Saturday, August 20, 2011

School girl

Lately all Juliette can talk about is school. Pre-school, in fact, but for her it is "'cool.". As in, "I'm going to 'cool.". Or " I want to go to 'cool. But it's closed today.". Even though she really doesn't know what school is, it seems like a happening place with all the hype we've been giving it.

For example, she knows she's got to be potty-trained to go to school. It's a rather pesky requirement here in France, and one that has nearly driven us nuts. Luckily when my mom was here we got Juju more into the habit of wearing underwear and learning to hold it in. Now she'll look at me earnestly and repeat what we've been saying to her: "I'm a big girl now. I wear underwear.". And if she sees me getting dressed she'll say that I'm a big girl, too, since I wear them, too. However, (FYI: TMI alert) she requests a diaper for number two. The doctor said this is a form of being trained in 30% of kids.

She's still not sure about napping in school, and if I say she can bring her stuffed animal for naptime she says she doesn't want him to get dirty.

I think she is going to like being with other kids and having so many activities. We're curious to see how her language development will go since we don't really hear her speaking French at home except in an occasional exchange with her baby dolls or when she pretends to be on the phone. The babysitter assures us Juliette does speak French. Strangely though she's even shy to use it with her French grandmother. It could be because Remi and I are there and we both represent English to her. Or that Remi's mom uses some English words. I caught Juliette saying "What the (h)eck is that?" the other day so her English slang is coming along nicely.

She's got her Tinkerbell backpack (which she sometimes wears out on our outings). Here you can see her showing it off. (When she says "talk like a little girl, Mommy," she means speak French. She has noticed I speaker higher in French and one time told me to stop talking like a little girl!)

She'll be in before- and after-school care since Remi and I will both have longer days this year. As I've said before this is going to be a busy year for us all. And with my school as well, Remi says he'll have two students at home.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quick and dirty tiramisu

I've noticed lots of recipes call themselves tiramisus even if they don't have mascarpone or coffee. Basically it has come to mean anything with a cream base and layered. I'm good with that. I also love how you can type in the ingredients you happen to have at home into Google and find a recipe. That's what I did yesterday with gingerbread and raspberries and got some inspiration for my own recipe. Which I had to share with you!

Juliette and I picked some raspberries in the morning at this farm near our place. I'm a real sucker for these kinds of places. And I think it's a pretty good price, too, or at least not more than you'd pay in the store.

So, here we go:
  • Take some of your raspberries and mash them up with a fork. Add sugar to taste.
  • Crumble up some gingerbread (or any other cake or cookie you have around. Why not Oreos? Mmmm.)
  • Take 250 grams of mascarpone (that's about 9 ounces) and beat with some liquid cream and sugar. I used about 10 cl (about 3.5 ounces) of crème liquide (15%) and sugar to taste. This is to lighten the mascarpone a bit. Plus, I'm a bit wary of using raw eggs in recipes as most of the real tiramisu ones called for. This is a nice alternative.

Now's the fun part. Take your ingredients and start layering to your delight.

I put the gingerbread bits at the bottom of my glass, then the crushed raspberries, then a nice dollop of the mascarpone. And a few raspberries on top for decoration.

Chill in the fridge an hour or two if you can wait that long, because I find that the raspberry mixture blends in with the gingerbread flavor that way.

And enjoy!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Only one more week

So here I am at the halfway point of my school break. Trying to enjoy the time that's left and a little bit anxious about what's ahead. As I write this it's a beautiful but windy blue sky with puffy clouds. I've just napped about forty-five minutes while Juliette naps. I'm praying she continues to bless me with my lovely afternoon naps for a good part of this year, because I'm going to need that time to study.

As I mentioned, my French teacher told us to really chill during this break. But I feel the need to review a little in chemistry (nomenclature and being able to assess why a chemical product is dangerous) as this is where I'm rather rusty. Trust me though, I haven't been doing it every day nor four hours a day.

Mostly in the two weeks before my break we had chemistry classes, a few on lab analysis, the general principles, and lots of English and French (that's with the pop star teacher, who is incidentally very good at his job). I'm going to have to write a report in French (this year's general theme is money), and we've been reading some texts in class about the theme, too. Let me tell you that reading Karl Marx is difficult in English, so imagine doing it in French. But in general, I'm enjoying things, though sometimes freaking out at all the work that awaits me. Like a community service project?! What does that have to do with working in a lab? Absolutely nothing but it's part of the program.

English has been ok, though a bit odd. The teacher is cool about the fact that I'm already a native speaker. We were in the language lab all week as we have to practice understanding oral comprehension for their test at the end. It is frankly weird to be on the other side of the desk and be taking notes on what the person calling wanted in the telephone conversation. The very same type of exercises I gave my students before! We haven't done much speaking yet. It is a class of ten or eleven and it's harder to let everyone have a chance to talk, I suppose. Of course, the subject is not difficult for me (duh!), but I'll just have to not get tripped up on questions that are simple because I'm trying to make them complicated.

English classes aside, it is still strange to be in an all-French environment all day. I can honestly say there are times I miss chatting with my colleagues in English and being able to shoot the breeze with students. At school I feel a bit more self-conscious about what I say, because I know they could spot the fact that I'm not always at ease with the language. I also appreciate speaking English at home with Juliette and Remi even more now.

But luckily the cameraderie between the classmates (only about 14 of us) is good, and that makes the time pass quickly. One girl who tried med school in France told me it's not the same at all. Here you can start med school pre-requisite studies without taking any type of exam (as opposed to the MCAT in the US). And because there is such fierce competition to make it through the first year, those who are repeating it will make noise when the professor says something very important in class. That way first years can't hear it and are almost doomed to fail the exam. I was just shocked to hear that. It sounds like such a cruel system. Yet another difference between France and the US regarding education.

Alright, no more school talk now! More rest, home projects and baking (and light studying now and then)!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Beef- it's what's for dinner

Anybody remember that old ad? In my case, it's true because I bought an insane amount of beef from the butcher's today. It's one of those embarassing foreigner moments that I thought was behind me after nearly nine years in France. Like the time I thought the waitress hadn't yet given the chef our order because she'd left the ticket on the table. So I asked if I could change and in fact she was a bit put out because they'd already started preparing the meal. Or, different country but same dilemma, in Holland when I thought I was walking into a regular café. When I asked if they were serving, the lady looked at me strangely and said no, despite the presence of other "customers". The only thing I can figure out was that it was in fact kind of a homeless shelter.

But apparently even knowing the language well doesn't mean you'll glide through every situation. Like today when I decided to check out the "hard discount" supermarket. Or as the French say, "ahrd diss-KOONT". Yes, they sometimes inexplicably use English terms for stuff. Then when you ask them what a "discount" means in English class, they don't know.

For those of you who don't know the concept, this type of supermarket is a no-frills place where the food is supposed to be quite cheap, in part because they don't spend much money at all on ads on TV, they don't play music in the store, and the merchandise is just put on fairly basic shelving. You don't find too many brands either. I checked out ALDI today, which I think you can also find in the US. There I was all proud of myself to get out of the store for only about 42 euros minus most of the meat. There was an in-house butcher for that. So I stood in line and waited my turn to ask about beef for a beer stew recipe (carbonnade) I've been wanting to try.

I'd written down the quantity of meat needed (1.5 kilograms) and the cuts that could be used. But I couldn't find my list right away and just mentioned the recipe and amount I needed. The saleswoman suggested the "gîte" meat, and I said, ok. Someone in the back started cutting it and then she brought it out and weighed it. It was 1.8 kg in fact, and as I saw the price per kilo come up, my eyes literally popped out of my head. 25 euros! Yikes. I mentioned that this looked like a lot of meat, and she volunteered to remove some. At first I said, no, then I said, on second thought, yes, please. So she brought it down to 1.2 kg and 18 euros.

Even though I did work in a lab and should feel at ease with metric, I guess I had a brain fart today. Because 1.2 kilos is a bout 2.6 pounds. That's a lot of beef, people! Even for a big recipe for six people (which is apparently the number of people my recipe can serve, if I'd looked more closely). But I'm also going to blame it on not knowing all these cuts of meat (gîte à la noix is in fact top rump) and the fact that the price wasn't displayed in front of me when she suggested this particular kind.

Luckily, after nine years, I take these things a little more in stride (despite a brief urge to run to the car and cry). Even when I heard the saleswoman ask her boss discreetly if it was ok that they were putting back some meat, I thought, well, better that I do this than end up with a colossal amount of meat in my freezer. In the end I think I'll just freeze half and prepare the other half for three people.

And next time I will certainly ask the price before!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beach Trip 2011

So now I've got two weeks to enjoy not being in school. I've only been in my program a month and I can't say it's been overly intense, but I still need a break. The French teacher (who incidentally looks like a pop star, with his long hair and very tanned skin- I'll catch you all up on school stuff later) recommended we really try and relax during these two weeks and not study, since when we come back, and especially in September, things will start piling up.

Though I can't fully take that advice, I did empty out the backpack I've been using for school and filled it with towels, sunscreen, toys to keep Juliette occupied, snacks, and we headed to... the beach! I'd told Remi that once we saw a hot weather day coming up we'd make a run for it (since these past two and a half weeks have been very UNsummer-like). We chose well. Monday and Tuesday were balmier than usual. This time around we didn't have to keep jackets on when we walked the beach.

Juju got into sand castles (or "crackers," as she calls them) this time around.

Being carried by papa because, "I don't want to get 'mine' feet dirty!"

We stayed over one night in a hotel and Tuesday we went back to the beach in the morning and in the afternoon we checked out a garden. All was going well till I told Juliette to stop running around like a crazy girl and stick by us. And Tantrum Girl reared her ugly head again. Seems like we can't go without one major meltdown during our excursions. I once again had to steer her out of the garden kicking and screaming in her stroller. I'm totally over this part of the Troublesome Threes.

Happy family. Little did we know what would be in store for the afternoon (dramatic music...)

Moments before the tantrum. In a peaceful patch of wildflowers. She always picks such lovely places to go berserk.

Picture taken by Juju. The abbey I didn't get to see since she went wild. I told Remi to go on and visit without us (as to avoid a second meltdown indoors).

But, despite all the toddler drama, I did enjoy myself. I had a lovely walk on the beach, soaking up the sounds and sights and smells. I tried to memorize the moment to go back to when life gets hectic. And I'm sure I'll be thinking back fondly of these two days come November when the skies are dull and school's weighing me down. Summer memories are delicious.