Monday, February 15, 2010

Beef Bordeaux Faux Pas

15 February 2010

After having been invited over to Isabelle and Thierry’s twice now, I decided it was time to get over my fears of having French people over for dinner and we invite them over for Boeuf Bourguignon on Sunday night. After they accepted our invite, I couldn’t help but question my judgement. I am going to have a French family over for a traditional French dish? Geez, do I not remember all of my faux pas in the kitchen?! Even though Isabelle assured me that she wasn’t the greatest cook and was annoyed by some of her food snob friends, there is just something so intimidating about having people over who have lived their entire lives around great food. Great, organic and fresh ingredients. Beautiful presentation. Saviour faire. I’m just a girl from Orange County who learned many of her first dishes by opening a can or sauce packet and whose favorite snack food was, is and probably also will be, les cheetos.

But, I have always enjoyed cooking and am generally pretty good at it, especially when people are not coming over for dinner. Unfortunately, I have a bad history of screwing up the simplest meal when we are actually having company. Anyway, so I have invited our hosts to share a meal that I have made successfully a number of times back home. Difference is, I have made it in the U.S. where stores are open 24-hours a day when you need those last minute ingredients. Well, in France, stores close at the most inconvenient times. Of course, everyone knows that they close from noon to 2:30 during the magical dejeuner hours. But, they also close on Sundays and Mondays. And in the winter, they close even more often and we never quite know when that is. Luckily, there is always a store in some town that is open during these times. Problem is, we can never seem to remember which store, which village and what time. So as we were driving around yesterday trying to find Burgundy wine (you would think that I would have made this purchase a priority before the day of) and pearl onions and an upgrade in the beouf (since we are having guests). Also, I would really like to find some special fresh cheese for dessert, but we cannot find an open store anywhere.

“Okay,” I decide. “We have the basic ingredients. I’ll just make a slight variation and call it ‘Boeuf Bordeaux” which I do and it is not bad and Isabelle thought that was kind of funny. It was really just the little things that bothered me. Having “store-bought” cheese versus the type bought at the fromagerie or marche. In fact, Thierry said as kindly as possible (I genuinely think he was just trying to give us helpful advise) that we could find much better cheeses if purchased from local merchants. “I know, I really do,” I think to myself while turning rouge. We offered a good foie gras that we had previously purchased at a gourmet store and we offered it with the appropriate glass of sweet Monbazillac wine, but I was afraid that the cornichons we had bought at the discount store were not up to par, so we did not serve them. Hank went a little OCD slicing the baquette into precise ¼” slices and fanned them out on a plate that I ended up tossing about so they would look so well designed. Caleigh questioned his manhood in jest. We were also a little nervous I think and rushed through the courses which was somewhat awkward. But, all and all, everything went fine. Dinner was not bad although the Bordeaux wine was quite strong (burgundy would have been better) and the meat a bit chewy. But, I survived the evening without having hotflashes that I typically do when having a dinner party and Isabelle and Thierry could not have been more gracious guests. I’ll do it again, but maybe next time I will pay a little more attention to the store hours in France.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Peter the Donkey

Peter the Donkey – 10/2/10

So, as you all know, we are staying on a farm. We feed the goats, sheep, rabbits and Elsa the Pig all of our produce, bread and grain leftovers and bring carrots or apples to Tequila, the white, but extremely muddy mare and her donkey companion in the field, Peter. Since the weather has improved and Caleigh’s social life has subsided just a bit, she began to eye Tequila with the way only a 13-year-old girl who adores horses could. “Mom, do you think I could ride her?” “Could you ask Isabelle?” “There’s tack in the shed. Do you think I could as least brush her?” Anyone that knows Caleigh knows that she won’t let up until we get some answers. So, I talk to Isabelle about it and she and Thierry say that it is fine, but since she has not been ridden in quite some time, she might be a little difficult to ride. “Oh,” they add, “be careful of Peter the Donkey as he can get pretty ‘jaloux’ which is exactly want it sounds like – a jealous donkey.”

So the next day, Caleigh has a half-day from school and we go out in the field and stealthily try to avoid Peter in order to retrieve Tequila. We have one of three halters with us and of course it is the wrong one when she tries putting it over her head. I run back and get the rest of them and we finally find one that fits. By this time, ‘ol Peter starts hee-hawing as he makes his way toward us and we know that we had better get out of the field quick. He begins picking up speed and as we scurry over to the gate, he begins a full on charge. It’s actually very frightening, but I am certain was hysterical to watch and hear us yelling and running for the gate with a big white, dirty horse and a donkey bearing down on us – so close that he actually nipped off Caleigh’s coat. Thankfully, Caleigh does know what she is doing and stands up to Peter, swats at him with the lead rope and grabs her jacket back. I was probably still screaming and running for cover at this point. I can’t quite remember. But we somehow make it out of the field alive and away from Peter the Ass and proceed to brush off the dirt until Tequila is white again. Caleigh then managed to put the bridle and saddle on and has been riding her on a regular basis which is a dream come true for her to have her very own horse and Hank and I are happy as we would rather she focus on a 20-year-old mare over the local boys.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cut & Color

5 February 2010

It’s been six weeks and as my gray roots make their ¾” growth known, I’ve been contemplating whether or not to try a DIY over-the-counter L’oreal treatment. I haven’t had the nerve yet because I have never been very successful at coloring my own hair, but neither have I had the nerve to make an appointment at one of the many coiffures we pass on a regular basis in every village we visit. In fact, I am sure that there are more coiffures than supermarches or gas stations in the majority of villages. Women obviously get their hair done on a regular basis and much of it is quite colorful I have noticed. But, going into of these shops is obviously going to be another verbal challenge for me and I know that this time my misuse of the language could have dire consequences.

So, this morning, Hank and I walked by a place in town that advertised reasonably priced color and cut and since I can easily point, grunt and do know my numbers, I made an appointment for 2:30 this afternoon. I am really just writing to give my “before” perspective (which is still hopeful) to be compared with the aftermath later on. I can already tell that Hank thinks this could potentially provide some great material for his blog.

A few hours later:

I survived the cut and color and Hank doesn’t have anything funny to write about it as Gerard, le coiffure, did a great job. He also didn’t speak a word of English and when Hank returned a half hour later after dropping me off, the three of us ended up conversing for 2 hours. Once the initial ice was broken, like most of the French people we have met and befriended, Gerard was gracious and generous in sharing information about himself and seemed to take a genuine interest in us. Once he found out that we were Americans, he proudly pulled out a picture of himself at a NY marathon from the 90’s (with the Twin Towers in the backgound). When Hank mentioned that he liked the blues music playing in his shop, we talked about blues and jazz and then he excitedly told us about his talented and beautiful daughter living in Paris and put on one of her songs. He also shared his video recorded on his phone of the popular French crooner, Johnny Halliday. We continued sharing mutual likes and dislikes (Obama and Bush/Sarkozy respectively) and ended our visit with the much sought after bissous and plans to return in six weeks.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Le Lupin

February 4, 2010

Le Lupin

As much as I am enjoying this amazing life experience, I occasionally succumb to little bouts of anxiety (that usually revolve around the financing of this “in lieu of ‘kitchen remodel’ as I like to call it). In fact, I am probably the poster child to be prescribed Xanax, but I am not going to go there as I am sure I will work this all out eventually and naturally (well, okay, once in a while a nice glass of Bordeaux does ease the symptoms). Anyway, I feel silly even writing about it again because I’m sure you must be thinking, “geez, get over it and just enjoy yourself.” Thankfully, that is exactly what Hank and Caleigh are doing, and it is actually beginning to rub off on me finally. But at times, I do worry about how this whole thing will actually pan out and exactly how long this adventure should be. For instance, last week, we were struggling with a few semi-emergencies at the house and tenants back home that prevented us from committing to the later part of our stay (April – June) and we ended up losing two of the available cottages we had recently visited. Maybe it was a sign that we should return home? Luckily, I wasn’t really crushed over losing either of them. But, the situation did bring to light the need to either commit to something (before all the spring and summer rentals are scooped up) or plan our return home in March or April. Well, things seemed to sort themselves out at our house and since we really wanted Caleigh to finish the school year here, we decided to continue our search for the perfect place this week. Hank had called a realtor in Duras (in the village that Caleigh goes to school) regarding a property he had seen online so we decided to pop in before we visited the Chateaux in the same village that afternoon. The British woman and her daughter could not have been nicer and scheduled a visit for us to see a cottage outside of town, but also mentioned that they had a 3-bedroom flat just above their office that had been completely renovated and would we like to see it? Why, yes we would, thank you. It was so weird, because the place was not even finished and they had never rented it out before, but the timing was perfect and it actually felt meant-to-be. So they proceeded to show us this incredible flat with views of the little medieval town square on one end and the Gironde countryside on the other. All beautifully decorated and every bedroom with an en suite bath/shower/toilet. It was gorgeous and about $1500 less than any other place we had seen so we went back today and secured it…so for all of you would-be visitors this Spring, call now and reserve your week(s)!

Caleigh and I also went to French class yesterday with Colette. It was Caleigh’s first lesson and I think it went fairly well - as much as a 13-year-old’s interest in learning a different language with an 81-year old woman could go, that is. Colette even recalled being 13 quite vividly because she began the class (if you could actually call it that), by telling Caleigh that she thought that her parents did not know anything, especially about “jazz.” But is difficult for
anyone not to be intrigued by Colette no matter your age, and I think Caleigh was kind of curious to see where this was going to go. She told us that had been a teacher in Paris teaching language and literature, written numerous articles and I believe a book or two. In fact, she is currently writing an interpretation of the Old Testament from a woman’s point of view in short hand. She comes from royal ancestry and Hank and I get the impression that she and her family were not happy with the outcome of the French Revolution (she has a family chateau in Severac that was confiscated and now belongs to the public). In the hour or two that we were there, she reviewed Caleigh’s school assignments, conversed with us in French and patiently corrected our grammar and pronunciation. Caleigh was able to hook up Colette’s DVD player, which delighted her as she has had a stack of movies she has been waiting to watch; many of which she would like to loan us as they are in historical in nature and in French of course. When we were finished, I asked if there was anything that she needed from the store (as our agreed upon arrangement) and she mentioned that her helper the day before had forgotten two items and would I mind picking up a lapin (rabbit) and some champignons (mushrooms). No problem, I said and Caleigh and I went to the local Casino market up the street. I went to the butcherie section and only saw one very long and kind of grotesque looking rabbit (with the head of course) that looked enormous for only one elderly woman and her cat, Lord Nelson. So, I asked the butcher if he had a smaller rabbit and he said he did and it was just around the corner on the left…This sounds simple enough, I know, BUT, all of this was said in French! He didn’t even try to respond in English. I didn’t pause, look dumbfounded or glance at Caleigh for help when he asked if he could assist me. I actually felt comfortable and just communicated. Wow, two years of instruction, countless hours listening to cd’s during my daily commute, not-to-mention, homemade flashcards, and I finally got it while asking for a rabbit. So, we drove back to Colette’s, dropped off the items and as she thanked us for them, she added almost solemnly that teaching again was giving her purpose and improving her life. If she only knew how she was improving ours.

So, tonight is volleyball with Isabelle and Thiery & their friends with only French spoken. It should be fun. It’s pretty casual and almost anything goes, including using one’s feet and head although we do actually, bump, set & hit some of the time. Will report back soon. Would also love to hear how you are all doing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Caleigh's School Daze

School Days French Style

Caleigh has made it through her first month of school in France! We could not be prouder as she was totally thrown into the deep end and has done so with little or no complaint. It really helped that she knew kids via facebook that she was introduced to in advance of arriving (one of the positive aspects of that site). It also really helped that all the kids were incredibly kind, practically running up to her and introducing themselves from the first day and giving her bissous (double kisses) soon after. Yes, there have been a few nasty “American” comments (thank you George W), but for the most part, she is probably more popular because of her background. Being from Southern California has not hurt either.

There have definitely been challenges during this first 30 days. Speaking French would definitely help matters here and I really hope that our Wednesday afternoons with Colette (the 81-year old retired French teacher who we take shopping in exchange for French lessons) will help. I actually had my first Teacher’s conference last Friday and I guess you could say it went well. Mme. Jandano could not have been nicer and spoke through a 13-year old translator, but I completely understood what she said or was going to say before she opened her mouth. “Elle a besoin de parler Francias tres rapide…regarde le television; regarde film; parle en la maison, etc., etc.” Basically, she needs to come up to speed in French quickly in order to do better in school. That really shouldn’t be a news flash, although we have been very lax in instigating regular study or practice because we felt like she was doing enough just getting by in her first few weeks of the new school. Now we really do need to help her by at least attempting to speak French at home and watch French tv and films. Caleigh smiled and nodded her head in agreement throughout the meeting, but the weekend just came and went by without a word of spoken French between us so I’ve really got to get a backbone and make this a priority or we can not expect her to improve in school.

Another thing I’ve learned during this first month is that French kids are not all that different from American kids, nor are the “extracurricular activities” like making out, smoking, drinking (no drugs so far) very different from what was going on at home. It’s so weird. You always think that it’s the other kids doing all this undesirable behavior; never your own. But, according to Caleigh, pretty much everyone has tried cigarettes, alcohol or pot (in both the U.S. & France). Herself included on two of the three that I know of. Yep, where else but France to try your first puff on a cigarette? I would have never thought she would try this so young, but in the smoking capital of the world, I guess I should not be surprised. Fortunately, I am fairly certain she is not ready to become a smoker though as she voiced how disgusting it was when she accidentally spilled the beans about it while driving to school last Friday (got to love her honesty, intentional or not).

It also appears that the French teens are just as hormonally challenged as the kids back in California. Most are just talking the talk; some are experimenting, and only a few are not at all interested yet (please, please God, let Caleigh be in category #3 I pray to no avail). Damn, and I thought that we were getting so far away from all of these evil temptations when we left LA. But, I guess they just come with the age and all we can do is pray that our kids talk to us and to try and stay as involved in their lives as we possibly can so we know when and if we need to step in.

I know that kids are drinking (I’ve seen their pictures posted on facebook) and girls are posing like playboy bunnies (again; check your child’s facebook page). The latter phenomenon seems to be a lot more prevalent for the LA girls and is especially scary when you see their moms (some actual ex-playboy bunnies) posing with their 13-year old daughters dressed in black rubber skintight pants and stilettos (I kid you not). So far, Caleigh says that the few “drinkers” she has met are from families who do a lot of drinking themselves and who are too oblivious to notice. I find that really, really sad as I just lost yet another childhood chum from my teenage years recently due to drugs & alcohol (he is probably the 20th or so from my class of ’79 who died prematurely). And it all started at about this same age.

Anyhow, I guess that the main difference I have witnessed so far between kids here and at home is respect. In France, it seems to be engrained in kids to treat your parents, grandparents, adults in general, with respect, a quality that often seems to disappear quite suddenly in the States when kids hit 12 or 13 (or younger if parents let them). The kids also dine with their families on a regular basis, which keeps parents in the know of what is going on in their lives. Thankfully, we have adopted this wonderful “custom” and have learned so much more about Caleigh’s daily life (friends, school concerns, heartbreaks, etc.) than we ever knew over the past year and a half.

Lastly, it cannot be a surprise to hear that French kids are in no way close to being as materialistic as their cousin’s across the Atlantic. It kind of makes all of our “stuff” (latest and greatest computer, mp3 player, cell phones, clothing, cars, kitchen appliances, and on and on) seem kind of grotesque. But, I wander…what I wanted to finish about was Caleigh.

She has been an amazing trooper for allowing us to yank her out of her world in LA so we could feed our mid-life crisis’ and has become almost fully acclimated to life in France in an this short period of time. I am so proud of her and confident of her future even knowing that we still have many bumps in the road ahead of us. She has proven to me during this past month that she can do just about anything that she sets her mind to and I look forward to watching her continued transformation into the incredible and talented young woman that she is.