Sunday, August 24, 2008

Eating in . . .

We've been cooking at home a lot more recently. In addition to learning how to cook together and saving money, I’ve discovered another benefit of eating at home. The service is better.

I focus too much on service when we eat out. Not just the service we’re receiving, but on the service other patrons are receiving as well. Having waitressed for five years, it's something that I can’t turn off. When we eat at home, if I need a spoon, I get up and get it. If I want more water, I get up and get it. And the best part is, when we’re done, we don’t have to wait 45 minutes to get our check. It’s a much more relaxing experience.

To help us along, we bought a few cookbooks. One is Fish & Fish by Delphine de Montalier. Last night, we used it to make oeufs de saumon au wasabi for the entrée and cabillaud en papillote à la vanille for the plat principal.

Oeufs de Saumon au Wasabi

The receipe calls for medium sized rattes (fingerling) potatoes of equal size. Boil the potatoes until soft, cool, and cut in half along the longest side. Clean out the potatoes with a grapefruit spoon or the tip of a potato peeler. Mash with creme fraiche and wasabi paste to texture and taste, add salt and pepper, and refill the empty potato skins with the mixture. Scoop salmon eggs on each potato and serve. We did it differently this time by not using the skins. We formed the mixture into a nest, which we then filled with the eggs. We had a lot of potatoes left so we crumbled them in a ring around the nest, but next time I would toss some mâche in olive oil and make a wreath around the nest for color. Or, just serve in the skins as suggested in the recipe, which we've done before and is also good.

Cabillaud en Papillote à la Vanille

The original recipe called for lieu jaune (pollock), but the poissonnier was out and suggested cabillaud (cod) instead. First we mixed softened salted butter with the seeds of half a vanilla stick (cut half a stick in half and scrape out the seeds).

We placed a filet (one for each person) on a sheet of aluminum foil and spread the fish with the butter and vanilla seed mixture.

Then we greased a piece of aluminum foil with olive oil and placed it on top of the filet and folded the sides of the aluminum to create an envelope. Cook the fish in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees celcius/390 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, drop the halves of the vanilla stick into some liquid creme fraiche and bring to a boil, then lower the heat while the liquid absorbs the vanilla. Boil (instant) basmati rice.

Open the envelope and pour the vanilla infused creme fraiche over the filet and serve. I made a fork hole in the side of the aluminum so the liquid could run out and flavor the rice. (Fred took his fish out of the foil, placing the fish on the plate without the butter and spooned the creme fraiche over his filet.)

The meal was good, but the rice was too bland. The recipe suggests that the rice be cooked with cardamom and olive oil. I didn't know what it was and didn't have the energy to find out, but next time it might be worth the effort.

"Little Chef" was on hand to answer questions.

We served it with this white burgundy. Yet another advantage of eating at home, drinking good wine without the mark-up!

The downside, of course, is having to do the dishes . . .

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Let's Party

While the U.S. debates whether to lower the drinking age to 18, France is selling beer to children.

Yesterday, the little girl in front of me who looked about 9 years old bought a six-pack of 1664 with the 10 euro note she had crumpled up in her tiny hand. The cashier didn’t say a word. Nobody batted an eye. And she was not a midget. I asked her.

I always knew children were good for buying milk and toilet paper, but if they couldn’t do my full range of shopping I just never saw the point in having one. But if sending them on afterschool beer-runs is legal in this country, we might have to reconsider.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Life in France

While we were in Normandy, I did a lot of reading. That’s because I was reading in English. When we moved here I told myself that if I had time to read books in English for leisure, I had time to study French. I never study French so I could never read. I took myself off book restriction during vacation because I really wanted to relax. Plus, I’ll be starting French courses again soon so I figured I could loosen the cuffs.

Luckily, the weather was mostly beautiful and I did the majority of my reading from this lounge chair:

One of the books I read was My Life in France by Julia Child with, her nephew, Alex Prud’homme.

I enjoyed this book in the sense that it gave me hope that I too will someday find my passion and be lucky enough to make a career of it. In fact, my friend recommended it when I told her I was thinking of quitting my job, but had no clue as to what to do next. Coupled with my lack of fluency in French, it seemed making a career change in France would be hopeless.

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was her stories about old France, for example, when Les Halles was still based in Paris. I tried to imagine where she was, where she shopped, and the restaurants she ate in.

I also liked reading about the deep love and respect she had for her husband, Paul. They seemed to share a very strong bond and be best friends. They spent their time working on interesting projects, side-by-side, and traveling the world together. He seemed to support her each step of the way, starting from the very beginning by encouraging her to cook.

Midway through the book, however, the tone changed and became somewhat negative. Julia took several opportunities to criticize Simone ("Simca") Beck, her “French sister” and co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It seemed petty, as if she wanted to inform the reader that she did the majority of the work. Even worse, she didn’t even have the courage to own it. She often cowardly communicated the criticism through the voice of her husband, e.g., Paul says that Simca isn’t doing her fair share, Paul expressed concerns that I’m doing most of the work, etc.

Of course, she did have positive things to say about many people, including Simca. And, frankly, at 92 I think she just didn't give a ratatouille. Also, she died before the book was finished so in fairness it could have just been the way it was written by her nephew and/or edited.

After reading this book, I would have loved to have read My Life with Julia by Simca Beck. A book we'll never know as Simca died before Julia.

Addendum: I’d like to add that I saw the movie Julie & Julia, and the hits just keep on coming. This time the film was used as an opportunity to slam Irma Rombauer and The Joy of Cooking (which I happen to think is a very good cookbook, but I’m not being biased). Like Simca Beck, Ms. Rombauer is dead. Tacky! Now that Julia is too, perhaps it’s time for her so-called friends to tell nasty stories about her?!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Swine Swoon

Move over baby donkey . . .

Now there's something meatier. Behold my new love (sorry eeyore):

This beautiful creature is the love child of a pure bred shar pei and a standard farm pig. Just kidding, he's a chinese pig. At least, I think it's a he. To be honest I was too afraid to look at its backside. With a face like that, I'm not sure I want to know what the other end has in store. Luckily, Fred clicked a photo as the beast walked away, just in case I ever change my mind. One day, when I'm feeling brave, I'll take the picture out of the frame on his desk and share it with you.

I've named the little piggy Mu Shu. Unfortunately, he wasn't staying with us in Normandy. While our vacation home was wonderful, it did not have Mu Shu. He lives in a much better place, a calvados distillery.

Now do you understand why I'm in love?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Looks can be deceiving . . .

The other day a woman, wearing beautiful clothing similar to that pictured here, carelessly pushed her way onto the RER with such force that she scalped my forearm with her bangles. I let out a loud sigh as an expression of my anger (because I wasn't sure of how to say "scalped" or "skinned alive" in French and I refuse to speak in English straightaway because I don’t want to give my possibly-fluent enemy ammunition). She gave me an indignant look as if I were in the wrong and we spent the next few minutes staring at each other with death in our eyes. But then we both realized she had my DNA all over her and thought better of it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Foal in Love . . .

Like most of France, we're going on vacation next week. We've rented a gîte in Normandy with friends. Despite having made the arrangements months ago, it was one of the last properties available because most French tend to plan way in advance. Fred's parents start settling their itinerary for his next birthday before he's even blown out his candles. I know it's about being thrifty and not having to worry about missing life's celebrations, but for some reason I can't commit. Not even for things I know I'll be attending like my wedding or goddaughter's first communion. I have no excuse and rarely has my procrastination ever been rewarded with a last-minute deal that would make all the (avoidable) stress worth it. I do the research months in advance like most, but when it comes to pulling the trigger I can't be bothered to get out of my chair to find my credit card. I've been a bit worried about what surprises may be awaiting us at our vacation spot given it wasn't snapped up by some well-prepared French family. But yesterday the owner called to tell us that there is a 4-day old baby donkey on the property. I've never thought about a baby donkey before in my life, but now he's all I can think about. What's his name? Can I pet him? Will his tiny back buckle when I ride him into town? Now I could give a spotted ass about the condition of the cottage. I'm going to be sleeping in the stable with my baby donkey.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Help Wanted!

*Click on images to enlarge

Please could people kindly learn how to use craigslist?

Employers should post job announcements in the "jobs" section. In San Francisco, it costs $75.00 to post so it weeds out a lot of miscategorized information. In Paris, unfortunately, it is free. There is no gate keeper to save us from the stupidity of others.

Job seekers should post announcements in the "services" or "resumes" sections.

I used to blame the French for the numerous miscategorized posts. I figured they weren't used to the site or it was lost in translation. However, I can no longer deny that the majority of mis-posts are committed by Americans, for example, Christopher O. from California.

Christopher is a native English speaker, but was unable to understand the ***POSTING GUIDELINES for JOBS*** written in English on the craigslist site. Here he offers us, in the wrong section, his translation services. He is "fluant" in French. Proofreading not included.

Natalia is peddling her pet-sitting services in the wrong section. If you hired her, you'd probably return home to find that your cat was eating cat litter and was shitting in a vat of Whiskas because she had confused the bags.

And here's one from Ayelen who also is seeking a job in the wrong section. I don't make it a habit of criticizing mistakes made in a foreign language, since I do it all the time. However, Ayelen has managed to make several in just two lines in French and English. She's written in a mélange of the two languages in an apparent attempt to impress us with her fluency. (Christopher, I think I just found you a customer.)

In fairness, I took a look at the SF/Bay Area site to see if it was any better. I sometimes peruse the telecommuting job section to see if there is anything interesting I could do in my spare time.

I'm seriously considering applying for this position as an Olive Garden manager. I thought I was going to have to wait to work there until they opened up in Paris. But, in fact, "telecommuting is ok".

Do you think they have a webcam at every table so I'll be able to survey things from a far?

"Susie, table 12 needs more breadsticks."
"Bobby, the two-top in the corner wants their check."
"Lisa, your uniform smells. I'm writing you up!"
"Tom, the women's restroom is a pigsty; take a mop to it!"

This is my dream job - rolling out of bed, staying in my pajamas all day, and giving people orders.

I'm sure Fred will give me a glowing reference.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Happy Birthday to me . . .

Yesterday was my birthday. I've offically reached the age where people have stopped saying (jokingly) "So . . . what are you doing for your 21st birthday?" And have started saying "So . . . what are you doing for your 30th birthday?" (Except you, Dina. Thank you.) I really don't have a problem with getting older, it probably helps that I have an awesome husband to spoil me and remind me that all is good in the world. Case in point . . . he stayed home from work today to surprise me with this! Even Bilbo was on cue. Star!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ooey Gooey

Fred's contribution to dinner: baked daurade, layered with thinly sliced zucchini, a sprig of thyme, and lightly drizzled with olive oil.

Mine: one cavity, two pimples, and three pounds.

For some crazy reason I was craving Pineapple Upside-down Cake, something I hadn't eaten in the past twenty years and probably won't eat for another twenty.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Eau de Vinaigrette

See this shirt? It’s one of the only summery shirts I have. And since it’s only started to feel like summer here in Paris, I’ve had the opportunity to wear it just a few times. Yesterday was the third. I grabbed a salad from the shop across the street and sat down at my desk prepared to work through lunch. I struggled to open the little plastic salad dressing container and before I knew it, my thumb had slipped into the center of the lid, pushing it down and ejecting the dressing all over me -- my keyboard, my computer screen, my chair, my face, my hair, and ALL over my shirt! I'm not exaggerating when I say I looked like Carrie.

The good news is I bought it at Nordstrom during our last trip to the U.S., which means our next trip I can have Fred return it for me (while I hide in the corner and pretend not to know him).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hide the sausage . . .

Once a year, on Independence Day, I allow myself to forget what is in a hot dog. Tucking them inside a bun and smothering them in mustard, onions, and relish helps disguise the truth.

This year we celebrated 4th of July at our place. Someone gave us a barbecue last year, but until now we hadn’t found the courage to use it (never being able to determine whether it's legal in Paris). Aside from a little window slamming from our upstairs neighbors, it was a great success.

The only problem was the left over pack of hot dogs I discoverd in the fridge the next morning. I felt too guilty throwing them away given all the starving people in the world (and now that we’re on a practice budget for when I stop working). I thought about freezing them in case times got tough, but eating an old hot dog is far worse than eating a relatively new one.

Fred offered to cook dinner so I wouldn't have to touch them. He even came up with a gourmet recipe to make them more appetizing -- chopped up and pan fried served over a bed of spaghetti. Remind me to check if he’s placed any
ads on the internet lately.

He's really taking this budget seriously, trying to feed me soup kitchen food. I reminded him that I could only eat hot dogs one way, hidden in a bun. Later, I realized that I had no right making fun of him considering that's my bottle of mustard on the left. If it's any consolation, I bought it in Paris so it was more expensive than his Maille Dijon.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Now that I've given notice, I’m free to share with you the secret of why I really missed my flight in Toulouse. It wasn’t my desire to scrub my thumb clean, nor was it the fault of the security guard who voluntarily escorted the woman behind me and her perfectly content and well-behaved toddler to the front of the security line because apparently a visit to the grandparents' is more exhausting than wearing a suit and heels all day while hefting about bags of documents. In France, if you’re pregnant or have proof of having been so within the past decade in tow, you get priority, save the metro where Parisiens refuse to give up their seat for anybody, the official policy being you’re not required to do so for riders under the age of 75 which is a bit harsh considering the average life expectancy for a French male hovers around 76. And don't even think about relying on the goodness of your fellow Parisiens, I once witnessed a mentally challenged man be ignored by one commuter and then heckled by the next for requesting a folding seat. He even approached them with his state-issued disability card to prove he was deserving, he'd obviously learned the hard way that this was necessary. I was horrified but unfortunately not speechless. It was less than a year after moving here and my French was pathetic. As I stood there yelling the words "handicapé" and "asshole" in turn, I'm still surprised the entire metro car didn't jump up to offer me a seat. I'm certain I sounded as if I were asking for myself.

The real reason I missed my flight is because I was, yes, in a hurry, but more importantly I am an idiot who didn't take the time to read the screen on the automatic check-in kiosk and blindly took the "boarding pass" it spit out. I was already cutting it close and a little antsy, but while waiting in the security line instead of being annoyed by everyone around me I could have made constructive use of my time by reading the rectangular piece of cardboard in my hand. Upon reaching the front of the line, I handed my pass to the security guard, which he examined, as I piled my jacket, shoes, and briefcase into the plastic box. He waved me through, but then I was stopped for a little extra strip search. Despite all of this, I made it to my gate just in time, but for some reason my boarding pass didn't work. I let out a huge sigh and nearly let my guard down long enough to allow my face to fall into my booger coated hand.

Alas, my boarding pass was not a boarding pass at all.

Rewind: apparently back at the kiosk, the paper I had received was actually a stand-by voucher directing me to the ticketing desk where I would be placed on the waiting list for the flight. Instead I went straight to the security line, waited, was searched, and proceeded to boarding. It wasn't until they scanned my voucher at the gate that they (and I) realized I didn't have a boarding pass! I was told that I'd have to see a ticketing agent, on the other side of the secured section, to see if I could get on the next flight. Of course, every door I tried was locked. The only way to get back to the unsecured section was to go through security. Backwards. This did not go well.

I tried telling them I just needed to go to the ticketing booth to change something. They weren't buying it. They wanted to see my boarding pass again. I didn't want to show it, partly out of embarrassment and, partly, because I knew it was going to be a major issue. They were just as baffled as I was as to how I could have gotten through security without a boarding pass. The head security guard came over and refused to let me go until I named names. He was pointing at every member of the security crew, I just kept saying "je ne sais pas", "non, je pense pas", "je ne comprends pas" - my eyes briefly met with the employee-of-the-month, he clearly recognized me but looked down and played innocent. The agent finally got sick of me and let me go. I may be an idiot, but I'm no collaborateur!

I ended up getting on the next flight without incident. And, when I finally stepped out of the Orly airport and hailed a taxi to go home, my driver informed me that he needed to stop for gas like we were buddies on a road trip. I wouldn't have minded, of course, had he come out of the mini-mart with a Big Gulp and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, the only thing he was carrying was some nasty B.O. and a major attitude because he was still upset with me for my audacious request that he stop the meter while he re-fueled.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Warning: Grizzly Bear Alert

The French have no problem calling Americans fat, so much so that during my first visit to France the Frenchman sitting next to me at dinner turned and asked "Are all Americans fat?" The other thing they have no problem with is acting superior because they address problems with diplomacy not brute force. However, if you simply imply that a French woman is fat, be prepared for a beating.

The other day while shopping for greeting cards, I waited my turn while the woman before me spun the card rack round and round. After she left, I stepped up and started looking. Moments later I was joined by a couple. They removed some cards and started reading them. I slowly turned the stand to get a glimpse at the cards on the other side, stretching my neck back as far as possible as to minimize the rotation. This small movement sent the woman into a rage. She grabbed the rack and jerked it back and forth in an exaggerated motion.

Fred politely explained that we were looking at the cards and she claimed in a smart ass tone that she didn't see us. She went on to tell us that we weren't alone in the world. Fred continued to try to reason with her and explain that we were there first and had almost finished, if she could just be patient. She retorted by asking us if we had a receipt to prove we were there first.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I picked up a card with a big chocolate birthday cake on the cover and interrupted the dialogue by showing Fred the card and saying in French: “Look! Here is a card with a cake on it, she probably wants this one.”

I was completely unprepared for what happened next. She turned bright red, raised her arm, and slapped me with all her force. Then she came at me like a hungry bear. Fred and her husband (him, half-heartedly so) had to hold her back, while she continued to yell and struggled to get free. First, she screamed about my “accent de merde” (accent of shit) - funny, since her husband had an accent too - then she yelled “fuck you” - impressive, when I’m angry I have a really hard time speaking a foreign language - then she reminded me that "this is not America" - ironic, considering she fulfilled the stereotype of what French people claim about Americans - fat and violent.

I was in shock and couldn't stop laughing, which only made her more upset. Fred couldn't let go because if he did, she would have attacked me. Hearing the commotion, the shop owner came outside to see what was happening. He stepped in to calm the beast and hold her back while Fred and I made our get away.

I know I have a big mouth, but I never thought that a 45 year-old rotund French woman would be the one to call me out on it. Firstly, because we're made to believe that fat French woman don't exist and, secondly, I never imagined anyone would ever be able to understand one of my insults in French.

And, yes, I know I probably deserved it.