been translated into ten languages.

Oh well, when in France, do as the French do... I'm sure at the end I'll still be singing, "Merci pour la musique..."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Scooby-Doo's Epiphany


As I was driving along one day, listening to the second George Michael song on the radio in about as many minutes, I came across this sign for a special cake we eat this time of the year.

La Galette des Rois. 

"King Cake" is traditionally served here on Epiphany, January sixth, but it's also available for many weeks surrounding the actual date. They're in all the stores and bakeries, complete with promos to collect whatever fèves (tiny porcelain figurines) have been hidden inside. In this case, galette eaters will search for likenesses of Scooby and his friends Fred, Sammy, Vera and Daphne in their slices of this almond-filled cake. (Yes, some characters' names are different in France.)

Normally, when galettes are served, the youngest person in the room climbs under the table, and the host/hostess asks him or her to announce who the first, next, last piece etc. should be served to, ensuring everyone has a fair chance at winning the fève. The lucky person who finds it becomes the recipient of a prized paper crown. Think Burger King. Ellie won a Luke Skywalker feve this past weekend. (Say it with me: Oooh. Ahhh.)

Side note: Although Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! originally ran on CBS Television, the CBS eye appears on many French billboards. There's no connection to the show. It's simply a major billboard company here, as it is elsewhere around the world.

Click here for a recipe from www.bakeryinfo.co.uk

I just might try this!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting Smarter With Chocolate


I sent a few people some chocolate early in December that apparently hasn't arrived. I'm a bit PO-ed with the Post Office, though I am not sure which country to blame...

So here's to Round Two.

I sent bars before, but thought this would be a bit more fun, because the chocolates in the front have little papers with quotes inside. Réveillon is the word for Christmas Eve party, New Year's Eve party or the dinner on such evenings, so you're probably supposed to be opening these while sitting around with your hosts or guests at these events, not chowing down on what's should be someone's replacement chocs three days after New Year's.

Regardless, I've gained some wonderful nuggets of wisdom from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Jules Renard and Victor Hugo. I especially liked this quote from Alphonse Allais, "Mushrooms grow in damp places. That's why they're shaped like umbrellas."

Who knows how much more literary research I'll take on before getting these wrapped up and in the mail. It's a good thing the Imagines and Gourmandises de Noël don't contain quotes or trivia questions. On the other hand, I've never tried the latter chocolates, and what kind of person would I be if I sent off something I hadn't quality controlled?

I'm thinking now the chocolate bars were a better idea.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mmmm, Brioche


This is my mother-in-law's homemade brioche (bree'-ohsh), a nice sweet bread that we eat for breakfast and snack time. Every time I think of her brioche and the homemade jellies she makes to go with them, I recall my first visit to her house back in 1995. (I can't believe I'm admitting this faux pas here, but knowing how common this error is, I know I'm in good company.)

My mother-in-law is a woman of fabulous culinary talents and we always eat like kings and queens when she's cooking. On this first visit, she went all out, making all her standard fare, which wowed me to no end. So, I complimented her while downing some jelly along with my brioche one morning. And, becoming a little too comfortable in my oh-so-lacking French, I said, "The jelly is so much better than what I'm used to, because it's made fresh, without preservatives."

Her face became a bit contorted, I knew I'd said something amiss, and fortunately my then-fiancé Bernard arrived at the opportune moment to explain to her that I meant the jelly didn't have any conservateurs.

His mom looked relived that I wasn't some weirdo américaine, and then Bernard explained to me that in French, preservatifs means condoms.

No, I've never made that mistake again.

Monday, January 3, 2011

And Then There Were Five...


I so loved these glasses from the minute I set eyes on them at my favorite window licking store.

But maybe I should've gone for the set of eight, not six, because after all of my and Bernard's debate over whether or not we should allow the kids to make their homemade tiramisus in these delicate Tour Eiffel glasses, it was me who sent one of them flying to its demise as I tried to bring it to the sink... (At least it was Alex's glass, which was licked nearly spotless.)

Unfortunately, I'm what the French would call maladroit (mal-ah-dwaht'), a.k.a. clumsy...

Maybe I should've gotten a set of ten or twelve?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Cutest Dog in La Ferté


Meet Eden, our hairdresser's dog, and the main reason my kids no longer complain when it's time to go in for a chop and a chat. Eden was born in 2009, and purebred dogs that year were supposed to be named with something that starts with "E" in France. Hence, we know two dogs named Eden that year.

The letters K, Q, W, X, Y, and Z are never assigned years... Now, what, exactly, would be wrong with Kelly?

The same type of naming rule applies in other countries as well. In Canada, 2010 was the year of the letter U...

Perhaps if little Eden had been born there this past year, she'd have been an Ursula?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Coffeeeeeeee!


In a land where choices are not always too numerous, this machine's an oddity. It's also got an option of hot sugared milk. I opted for the green mint tea (not a coffee fan at all) and the kids are hot chocolate fiends, so this was just the ticket for them...

I'm sure there will be lots of folks this morning who'll be wishing they had a machine like this at their disposal -- a handy thing to have in the living room right about now.

Looking at cars is just not the most exciting thing in the world to do when you're eight or ten years old. But inserting the change in a machine and getting a hot chocolate that'll still be too blasting hot to drink on Tuesday is a fabulously fun thing to do, apparently.

And come to think of it, when those two kids get up today, after staying up until way past midnight, I just might need this café macchiato, whatever that is....