Monday, December 24, 2012

So, this is Christmas

You know that saying, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all?  I guess that can account for my lack of blog posts lately.  I've kind of been in one of those downer cycles and I didn't feel like just complaining on my blog.  That and sometimes I guess the time runs away from me on the weekends.  Let's just say I've had some internal and external stuff playing on me that's made for some bleak autumn (now winter) days.  But I'm trying to focus on the good things in my life and be positive. 

One bright spot in this past month has been a cooking show that really gets my creative juices flowing.  You know I enjoy dabbling in baking adventures; therefore the Best Pastry Chef show (Le meilleur patissier) was a real treat.  Amateur pastry chefs participated in bake-offs on different recipes and themes.  I learned lots of techniques I'd like to try myself. 

 
Source (The guy on the left in purple was the winner, by the way.  And his real job: lab tech!)

Coincidentally, this Christmas is going to be kind of bakery themed since I asked my mom for an apron and a spring form pan.  After watching the show, I think I NEED a pastry bag.  It's THE tool for making cool desserts like the adorable macarons (see below) you find all over the place in France and for piping out eclairs. 

 
Source

I haven't done anything too adventurous baking-wise lately but I did make some sugar cookies and mini-muffins for my coworkers last week.  I made some royal icing (confectioner's sugar and egg white mixed together) and put it in a plastic bag to pipe on the cookies.  Juju added chocolate chips and then showed me her brown hands afterwards.  She also helped with the rolling out and cutting.  I do get a thrill when I hear my friends or coworkers let out a spontaneous "mmm" as they take a bite.  Then I say, I made some people happy with my baking.  It's a nice pay-off.  And so is eating warm gooey cookies straight from the oven.

I also made the good old Tollhouse cookie recipe this weekend for some people who came over and for a friend's tea party the next day.  And for the those of you who want to try this while living in France, here's a recipe that is adapted to French measures and ingredients. 

So on this Christmas Eve, let visions of sugar plums and all things sweet dance in your head.  Here's hoping you all have a lovely, homey Christmas. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Absence makes the heart grow fonder... for countries, too

My country 'tis of thee...

There are times I get more nostaligic for my homeland than others.  The last few months the French press has been star-spangling their news programs to let the average French viewer get to know the US in light of the presidential elections.  Nearly every night I got to see what Americans were dealing with in terms of the financial crisis, and it was eye-opening for me, even though I do get news updates from my family (and my home county has even gone bankrupt). 

Or other nights they'd interview Frenchies who'd gone over to the US to live their "American dream."  Yep, even in France, where you'd think they'd snub their noses at what the US has to offer, you'd be surprised to know how many young French people salivate over life in the states.  The US represents opportunity and making it on your own- things that are frankly not so easy in France, sometimes.   

Then there was the coverage of the superstorm Sandy which also put images of the northeast on my screen.  

With all these little news reports, I felt quite at home, even if sometimes they didn't show the whole picture.  Ten years being away from home changes you.  And your country can't help but change during that time, too.  Sometimes I feel I don't know my country as well as I used to.  But it's always my country. 

Then I also had the pleasure of meeing another American girl via my Canadian friend in my town.  And we had a girls' night out (no dancing on tables, mind you) where we mostly chatted about how we sometimes don't get France and how French people don't always get us.  Especially from a mom point of view as both ladies have small childeren, too.  And just talking with folks who knew about Panera Bread and Krispy Kreme and, yeah, Starbucks, made me feel so very at home.  And missing home.

Then, this week Thanksgiving came around and I felt an insane need to eat turkey and find sweet potatoes.  I actually didn't cook the latter but we had our little token T-day meal here at home on Thursday night and said what we were thankful for.  Juliette may not quite understand this holiday yet, but I'm glad I'm passing it on to her all the same.

(Turkey baked in French's fried onions, green beans, a cous cous-like wheat dish, and cool rolls that I wish I'd made myself but so did not.) 


I recently saw a documentary on Italian-Americans living in some small bay town in New England and how they fervently celebrated some Sicilian saint day every year.  They were already about the fourth generation there but wanted to remember their origins.  It's important to us expats to honor our traditions (at least the ones we like) and remember where we're from.  And who we are!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Falling for fall

Yes, it's that time of year again.  Time for me to blog about fall.  That contradictory season when I'm part-enchanted, part-depressed. 

The enchantment, of course, comes from the colors that never cease to wow me.  That time of year when I can't help but snap pictures of gorgeous trees.  Check. 

Or promise myself to appreciate the beauty of small things (hydrangea flowers and rose hips) and not get down about there being less light in the evening.  Check.

And focus on the fun seasonal things like Halloween to distract me.  Check. 


Here you see a sleeping Juju wearing her princess crown that we prepared for our little Halloween/tea party where she was Rapunzel. 

And enjoying the slighter calmer fall activities like puttering around the greenhouse as Remi prepares for the mum-selling period of All Saints' Day.  Check.

But it wouldn't be me without a little dose of fall blues.  I think this year has been better cause I've been very conscious of how great it is to have time to myself again after last year's studyfest.  But it's biological too.  As my coworker and friend Marine says, we're all beasties after all.  The inner animal in us can't help but be affected by the changing light and decline of the plants around us. 

Something makes us feel like we've got to shut down or at least slow down a bit.  I can't help but get downright nervous about winter and the cold and the potentially grey days ahead of us.  That's why I've got to keep myself busy and find things to warm my soul.

What are your favorite anti-blues fall activities?  What's your favorite season?  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

JT dances to JT

video
Because her initials are JT also, just like...Justin Timberlake.  Better go now 'cause she's just cleared out the space behind the sofa so we can recreate the video!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My life in pictures

Hey everyone.  Somehow I haven't found the time to update my blog in a while.  Work has been busy (which is a good thing).  Still looking for lab jobs while teaching English. But really just happy to have a job and some stability after last year's meager earnings. 

Here are a few of the highlights of the last month...

Remi totally surprised me with an outing to celebrate my ten year anniversary in France.  I thought we were going to visit some friends for lunch but in fact he'd arranged for my good friend Caroline to watch Juliette while he and I went out to lunch (Italian- my favorite).  A very lovely way to celebrate and a touching moment.  Here you see us all together when we joined Caro and Juju in town after lunch.  She was a fabulous babysitter, too!


Another Sunday we visited a war cemetery around here (there are tons) from the First World War.  It so wasn't Juliette's thing but was a nice outing anyway.


She's also mastering writing her first name (though her alphabet kit only had one T and E).



And finally a bit of art I put up in the bedroom  made with some fabric samples and cheap Ikea frames. 



Nothing very extraordinary going on, but after my intense year of studying and stressing, I truly enjoy the down-time and being able to enjoy the little things.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Four is fickle

Nobody tells you that after the Terrible Twos and Troublesome Threes, that four is Far From Finished. Or maybe they did but I wasn't listening because I was too distracted by the challenges of young toddlerhood to worry about what was around the corner. Naively, I thought that once potty-training was finished and pre-school started that things would magically fall into place.

But as my high-school friend and fellow mom, Lauren, says, once you figure out the stage they're in, they change. How true.

Whereas four-year olds are definitely more verbal and can at least tell you what's wrong, more often than not, they don't want to tell you. At least mine doesn't. She'd rather whine and cry and roll up into a ball in her room than come out and say she's sorry for swatting one of us or going postal on us for asking her to eat dinner. I can say "use your words" till I'm blue in the face, but until she decides she wants to get out of her tantrum mode, not much will happen. Or I must trick her into easing back into a good mood by pretending nothing has happened or getting her to help me with a small chore.

All of this would be tough enough without the "outside world" giving me stares and/or unsolicited advice. I'm still a bit at odds with the in-laws and sometimes my husband as to how one should react when a child is screaming because they don't want anymore food. It's been tough lately. Once again (!) I've been reminded of my cultural differences in terms of child-rearing. Luckily I recently met a Canadian expat with two small kids and she's been a great comfort reminding me that I'm not some kind of slimy green alien with radical ideas.

The thing is, four is difficult. They are schizophrenic. They are becoming model citizens with their pleases and thank yous, but they are also primal beings wanting their way. All the time. A year or two shy of the age of reason but past the babbling baby stage when you could just blame their bad behavior on being babies.


And then there are those golden moments when she plays contentedly and tells me hilarious stories. She says funny things all the time and I really should write them down more. She tells me I'm her "snuggle puppy", from a book we like to read. And sings songs about "fascinating" cause it was the word on the day on Sesame Street. And tells me she's shy at school because her "volume isn't working." I can tell she's got a mind that's taking it all in and sometimes she is the sweetest thing. But sometimes she's a devil child.

So, I'll just have to hold tight and enjoy the good moments, like her holding my hand tightly as we walk (when she's willing to hold my hand, and when she's willing to walk...), her snuggles and her silly laughs. I love her despite the tantrums and I know she'll grow out of them (just like I did, right, mom and dad?).

So we'll end on a positive note, with her dancing away to that catchy Shakira song.


video

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Italian food and Swedish dreams

Typical. As I try to get over my post-vacation hump, I find myself baking (to recreate flavors from home) and wanting to decorate (to "cozify" my place to remind me of the comfy décors of my family's places).

On the baking front, I made a recipe I'd tried in the US for calzones. We saw the recipe on a cooking show, Kelsey's Essentials, and as I love Italian food, I wanted to try it out. I simplify the filling recipe though, and you can add other things according to your tastes, like Italian sausage you've sauteed, mushrooms, spinach... In the US I used ready-made pizza dough, two packages. Here I tried an easy pizza dough recipe and rolled it out. Worked out pretty well.

Here you see the calzones ready to go in the oven. I just scooped the ricotta-cheese mixture in the dough and folded it over to get a half-moon shape. Don't forget to put slits in the calzone to let steam escape (Kelsey says so).




And here's the end result, served with some chunky tomato and basil sauce that I bought (chair de tomates). You can also just sautee chopped tomato and onion, etc.


In other baking adventures, I've made zucchini fritters (thanks Crystal), zucchini muffins and another charlotte aux framboises (raspberry and lady fingers dessert with whipped cream ). I guess when you like eating, you like cooking...

As for the decorating part, that's where the Swedish dreams come in. Nothing kinky, I swear. Though in a given day I sometimes think more about Ikea and decorating than my own husband. I've become a bit obsessed with thumbing through the catalog (last year's, haven't yet received next year's) and projecting myself into the cozy interior scenes. And thinking how I can make my place a bit comfier.

When I was in America I realized (again) that we like carpet and rugs. And with good reason. They are soft on your feet. And as we are more often than not on the floor playing with Juliette's toys, it's only logical for us to get a rug. So we did that and are now basking in post-rug-purchase glory. Saying things like, isn't it nice to walk on a rug?! To think I waited nearly four years to get a rug for our living room. Shameful.

Here's Juliette enjoying it with all (and I do mean ALL) her stuffed animals.


Even Catki seems to like it. Maybe he'll start exercising again...


The past two weeks have been a bit odd, with not so much work (and two days free this week since the summer day care was not open and I watched Juliette). But I've been trying to master the transition and remember to enjoy myself in no matter which country I'm in. Thanks for your comments and advice from my last post. Maybe the key to living abroad is not to forget the living part, even the daily living, the little things. They are what grounds us.

My British friend used to say, when you pick a flower, it wilts, as we bemoaned our situations in France and missing our own culture. Artist Mary Engelbreit says, "bloom where you're planted." To do that, you've got to set down roots, which is the hard part.

So I suppose I can love my home country but try to establish a good support system here and a home I consider just that. I'm coming up on ten years here this month, and there are some things I'm glad I never have to go through again in terms of adapting. But it's still an ongoing process. That changes as I change and grow myself.

So to all my friends and family, hope you're doing something you love today.



Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jet-lagged- body and soul

Modern air travel does a number on us humans.  Transporting you from Atlanta to Paris in 8 and 1/2 hours messes with your mind. You arrive in what is the middle of the night in US time but in the blinding bright light of mid-morning in France.  Your body should be sleeping, your mind is just trying to process everything.  Add a big dose of homesickness, having just left your family, and the fact that your vacation is now over, and it's like being in the spin cycle.

We left the US last Thursday morning, saying our goodbyes, hoping to see US family sometime in the near future.  Maybe I'm getting a little better at leaving, but it will never be easy;  My eyes smarted on the plane from tears now and then.  Hearing the hushed slightly nasal accents of French passengers and crew just annoyed me more than anything.  The Air France flight crew, by the way, all looked like they could double for Abercrombie and Fitch models, looking dashing in their uniforms designed by Christian Lacroix.

I was still in English mode and wanted to stay there.  Juliette was a little pill for the first few hours of the flight, whining "papa, papa", since we'd told her we were going home to see him.  The perfectly coiffed and probably childless French stewardess asked me if there was anything she could do for us since she saw Juliette crying.  Perhaps this is code for, what can we do to make your child shut up?!  But she said it nicely enough, at least.  "She just misses her papa," I said.

But she finally got to sleep, wherease I don't think I slept at all.  Still I had to be awake to haul my luggage off the carousel and then Remi was there to meet us at the arrivals lounge.  Poor guy has had to put up with us in our sleepy/homesick mode though he had been waiting three weeks to see us.  He had kindly bought us some of our favorite foods including some things to remind us of the US, like cranberry juice, doughnuts and oreo ice cream.

The first night I still had that mind shift going on where I didn't know what bedroom I was in, my mom's back at home or mine.  I still haven't gotten back into a good sleep pattern yet but that could also be 'cause my mind sometimes doesn't shut off.  Work's been slow as France and our students wake up from their own post-vacation bummed out torpor.  I had two full days with no classes so I'm trying to catch up on some things here at home.  That last suitcase will get unpacked soon!

As for me I'm starting to focus on the lab job search again and hoping for the best.  And trying to hold on to some of the peace and optimism that my vacation brought me.  That's what vacations are for.






Sunday, August 5, 2012

Only in America

Only in our grocery stores...

We are a bit food-obsessed in America.  We like our sweets but we are conscious of the bad fats and bad sweeteners (even though you will still find them in certain foods, especially sodas).  It always amuses me to come back and see these labels.  France is just now catching on to the trans fat thing but they don't seem to use much of the high fructose corn sweetener. 

Likin' the new slogan, too! But I still prefer Krispy Kreme.



In Spanish, too, thank you.


Only in Florida...
Where the Trump International Golf Course is next to the Palm Beach prison.




Where you can't buy happiness but you can live there.  And ironically this was a very modest neighborhood.



And the Publix grocery store on ritzy Palm Beach Island looks like this and has valet parking.


And the beach where the rich and famous play looks like this:



Only in Alabama (or the south)...
Can you find stuff like this in the grocery store...


I didn't even know what chitterlings were.  Apparently made of pigs' intestines.  I know I make fun of weird food in France, but we have our share of it, too.

Like pigs' feet.  Logical to get them in a value pack.



The Bubba burger is apparently good.



And a Sunday breakfast consists of ham (that's Juju's hand sneaking a bite), cheese grits (corn-based) and eggs.  Thanks, mom!



And you can find great old favorites like green tomatoes (for making fried green tomatoes) and okra (the world's slimiest vegetable but so good fried!).



And fruits that sound so gracious just by name and remind me of when I read To Kill a Mockingbird, that southern classic.  Can't say that I've even tasted scuppernongs.



Enjoying myself immensely here and hoping it doesn't go by too fast!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Am-eeeer-ica!

We're here and loving it.  When I come back it's just like, well, coming home.  And yet, since I've been away a year and a half, it's also as if I have the eyes of a French tourist.  The cars are bigger, as are the parking lots and streets.  I am here in rather ritzy West Palm Beach for the moment and it does seem as if the people are more glamorous.  And dare I say, friendlier and chattier sometimes.

The first night we stopped by Walgreens to get Juju some cough medicine and I felt like I was in heaven just checking out all the familiar items on the shelves and asking the pharmacist questions in my own language.  Ah, yes, this is where I come from.  This is me just as much as I have also become the one who chats with her French baker and walks over the cobbled streets in my French town. 

I'm so glad Juliette has this time to reconnect with her American family and the other side of her culture.  We had taught her to spot American flags on tv or objects back in France and now she's having a field day seeing them right and left here.  And enjoying some serious spoiling from my mom, sister and aunt! 

So to really concentrate on enjoying myself and soaking it all in, every last bit of it, I think I'll take a cue from Crystal and not post so much while here.  I'm trying to limit myself to only two email checks a day, too (gasp!), cause email will always be there, but I'm only in the US every so often.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Soggy summer

Greetings from very wet/misty, grey France. July has been a dud in terms of weather. The weather ladies and men keep promising us sun but there is very little of it. Luckily I know I'll be getting plenty of sun and hot (even stifling) temperatures when I go back HOME in a week and a half! Can't wait and I intend to enjoy every minute of my vacation and spending time with family and friends. Sometimes I think I can only truly be myself when I'm back home, though I think I've made progress letting my real personality come out in France (family-in-law aside where I sometimes have to bite my tongue...). Yes, three glorious weeks in the good old US of A. I so need it!

Despite the grey weather, I really have been enjoying myself already these past two weeks since I'm no longer in school. I started back at work and it's going ok. It's weird to speak English all day again as I'd really gotten used to cutting up with my classmates in French. I was a bit hesitant about being a teacher again but I think it's come back to me and I do like the contact with the students. So we could say being back at work is practically like being on vacation already as it's great to chill with my English-speaking coworkers and rediscover my American accent (if you can believe it!). Sure, I do speak English with Juju every day, but not necessarily the way I would with an adult.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been taking advantage of my freer time to do things like baking and some house cleaning and finishing books I started a year ago. Banana chocolate cake, sugar cookies...I may even try my hand at some cake pops this Saturday for a little birthday bash for Juliette. Thanks to aunt Sunny for sending me the scrumptious recipe book. Anybody out there tried those yet?

And as every time I go back home, I start reflecting a bit on how things will have changed back there and how long I've been away. There are days I feel downright Frenchie in my habits (drinking morning milk out of a bowl and often eating dinner at 8), but don't be fooled, I'm still American in my roots and my general way of thinking.

How about a little list of the American things about me I'll never lose...

1. My love for relaxed sleepwear. Crystal knows what I mean! I don't know if this is strictly American, but while watching 500 Days of Summer the other day, I noticed how the girl was wearing striped pajama bottoms and it just seemed so American. Especially since Remi sometimes doesn't get how cozy this is.

(source: ex.com)

2. The need to say "Dude!" at any time. I don't know if real (current) Americans still say this, but sometimes the need is overwhelming. And I just feel quite myself when I say it.

3. A love of customer service. I may be getting used to frowning or just blasé French customer service. But I just melt when I call a US number and hear a cheery midwestern voice ask me how she can help me.

4. Sarcastic American humor. Even though it gets to me when the teens on Disney shows use it all the time, I think it really is part of our culture to come back with one-liners and jibes. Strangely, this aspect of humor is really hard to translate and most times Remi still isn't sure when I'm joking or really angry.

5. I love me a good burger. Not just McDonald's, but a nice homemade one. I've started a burger night that we observe at least every month. Along with breakfast dinner.

6. An unabashed love of convenience! This is why I love my dryer and wonder how I lived without it for so long in France. I barely ever iron now. Two years now and I still sometimes marvel at my Whirlpool.

Don't know if I've convinced you that I really still am American. Perhaps I'm more of a hybrid now, whether I want to be or not. Expats are probably confronted with this duality all their lives, even if they go back to their home country. Maybe home is just a state of mind anyway.

What makes you typical of your nationality?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Back to baking


Virtual champagne for everybody! (That is just a random stock photo, by the way.  It's not Remi spewing champagne.)  I got my degree for the biological analyses program which will re-qualify me for working in a lab. It’s what’s called a BTS in the French system. I’ve spent the last week hanging out in the school computer lab just to note my presence (we had to do it to get paid) working on CVs and cover letters (or just shooting the breeze with the other students). Starting back at the English teaching gig next week and it feels a bit weird to put myself into the teacher role again. I know I’ll slip back into it but there’s always a transition period. And though I’m getting better at transitions, but it’s still a bit tough sometimes.
 

Now that I have a bit more free time (no more studying, yeah!) I’ve been able to put my energy into more pleasant things. Like baking. Truth be told I never gave up the odd batch of muffins on a Saturday afternoon but I did cut back a bit. Last Saturday to celebrate my new-found freedom I made a recipe I’d been wanting to do for a while- petits pains au lait. They are basically just yeast rolls. The recipe was surprisingly simple and I enjoyed munching on warm bread with Juliette at snack time. It’s even better with a little butter and honey…

I got the recipe from a French blog site but I’ll translate it into English. Though this recipe already had imperial measures, let me pass on Diana’s Desserts website (http://www.dianasdesserts.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/tools.measures/Measures.cfm) which has a wonderful measures converter.

500g (4 and 3 cups) all-purpose flour
1 and 1/5 cups (30 cl) of milk
30g (2 heaping tablespoons or 1 oz.) of butter or margarine
30 g (1/4 cup) sugar
1/3 oz. of dry yeast...not so sure how to measure that in US, any ideas?!: (1 packet of levure de boulanger (5 g) for those living in France)
A pinch of salt

Heat the milk (not to boiling) and the butter in separate saucepans. I heated my butter up in the microwave.  

Add the yeast to the warmed milk and mix and let sit 15 minutes.  
 
Add the milk/yeast mixture to the flour, sugar and salt. Then add the butter and stir with a wooden spoon (why wooden, I don’t know).  

Knead by hand. Add a bit of flour if the dough is too sticky.

Form into a ball and let the dough sit for an hour or an hour and a half in a warm place. Cover with a clean dishcloth. The dough should approximately double in size.
 
Form the dough into small rolls, elongated or round. You can also add things like chocolate chips or fruits. Or form the balls and then arrange them into a clover or flower shape (with the rolls touching) on your non-stick baking sheet. Let rest a few minutes. With a knife cut a few lines on the top of each roll.  

Place into pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for 20 minutes.
And enjoy!