Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Golden Mountain

We've finally gotten our first cold snap of the season and some areas of Ile de France (our region) have had snow or are predicting some this week... So it's time for some French-style comfort foods, non?

This may not be the most heart healthy thing you can serve up in France, but it's among my favorites for the winter. Mont D'Or (Golden Mountain) is easy to fix. You simply remove the plastic wrapper, slice into the rind at the top and pour in a few teaspoons of dry white wine. Let the cheese bake right in the wooden container on a cookie sheet, and serve like a fondue with cubes of bread...

Nothing beats a meal of good old fashioned French cheese on a brisk cold evening... Unless, of course, you could find the same thing with far fewer calories!

Let me know when you do.

Monday, January 30, 2012

English is Partout (Everywhere)

When you teach English, you don't have to look far for examples of the language in your students' everyday lives...

Here's a question for my French readers: Do most French people get the irony of naming a sugar "Daddy?" Because a sugar daddy, according to dictionary.com is, "a wealthy, middle-aged man who spends freely on a young woman in return for her companionship or intimacy." This is a major brand of sugar here.

"Ton Ton" Ben is a well-known guy throughout France and graces many dinner tables with his varied rice dishes... 

The same could be said about French bathrooms and Head and Shoulders... Except that we also get a lesson in Dutch: voor normaal haar... For normal hair. Warning, bad joke ahead...

<scroll down>

Hey, maybe learning Dutch isn't that hairy after all?

I know, I know. Stick to English, Kelly. (So I can be head and shoulders above the rest?)

I'll quit now.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Handling Household Challenges

Ironically, I had planned to post about the door handles here today, and guess what my husband brought home? New ones from the hardware store! On sale!

But yes, they are also the same shape as the old ones. Drat.

Below is a story I wrote long ago for a web site (now defunct) for people who were moving to France... Rather than repeat the door handle section here, I thought I'd share the article...

Random Thoughts from France
Light Bulbs and Windows and Doors, Oh My!
By Kelly Bostrom Robic

I’ve always thought of myself as a strong, independent woman. But moving overseas has humbled me a bit from time to time. Today, I could not even change a light bulb. Literally. It looked like it should just twist out, but then I discovered a pin sticking out that needed to be released somehow. Since I was standing on a chair and I’m not all that tall, I had to give it up for safety’s sake. My pride was knocked down a few notches.

I’ve had to accept that there are some things I just can’t do or figure out on my own, yet some of these tasks are mind numbingly simple elsewhere. Like opening the windows. Yes, I needed a demonstration. Ours have a strap to the side that has to be pulled away from the wall and yanked on to lift an exterior set of blinds before you open the actual window. Whew! It’s a two-hand job that requires a little brute strength. I do appreciate these blinds though. When they’re closed, not a speck of daylight passes through, so you can obliviously sleep late or enjoy a serious mid-afternoon snooze.

The windows themselves aren’t tough. We just turn the crank and pull. But the first time I got my daughter’s window open I got a jolt: an alarm went off. I’d forgotten my husband had placed a safety gadget on each of the kids’ windows to tip us off if they actually managed to open them. We have two stories and no screens.

The doors are not too complicated; they’re just a pain in the neck—or back—in my case. We have no round door handles, just long, thin handles that you crank up or down. So if you walk by one too quickly, you might catch your sleeve if you’re the wrong height. We had the same handles when I lived in Switzerland years ago and I sent myself to the floor (just once!) before I learned how painstakingly slow your back heals. But locking and unlocking them is the real irritation. Our front door has to go around more than once for it to actually be locked. And to add to the degree of difficulty here, you have to hold the handle up past a certain level as you simultaneously turn the lock. Don’t even think of coming in laden with grocery bags and expect a quick entry! After a few weeks of experimentation and aggravation, I can now enter and exit my apartment without needing three hands.

Flushing the toilet is another of those ordinary household tasks that may require a basic explanation. Ours has a button to push on the top middle of the tank. You could look on the sides for a handle all day and not find one. I speak from experience. I’ve also seen buttons with a divider offering two options: more or less water. Others may have a round knob that has to be pulled up. The expression: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” applies well to European toilet knobs.

Well, maybe I wasn’t able to change the light bulb today, but I did emerge from the experience with a small victory: I bought the right replacement at the store, even without a sample in hand. So now with the windows successfully open and the light bulb changed (with a little help) we can see well in the living room once again. Let there be light! And let my pride return again for a moment. At least until I need to do more laundry.

But that’s another whole story….

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I Know, I Know...

Read the label carefully... It's no different for that here than it was in the U.S. But I was in a hurry, we needed to find the bathroom in the middle of shopping, and there were no fresh packets of ground beef last night. So, given the option of fresh patties, or frozen ones that had onions in them, I went for this. I love onions and it saved me a step as I always add them in the beef when I make Shepherd's Pie...

But I thought it was 15% fat and didn't check to see that it wasn't just onion and beef, beyond that. There was a frozen bag of just beef, but 20% fat. Ick.

So it will be Shepherd's Pie à la beef with protéines végétales. Only 51% beef. My bad.

It did look good on the package, didn't it?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Write Your Own Caption

I'll get us started:

"He's an eggspert driver."
"He needs to come out of his shell."
"Also comes in green, with ham."

That's enough for a lame start to your Friday... Feel free to post comments. I am sure there are better lines out there for this one!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Healthy McDo Treat

Saturday night while out shopping we made the unhealthy choice of visiting McDo (mick doh' as they call it here) and I was surprised to see a new healthy dessert option. Even happier that Ellie opted for it. The kiwi on a stick...

According to an article I read online, Italy's McDonald's launched this novel idea last year and now it's in France. Last that I was in the US, a Happy Meal just included the burger or nuggets, fries and a drink, except that in one restaurant there, we had sliced apples with caramel for a dessert choice. Beginning in March this year, according to McDonald's web site, all Happy Meals in the US and Latin America will begin including fruit with every meal.

Since we've lived here, there's also been a dessert option which includes those apple sauces in a pouch, a yogurt drink or sometimes pineapple slices or mixed fruits. We can also get cherry tomatoes instead of fries, and a bottle of Evian is among the drink selections. Little cartons of milk are not on the list. (They don't have those in schools here either, as French people usually drink water and have a cheese course for their dairy.)

When you consider the French reputation for gastronomy it may be surprising to note that after the US, France is Mickey D's second most profitable market. There are 63,000 employees in nearly 1,500 franchises, with about 40 restaurants being added here per year.

I'm waiting to hear when adult meals are going to start offering the kiwi sticks. That looked pretty good!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cooking Up Weirdness

This is a kitchen shop, advertising that it's got a crazy sale going on. Dingues translates to crazy, and is pronounced dahng. (Think "dang" with a Texas accent.)

I think it would have been fun to watch this photo shoot as a fly on the wall. "We promise, ma'am, when we're all done, if you do a good job, we'll let you do one serious shot."

The French sales run twice per year and are on set dates, depending on the department. In ours, the Seine et Marne, winter sales began January 11 and run through February 14. Summer sales will be from June 27 to July 31 this year. They've been ongoing for two weeks and I still haven't really gotten out there for this round of deep discounts.

I pass this girl daily on my street, so I won't forget before the time is up. There are usually some good deals to be had.... I'd be dingues not to go and at least look.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

♪♫♫You Know I'm Bad, I'm Bad♫♫♪


So if you get hit by this person, it's you're fault. You were warned, no?
Actually, take a look: it's a perfect parking job, and that's not always easy in these teeny-tiny spaces. I'll give him a 20/20. (I grade with the French system now after all these years.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Land Ho!

Would you look at what's found its way to one of my local grocery stores? For the longest time, I'd never seen regular M&Ms in France, only the peanut ones. Now, regular M&Ms are everywhere (is it because we've moved?) and now we've been blessed with dark chocolate peanut! I'm still reeling from finding the Reece's Peanut Butter cups recently, now dark M&Ms. And shortly after, in the same store, what to my wondering eyes should appear but these:

Because Pepperidge Fahhhm remembers. (Note the English writing on the display at the top.)

Thirty-two giant cookies in one giant bag. Ten euros, ninety-nine centimes.... And bottles of milk, parked there right next to them on the left. Someone had their marketing cap on.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Along the Seine

Today was a lazy, lazy Sunday. So lazy that I barely got two-thirds of the way through a movie (Eat, Pray, Love) and by the time we got out for a walk, it was already dusk...

Oh well, what are Sundays for? 

The movie is split roughly into thirds with the main character visiting three countries (Italy, India and Indonesia). 

I guess tonight I'll be off to Indonesia...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Taking Care of Doudou

I got a kick out of seeing this while out in my little town this morning... This is a garbage truck... And check out the stuffed hound on the front dash... In French, these can be called a doudou... 

I've explained them before in this blog...

Friday, January 20, 2012


This was in the fridge, patiently waiting for our weekend guests, but I caved. I've rarely met a cheese I didn't like, and these three just sang out to me. According to the box, there's Emmental (what Americans often call Swiss cheese), Comte (one of my faves) and Gruyère in here. The ingredients also list white wine and Kirsch, a cherry brandy.

This is a great winter weekend dish (when it survives the week) because you just melt the stuff, cut a loaf of bread into cubes, maybe slice up some carrot sticks and voila! Set out those long pointy forks and you're golden.

One time when we were living in New York, we planned to make fondue for guests and I drew whatever sized straw it was that sent me off to the local Price Chopper. (Sometimes after staying home all day, going out into the frozen tundra was a still a blessing.) I got all the way there that time only to realize that I had no cell phone and could not remember what kind of cheeses Bernard used to make fondue.

That's when who should walk up the same aisle of this large hypermarket but our friend Laurent, who worked for the same company as Bernard, and  the only Swiss person I knew I New York.

A meltdown as averted, and the fondue dinner went on as planned...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dreaming of Saint-Tropez

This is called a Tropezienne, a very typical French cake with a vanilla cream center and crunchy sugar coating. It's named for Saint-Tropez, the French Riviera town located east of Marseille...

Ah, the glorious beach.... I can only fantasize that I'm there right now, working on my tan, sipping something cool while the sun beats down from the blue skies above... It's gloomy and dreary here today, grey and drizzling... 

So I ate this for breakfast.

Don't tell my kids.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some Bunny was Hungry...

I'd have to have been super starved though... This is rabbit paté. It was not a hit with the friends we shared it with... Nor was the wild boar paté we presented at the same time. You've got to really have a taste for this; some do, and some really don't.

I'm squarely in that latter category.

You can just imagine that inaugural visit to my future in-laws' when suddenly the table went silent, forks ceased clinking and glasses were set down, as the group drew its gaze toward me to witness my first sampling of fois gras.

Then <gulp> I had to tell them that "Non," I didn't like it. But sixteen years later, they're still accepting me and we've come to some understandings. In exchange for not serving me lots of gamey meats, I don't offer them things made with beurre de cacahuète, a.k.a. peanut butter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sticker Shock, Again...


Here's another update on gas prices... And yes, it's a bit higher than my last update, which was almost a year ago...

At current conversion rates, my car's fuel (unleaded 95) costs $7.57 a gallon.

Bernard's car uses gazole, so it's a mere $6.85 a gallon...

Luckily, we've both found people to carpool with in our new town!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Nelson Mandela Street

I was really surprised when I saw this street name while stopping for gas in Vulaines sur Seine the other day. Usually, streets in France are named for people who are deceased.

At 93-years-old, Nelson Mandela has earned more than 250 awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and more recently and honorary doctorate of law from Brown University in Rhode Island.

So apparently, an exception has been made... and I think, a well-deserved one.

To my American readers who are on holiday today, Happy Martin Luther King Day! And yes, I've seen many, many streets named for MLK here, as well as schools and other buildings... If we'd ended up moving to the other side of Paris, the kids likely would have ended up at the Collège Martin Luther King, an international junior high school...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Feeling Bleu

Here's how many French people wash their cars. Wash and vacuum, do-it-yourself. It costs 10€ for five tokens at this chain, Elephant Bleu. And when my car's extra dirty, it may take two tokens to either wash or to vacuum up the bits in between the seats. Not cheap. Lucky me I found one of the tokens on the ground the other day, so I gave my little white Megane an extra-long wash... It's finally free of its grey tinge.

I recall paying about $28 for a thorough cleaning and oil change when I lived in New York, but that was a completely different experience from here. We'd wait in a nice clean waiting room watching CNN or some kids' program while the car passed through an automated tunnel. Someone gave it a super-duper high-powered vacuuming, which left not a French fry or McNugget to be found. It came out with that new car smell again.

How I miss those days! Here, the oil change would cost more than that.

And as I stood and sprayed and sprayed today, I thought of a high school friend's business in Texas where you can get your car detailed while listening to live music or watching televised sports. You can even enjoy a few drinks with friends while the car's getting all spiffy...

Hey, wait a minute.

Hugh!!! When are you bringing your concept to France????

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Not Again!

The unemployment/job search office is closed on Friday afternoon. I knew this. But I was halfway there today before it hit me. And of course, the office I must go to is not the closest one to my house. It's 20 kilometers away.


So I went and washed my car instead, good girl that I am. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Vendredi Treize

...Friday the Thirteenth.

Here, it is considered a day of bad AND good luck... So, there is usually an extra lottery drawing on those days when we have a "von' druh dee trehz."

Note where it says touchez du bois. That means "touch wood," which is what they say here instead of "knock on wood." It's supposed to bring good luck...

I've found over 300 four-leaf clovers in my life and haven't won the lottery, so go figure whether that one works or not.... LOL!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

We're Going To Disneyland!

Disney's about to get a whole lot busier... They've just announced to passholders that they can bring friends for just 20€. (Limitations apply, of course...) I can't imagine how long the lines are going be now...

But hey, who's coming with us?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Whenever I'd pass by this tree on my old street, I'd start thinking about the wocket in my pocket and the zelf on the shelf... Something about it just looked so Dr. Seuss-ish...

I haven't a clue what type of tree this is. Take your best guess and drop me a note if you know! Meanwhile, in the spirit of Theodore Geisel, I'm going to name this tree Zooliffka.

Notes to my French readers: Dr. Seuss wrote many famous American children's books, such as "The Cat in The Hat" and "The Grinch Whole Stole Christmas," which was made into a movie with Jim Carrey. His real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel. You can listen to "A Wocket in My Pocket" on youtube, thanks to a woman I don't know. Be aware that the character names all are invented, so don't try to learn them to improve your English!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

You're Late!

A British friend tells me that it's considered bad luck in her culture to keep your decorations up past twelve days after Christmas. This was the scene at Disneyland Paris on Saturday, one day after the deadline. But I heard that Disney's Christmas theme was ending after Saturday.

Our decos are still up. Santa's still hanging from his rope outside my office window. My son said that now if the world really ends in 2012, it will be all our fault. We went to Disney this weekend instead of being good worldly citizens...

Note the size of this tree! The rocking horses are life-sized...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Surely Not His Car...

He wouldn't go for a flashy red, would he?

For those who are uninitiated in French politics, DSK refers to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French economist and politician who was accused of sexually assaulting a maid in New York's Sofitel hotel. The charges were later dropped after his accuser's credibility was strongly called into question. He was widely expected to be the Socialist Party's candidate for the 2012 presidential elections... Now, Socialist Party candidate François Hollande appears to be the leader in the pack fighting to challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy...

If you are interested in French politics, I recommend Jeff Steiner's site, Americans in France. He posts on the subject occasionally. See here...

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Were they referring to Alfred Marshall, the English economist? Maybe George Marshall, the US Secretary of State from 1947–49 who won the Nobel peace prize in 1953? Or Thomas Riley Marshall who was vice president of the U.S. from 1913–21? (Did you know this one? I didn't until finding this on dictionary.com.) Or perhaps the most well-known Marshall, Thurgood Marshall, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1967–91?

Then again, they might have meant Mars Hall. Come one alien, come all! (Hey, I'm considered an "alien" here so maybe this was calling out for me?)

Unfortunately, marshal is spelled with just one L and I've seen many, many of these tee-shirts and sweatshirts around... But seriously, I suppose if we spell checked French clothing in the US, we'd find the same problems...

Call in the typo marshals!

PS. There is also a Marshall, Texas in the northeast part of the state, pop.  24,921.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

This Here's Some -Serious- Ice Cream

No, American overindulgence is not tempered when a classic restaurant establishes itself in France. The photo here of this banana split from Planet Hollywood in the Disney Village doesn't do justice to its size. It was more than enough for four of us. Talk about decadent!

Show and tell is always the best advertising method... As we saw one of these plunked down at the table next to us while we were eating our main course, I could see the wheels turning in the minds of the others at our table.... I'm sure I wasn't the only who went gaga watching it being devoured....

So, we had to order one for ourselves. The waiter brought out four spoons and set it in the middle of the four adults. 

Sorry, kids. This one was for the big people only!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Just in Case...

...you can't read...

This gets it across quite clearly. Never seen it stated as well.

Yet, still this is a huge problem in France!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Chestnut Spread

This is one of those French things you can spread on your baguette in the morning if you so desire. It's not for me, but hey, try it if you can find it!

When I had a French friend living in the US, it was one of the things I would bring her because she couldn't find it there. But that was many years ago, and times have changed. Heck, we can even find Reeces' Peanut Butter Cups here, so life has really evolved...

French people also make all kinds of things with this stuff... If you want to see a typically French recipe site, go to www.Marmiton.org. They have a sister site in English called www.letscookfrench.com. Enjoy browsing!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chestnut Dessert

 While perusing the yogurt/cream dessert aisle (it's big here) the other day, I decided to try these. Not bad! And I am not a big chestnut fan. But perhaps it's because I doused my cup in leftover whipped cream and had some for each bite of chestnut cream.

Darn those lingering bad-for-you leftovers... 

(And the ever-present bad-for-you things in the yogurt aisle.)

More on chestnut use here in France tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Le Look

What French outfit would be complete without a canine accessory? These were little inflatable bulldogs. No telling what they cost considering the price of the clothes! Perhaps the price of a real dog?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bûche de Noël

Can you say butter?

This variety of cake is called Bûche de Noël, and translates to log cake... Note the plastic saws among the Santa Claus figurines if you zoom in close, both above and below...

Zooming in will also reveal the high cost of French butter: these cakes range from 15 to 29 euros! They're not cheap. But they're ohhhhh soooo good.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Cheesy Post

What better way to kick off the New Year on French Photo Du Jour than with a shot of some of my favorite French foods?

This was taken just down the street from a friend's apartment in Paris. If I lived where she does, I'd be having an even harder time finding clothes in my size here in France!

A good French expression: N'en fais pas tout un fromage (Don't make a cheese out of it...) Meaning, don't make a big deal out of it...