Saturday, September 28, 2013

What's Cookin'!

Some wishes do come true.  Like my wish for an Indian summer in my last post.  Monday turned out to be brilliantly sunny and even hot.  Juliette and I had some fun playground time to celebrate!  The rest of the week was very pleasant, temperature-wise.  Somehow I couldn't help but savor it all the more knowing shorter, cooler days are around the corner.  Like eating the last garden-grown tomatoes, knowing less flavorful ones will be around for the next six months.

And speaking of tomatoes and food, I have finally gotten my kitchen into a more functional state, another long-time wish.  If you've every rented in France you'll know that bare kitchens are quite the norm.  You know the expression "everything but the kitchen sink"?  Here it's the opposite.  When we moved into our current place, which was brand-spanking new, there was nothing but the kitchen sink and a white melamine cabinet underneath it in the galley-style kitchen.

So we did what any self-respecting French renter would do and went to Ikea to kit ourselves out.  Gas burners are not really allowed in apartments here so we kept the electric stove top we'd had in our previous place.  And that was much to my dismay.

Ever since I've been living in apartments in France I've had to deal with electric stove tops.  The first time it was already integrated into the miniscule kitchen, as in my first studio apartment.  When some water splashed onto the unit it took one burner out and the landlord replaced it (but my insurance had to cover it).   There was amazingly one brief moment where I rented in a place that actually had gas burners.  Later we rented our first place as a married couple and the kitchen was pretty much bare except for some cabinets the previous renters had kindly left.  We bought our first electric stove top.

But the problem with these portable units is that they are also quite sensitive to moisture and a real pain to clean.  A little pasta water boils over and, things get ugly.  And I'm not really a slave to housework so my burners end up looking like this and dying on me after about two years.  I think I've gone through three units these past seven years.

So when this one died (as they all do), the last thing I wanted to do was buy another of the ugly things.  And after much online researching as to options, I actually found a portable three-burner induction unit at the discount grocery store.  Who'd have figured?  Lidl has some pretty cool stuff sometimes!

Of course, induction does require magnetic-based cookware.  I did the magnet test on our stuff and found that most of it did indeed attract your average fridge magnet, so all systems were go!  Just had to buy a new frying pan and we were in business!

The induction system heats up quickly and cools down relatively quickly too since the heating action is more in the bottom of the saucepan than the burner itself.  Don't ask me the physics of it!  So far so good and the best part is the glass top is easy to clean, just a damp sponge.  I must just be careful to not let water seep in  the edges, of course, or slam my pan down too forcefully on the glass top.

So here's hoping I can make some tasty meals with this baby (and that it will last)!  What would you like to change in your kitchen?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Wanted: Indian Summer

I'm sitting here looking at an anemic sky: some greyish clouds billowing around on white; there is sun sometimes but not much blue sky.  This September has been one of those partly sunny-partly cloudy deals.  Some days down-right chilly and rainy.  So I guess I must face facts, it IS autumn.  Tomorrow in fact.

So I've been a bit nostalgic about my summer and the good times we had.  Maybe because the weather was actually very summer-like (for once) and now the chillier air is quite a contrast. Allow me to indulge in some summer memories.

My new solar-powered lantern that comes on at night.
Strawberry wine and strawberries with sugar.

Enjoying a meal on the balcony.
And as you know, every year I go through some pre-Autumn depression. But this year I'm determined to make the best of things.  Setting goals and looking forward to things.  I'll let you know more later on just what (but I've got some ideas...).

Last Sunday we got out and did something to beat the blues- a little visit to the port city of Boulogne and its historic walled town center. 

We also ate at what had to be the worst restaurant in Boulogne in terms of service (s-l-ooooo-wwwww) and which boasted a very mediocre menu.  And one of the funniest menu translations I've ever seen!

Google translate at work, people.  PavĂ© is a piece of meat but they translated it as "paved", as there is also the verb paver (to pave).  EmincĂ© should again be pieces of meat which are sliced thinly not simply "sliced thinly", and filet is the same word in English, but in French it can also mean a net, as in the net when you play tennis.  I should have seen it coming that this restaurant wasn't up to snuff by its menu alone! 

This weekend I'm just cleaning a bit (as Juliette's school friend and next-building neighbor has come to play) and tomorrow will be in-law visiting.  We're settling into our school and work routine and trying to go with the flow.

Here's wishing you a cozy and productive fall, y'all!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

In loving memory

It's what every expat fears the most.  The call. That's how my friends Caroline and Crystal both ominously refer to that call we don't want to get.  In my case it was an email that, just like Deidre said a while back, was titled simply with the person in question.  And I knew that probably meant things hadn't gone well over the night of Sunday to Monday for my grandma.

When a loved one passes away we feel helpless as expats.  We aren't there to help friends and family, and we feel guilty that we didn't see the person as much these past years because we've been away.   In this case my mom said to wait and come back at Christmas, which will also be a tough time this year.  And I agree and understand.  My being there now wouldn't make my grandma come back and she knows I loved her.  Of course I tell myself I could have called a bit more often, or emailed more.  We saw each other on Skype and spoke on holidays and she got to see her great-granddaughter Juliette three times in these last five years (check out this video from when they were together in 2009). 

So I've been calling daily to see how my family is holding up and somehow it makes things a little better.  But being far from the events makes it harder for me to truly realize she's gone.  I don't have the same closure as the others. 

Instead I lit a candle in the church near my apartment and Juliette and I sat in a little chapel where I quietly read her a book we'd found at the library about a girl who misses her grandma.  It's been hard for a five-year old to process all this and why her mom is weepy.  She goes from asking me where grandma is and then telling me she wants to go to heaven and see her or saying she never wants to die.  It's heavy stuff at that age and I try my best to explain without scaring her.  Her little arms around my neck are a comfort.

So today I'll think about what a spunky, cute little grandma she was.  And how I hugged her tight the last time I left the US, thinking a little too pragmatically that it might well be the last time.  Unfortunately that came true but I know we made some great memories together. 

With Juliette in the summer of 2009.