Friday, September 28, 2007
Ahem, so the meeting was set up to touch base with a couple other gals involved in the process, and I was just meant to meet them and chat for a bit. But as they were super-busy and up to their gills in work, they didn't have time to talk logistics. So we decided to save that for another time in the near future, and my friend and I headed out to find a nearby bar to unwind after our respective long days at work (her hopping around town on a Velib' from one assignment to another, me chained to my desk...). A drink turned into a couple drinks, like I said above, and then some nibbles, which resulted in a full-fledged meal. So I didn't make it to the métro station 'til after 10:00. Not a problem under any normal circumstances, but I was really starting to feel the fatigue. I took my normal route home, with a correspondance at Charles-de-Gaulle Etoile for the RER train... And found, once again -- for the second time in less than two weeks -- that the interconnexion at Nanterre-Préfecture was down as some construction work is going on at the Nanterre-Université station. Basically this means that I'm in commuter hell, because I have to turn back around on my tracks and trudge on over to the other side of the station, take the train back in the other direction, make my way over to the Gare St. Lazare, and then take an SNCF suburb train home. Which is just fine and dandy -- when I'm not WIPED OUT and READY TO CRAWL INTO BED. I know, I know: after all, I'm the one who chose to go out, so you're not going to feel sorry for me. But this was the last thing I needed...
So after taking the alternate route back through the train system, as I finally approached St. Lazare on foot from nearby métro Havre-Caumartin, I found myself half-asleep and somewhat distracted by the bright street lamps. My attention was momentarily diverted by the Printemps department store windows, and as I swung my head to the right in that split second, I made the huge mistake of not watching where I was going -- I became a walking hypocrite! Because, in fact, this is a crime that I have found Parisians guilty of on more than one occasion, and it drives me off my rocker... And there I was, becoming the perfect example of what I can't stand. That's right: in that split second, I rammed into a poor unsuspecting woman walking in the opposite direction. Now, I say "poor, unsuspecting" because I feel for her -- I honestly felt bad for my moment of distraction! I felt terrible... But her response shocked me even more: before I could even mumble out an apology or an explanation, she had screeched "Il faut regarder où vous allez... ou changer de lunettes !!!" And when I say screeched, I seriously mean she put a lot of volume into those two lines. I was flummoxed, and it all happened so fast, I didn't even get a chance to respond. Now, again, I know I was in the wrong -- I was perfectly ready to recognize it -- but I honestly thought that this was just a wee bit uncalled-for... Over-react much?! I didn't even get a good look at the lady, but let's just say that she walked so quickly out of my line of vision that I can only assume she was about three feet tall...
When commuting, I go out of my way to follow Paris protocol: I step off the trains to allow other passengers to get off, even when it's not yet my stop, and I do my best to be respectful of others' space. I walk quickly, but I don't push (this is particularly grating, when people shove up behind you to get off at a station). I stand when the trains are crowded, allowing the strapontins to flip back up and free up some more space. But of course I'm not perfect, and every once in a while I find myself guilty of a commuting transgression. But this was totally unlike me -- and again, it was probably a result of my long day.
In any case, in that moment I realized how much I'm becoming more and more "French". Yes, my friends, say what you will, the French are well-known for walking quickly in one direction and looking in another at the same time. I've observed this phenomenon in more than one train station over the years, as well as on the streets, so the fact that I committed this cardinal sin makes me feel even worse. I've also been complaining more and more, a sign of the one of the French culture's favorite pastimes: râler.
But oh well, you never know what the end of an evening will bring you... It didn't tarnish my soirée, not entirely, but I was too tired at that point to dwell on it. I honestly believe that fatigue played a role in my distraction as well, so I'm trying not to feel too bad about it. After all, I'm sure that that particular dame didn't even give the incident a second thought...
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
And finally, it has! Part of it is probably this time of year: I've realized that I love the seasonal foods at the market in September, in spite of the fact that the summer is ending and we're having to put fresh peaches and strawberries behind us. They were all pretty disappointing this year anyway, in my humble opinion. But I can't get enough of the figs, I love apples and pears, and we're leading into the perfect season for dishes simmered in a Dutch oven. Yes, that's right: I'm excited to be using my cocotte ! I bought one almost six months ago, and it's just now that I'm able to make great use of it. When I saw the recipe on the pages Friday night, I knew this was going to be my weekend project... Add in the chocolate cake recipe a good friend passed on to me on Friday at work, and I had my own recipe for a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen.[Ironically, I was convinced that the recipe I used on Sunday would be on-line as well, so I could link to it here, but unfortuantely it isn't! So I'll have to copy it over here...]
Salade de figues, poires et parmesan
(I adapted this for two persons, but the recipe below is for four)
4 nice-size figs
2 ripe pears
the juice from 1/2 lemon
30 grams of grated parmesan
2 teaspoons of olive oil
a few drops of balsamic vinegar
fresh ground pepper
After washing the fruit, you simply core and cut the pears in thin slices, and the figs in quarters. Then you sprinkle some lemon juice over the fruit, mix it carefully, and then lay the fruit out carefully on plates. Grate some fresh parmesan over the fruit, drizzle on some olive oil and just a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately, with some fresh ground pepper.
And now, la pièce de résistance -- OK, don't freak out here -- it's rabbit! It's my first time preparing it, but it was truly wonderful. I can see some of you cringing now, but rabbit is a wonderfully delicious alternative to chicken or other poultry, and if the meat is prepared the right way, it can be really rich and tender! This recipe was just right.
Râbles de lapin aux carottes et aux pruneaux
(recipe serves four, so we had leftovers!)
4 pieces of the rabbit's "torso", basically -- the back or "saddle" of the rabbit -- 100 grams each
4 slices of bacon (poitrine fumée), 10 g each
6 prunes with the pits removed
12 carottes nouvelles (fresher carrots, still in a bunch)
8 fresh green oignons (also still in a bunch -- these melt and become tender!)
1/2 cube of chicken bullion (or fresh chicken stock, if you have it)
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small bouquet garni (with bay leaves and flat parsley)
a few extra parsley leaves and some fresh ground pepper
[This takes a little over an hour to prepare in total, including the slicing of vegetables and the simmering of the rabbit in the cocotte, for about 40 minutes.]
You start by wrapping each râble with a slice of bacon; the sweet guy at the poultry stand gave me some ficelle to use to wrap around the râbles, because I didn't know where to find it myself... Then you wash and peel the carrots and the onions. You slice the carrots in thin discs and slice the largest of the green onions in half, leaving some of the green stem on them. Toast the coriander seeds in a hot pan, just to bring out the flavor, for a few minutes, and then reserve them for later. Brown the rabbit in the olive oil in the cocotte for a few minutes, and then add salt, pepper, the coriander seeds, carrots, onions, prunes, the bouquet garni and the 1/2 cube of bullion, crumbled up. At this point, you allow the ingredients to cook for about 5 minutes. The recipe says to pour in only about 20 cL of water, but I actually poured in more than half that -- about a half a liter -- I just wasn't sure if the carrots would cook well without a bit more water. In fact, this might not have been necessary, but I still thought everything turned out beautifully, so I feel like 20 cL is cutting it a bit short.
You allow the dish to simmer for about 40 minutes, and then serve, sprinkling some fresh parsley on top.
So that's how I spent a good part of my day on Sunday. I did some much-needed housecleaning as well, things I had been putting off for weeks, I'm ashamed to say. I finally scrubbed my oven and vaccumed the apartment from top to bottom. It was a great sense of accomplishment, and it laid the foundation for an evening of cooking satisfaction. I baked the gâteau au chocolat in the late afternoon, and then set to work on dinner at around 6:30 or so -- I may have gotten a bit of a late start, but I figured we never eat before 9:00 on Sundays anyway, so it wasn't a big deal.
I had never cooked rabbit before -- I can hear you gulping and gasping now! -- but it was just so good. Tender and tasty, worth the effort. But what am I talking about? There was hardly any effort involved, aside from the prep work: the slicing of the carrots and onions, the wrapping of the rabbit with the bacon... I was also pleased because the family that runs the chicken stand at the market are the greatest, and the father had passed on some string for me to use in my cooking. He explained the different parts of the rabbit, and how they're prepared. I had never heard the word râble before, so this was a new one for me.
The combination of flavors -- what can I say? It was heavenly... I haven't made a main dish that was this satisfying in a long time. My old stand-by these days is a dish that my boy's mother made years ago, one of his all-time favorites: pintades aux pommes et lardons. But this rabbit dish, simmered in the Dutch oven with carrots, spring onions, coriander seeds, parsley, bay leaves and prunes was the perfect concoction. As it bubbled away on the stovetop, the scent of the different ingredients wafted around the apartment and just blew me away. I couldn't wait to dig into it! And my expectations were more than met: the taste was just as good as the scent. My boyfriend loved it. I haven't heard him compliment me on a meal that much in a long time. (And it was even better the next day as my leftover lunch...) He thought the entrée was a bit more suspicious, so he wasn't as excited about that. I actually loved it myself. It was more of a savory fruit salad, a combination of pears, figs and freshly-shaved parmesan, along with a drizzling of olive oil, a sprinkling of fresh pepper and a few drops of balsamic vinegar. He thought it seemed more like a dessert, but of course it's the parmesan that makes it an appetizer. Fresh, fragrant and light -- what could be better?
I took a few photos, but I don't know if they're worth posting, because as I mentioned we ate at 9:00, so obviously there was no more natural light, and the pictures under bright fluorescent lightbulbs leave much to be desired. So you'll just have to imagine them... Trust me, it was unforgettable!
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Ah, now THIS is going to be a fun post... Quite the refreshing change from my previous rant-cum-diatribe. The Page Française passed on a sort of wardrobe challenge, and I have to admit that in spite of my recent attempts at cutting back on any consumer spending, I have always had a weakness for nice clothing -- for fashion in general, shall we say... It really depends on my mood, as is the case for many women out there I guess, but I do like to make an effort to look pulled-together, as much as possible, on a daily basis. I guess you could describe my uniform quotidien as classic with a twist... As I mentioned in a recent post, I love accessories, and I also love adding just that little touch to an outfit that makes it a bit more original -- even if most parts that make up the whole are very basic and simple. And then of course there are my lazy days, when I couldn't be bothered to throw anything original together at all. That's when I resort to jeans and a simple t-shirt-cardigan combination. I'm a cardigan girl, for sure. I have more of those than I could possibly remember off the top of my head...
These days I find that reasonably-priced, affordable and yet well-made clothes are virtually impossible to come by... Back in the States I guess I always depended on the constant day-to-day sales (there's always an excuse for a sale over there!) or outlet centers, sometimes splurging, probably more often than I care to admit, on something in particular at regular price, if I was crazy for it. But since I moved to France, or let's just say even more recently, I've been trying to restrain myself from one season to the next because I've finally realized that I do in fact have lots of clothes, and in spite of the fact that styles change from one year to the next, I'm realizing that I can certainly get by with what I have. But oh, the vanity-ridden desire and lust are still there, trust me! I may crave something, but I'm finally learning to apply more restraint to my cravings. And my ensuing actions. I'm hoping my bank account will one day thank me, because for the moment it holds nothing but scorn and resentment for leaving it so empty and alone.
But I have to add here that I go through color phases -- it's quite funny, actually, because whereas one year I may abhor a particular color, the next I might be madly looking all over for the perfect sweater in just that shade, yes that one that I wouldn't deign to wear just a year before. This fall I have to admit that I'm caving for the dark-blue-and-grey combination; I've actually had a passion for gunmetal grey for ages, anthracite as they call it here in France, deep rich grey... I agree that it goes with so much, from navy blue to black to burgundy to red to rich hunter green. And the list goes on. So I imagine that I may very well end up breaking down and purchasing one sweater or pair of pants in grey before the season ends, only because I know myself too well. And now that they're actually selling grey shoes for once (something I sought for years on end...), could they perhaps try to stock at least a pair or two in my size? (I have big feet -- American 10, French size 41). Then again, check that: don't carry my size -- then I may be tempted to spend more money...
So as to what I'm wearing right now? Well, I'm at work, so I'm dressed more "profesionnally" than I would obviously dress on the weekend, but comfortably nonetheless: one of my favorite shirt-dresses, in a khaki velvety material, found at Zara a couple years back; my brown suede boots, a gift from my boyfriend's mother, one of the precious gifts she gave me during the winter when we first got to know each other (we spent the better part of a whole Saturday shopping around Le Havre looking for boots in my size that I actually liked, and she was the most patient, supportive person I have ever met... not to mention wonderful company; I have the best memories of that day) and a thick wool, multicolored Max & Co. cardigan which is blatantly too warm for this early-fall weather, but I like to be prepared for what the Paris weather may unexpectedly bring. You never know what's going to be around the corner... I'm also wearing a beaded necklace from Clio Blue -- I love their jewelry. (I said I was a sucker for accessories after all!) All of this outfit is in what you might term "fall colors", but it's only because last year I was crazy about green in all its glory, so I have sweaters and pants in varying shades of green.
That's my outfit of the day... Tomorrow I will probably feel lazy again, so it will be back to simple pants and a top, more than likely. But today felt like a pretty good day.
I believe I'm meant to tag a few people out there in the blogosphere, and sometimes I have a hard time remembering those who do and those who don't enjoy doing memes, so of course if you're not into it, don't mind me! You can only play along if you feel up to it. So what are you wearing,
Monday, September 17, 2007
In a way I've gotten used to my boyfriend changing his mind or committing himself to more than he can really do in one weekend. It's as if he thrives on spreading himself too thin, as if he thinks he can tear himself into three or four different men, and it doesn't seem to sink in that he simply can't do everything -- and besides, perhaps his girlfriend may not have the same ideas in mind...
This weekend's plan, at least as I originally understood it, was to drive up to his sister's place outside of Lille and to spend some quality time there, relaxing and getting away from the city for a breath of fresh air. I was actually looking forward to being in their big house again, and perhaps even bicycling around the area, like we did once a few months ago. I had a feeling that we wouldn't head out on Friday evening, as he originally projected, because I know how exhausted he can be at the end of a long week. So I wasn't surprised when he told me Thursday evening that we wouldn't leave until Saturday morning...
But then the frustrating element kicked in late Friday night, after we went to see The Bourne Ultimatum together, when he just happened to slip in (comme si rien n'était), ever so nonchalantly, that we would be making a "pit stop" on the way to Lille, so he could play in a tennis tournament, the "final one of the season". Mind you, the last three tournaments have somehow transformed, each time, into the "the last tournament of the season"... But I'm just saying.
Trust me, I have nothing against my boyfriend playing tennis! On the contrary, I know it is one of the things that makes him really happy. It's one of his favorite pastimes, along with swimming. I also know that it's both a physical and a mental release for him, a way of getting out all of that pent-up stress men are so famous for keeping inside themselves, whereas girls like me just can't seem to get enough of releasing it simply by TALKING ABOUT IT. So of course it's a healthy thing for him to be doing, for the most part. But I guess I sometimes feel like our plans together come after his tennis-playing plans, or fall completely by the wayside. We don't actually have that many weekends together, and when we do, the time is precious to me -- it's like an oasis in the middle of the desert of our work-run-rest lifestyle at the moment.
So this interruption in this weekend's plans, for a brief trip away from home, just seemed unjustified and a wee bit selfish in my personal opinion... I don't know; I felt like our time together just wasn't important enough, valuable enough, to merit an entire weekend devoted to it. As a result, when I told him how I felt this time around (something I don't always do, because I don't want to upset the applecart or cause any unnecessary conflicts -- the truth of the matter is that I often bend to his will; I want so much for him to be happy) he got all up-in-arms and defensive, saying that the stop didn't change anything in our plans, that it wasn't really a detour at all, that it was on our way, that I was making a big fuss out of nothing. It just didn't seem that way to me, of course.
We really don't disagree like this all that often, and I honestly don't like to complain -- I mean, I try really hard not to complain about his own activities, because I think it's important that we spend time separately doing the things that we love -- that's what makes us happier when we spend time together, after all! But you have to draw the line somewhere when you have so little time together, n'est-ce pas ?
Needless to say, we didn't end up going to Lille... Our Friday-night discussion didn't reach any kind of truce until Saturday afternoon. We were at a bit of a standstill. To complicate things all the more, he just decided to cancel all the weekend plans, in his opinion because I was making things too complicated. In the end, though, apparently his sister must not have been expecting us anyways, because as it turns out she was going to see their father in Le Havre. Maybe she figured her brother would change his plans at the last minute or something... as usual. Hmph.
Oh, and he did still go play tennis. :sigh:
And then we ended up going to Le Havre too.
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Now, my cookies didn't end up looking nearly as perfect as the gorgeous photos of Clotilde's sablés in the book (mine were a bit oddly misshapen!), but what's great about these kinds of pastries is just how appealing the cookies are in their imperfect shape -- there's something rustic and unique about them that emphasizes their homemade, hand-baked simplicity.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
And your verlan, but of course. We mustn't forget important things such as these!
So I've included my mini meme below (aren't these questions quirky?!), and I've tagged some fellow expat bloggers afterwards. Be forewarned -- you may need to work around a few questions, if you're anything like me!
Quelle est votre situation de famille?
I'm living *in sin -- oh the horror!* with my French-German boyfriend, but I was also married in the past. So yes, gulp, that would make me a divorcée. Double horror!
Quelle est votre date d'anniversaire?
August 22nd. And I will now trot out the line I include every time someone asks me my birthdate (although it only works in French, sorry!): Je suis lion, presque vierge.
Vivez vous en ville ou à la campagne?
I currently live in a suburb of Paris, although I also spent a few years in the 18th arrondissement. I guess I've pretty much lived in or near a city all my life, although country life does tempt me from time to time. I just don't know if I could shrug off my urban habits. Then again, many people have done it with much success before me, so I imagine it's not an impossible task.
Quels métiers exercez vous ou avez vous exercés?
Well, as so many other expats in France have emphasized, it's not easy to find work in France. I've done the teaching-English route, but I just don't think it's for me in the long term. So right now I'm doing the bilingual assistant gig, and it has its "moments" shall we say... I definitely don't see myself doing this forever, but I'm trying to figure out what I need to work out to be able to do something more fulfilling, and possibly creative, with my life. I've drifted from one random job to the next and never had a specific path lined up for myself, so those who have a precise ambition and follow their plans to a set goal always blow me away.
Avez vous des allergies?
As was the case with Loulou, I've never been officially diagnosed, and I didn't have allergies growing up. But since my move to France five years ago I've gradually acquired more and more allergies, and the spring season (anywhere from March to June) can be pretty tough for me. When I went to the beach in August something (??) set my allergies off as well, so I had to pick up some more of the same medication I had been taking a few months before. I recently read a fascinating article in Le Monde 2 about how so many people have acquired more allergies in the last 20 years in France, and how a number of environmental factors seem to play a role in this. But at the same time, for some reason there aren't nearly enough allergologues in France, which explains why the wait for an appointment is so long...
Quelle est votre odeur préférée?
I too love lemons, and then chocolate, coffee, thyme, peaches... and my boy. (OK, once again I have a list of favorites, so shoot me!)
Aimez vous les sucreries?
Silly question! Although I don't think I'm as much of a sweeth tooth as my boyfriend, I do love dark chocolate and desserts like crème brulée and île flottante. Otherwise, I have been known to chew on red gummy bears and tagada strawberries! Oh, and macarons -- aaaahhhh...!
Si oui, quelles sont vos préférées?
Oh, I just listed some above, but I also love the combination of dark chocolate with coconut. (Hard to find -- but have you ever had those French Magnum ice cream bars? They make the most AMAZING dark chocolate-coconut bar. Heaven! Otherwise, I would kill for a perfect dark chocolate mousse.)
Quels sont vos goûts culinaires?
Oh, I love a little bit of everything! But French is at the top of my list (guess that's one of the reasons why I'm here!), closely followed by Italian, Japanese and Thai. I also like to try anything new, so I don't shrink away from things I've never tasted before.
Quel genre de musique aimez vous?
Very long list! And difficult to classify -- I love a lot of female artists with incredibly beautiful voices. I'm a big fan of Tori Amos, Annie Lennox (who has a new album coming out! yippee!), Sarah McLachlan, Sinéad O'Connor, Feist, Fiona Apple, Kate Havnevik, and Regina Spektor. I'm into rock, independent music, folk, classical and I have a weakness for movie soundtracks, especially 2046. Also, anything with a piano sound will usually seduce me, since I studied piano for so long and have a special affinity for this instrument. One of these days I've got to try to start playing again...
Quelle est votre couleur préférée?
I've long been mad about red, but more recently I've been wearing more and more shades of green, as well as midnight blue. And gunmetal/steel grey. See, I have a hard time choosing favorites! (Can you tell how indecisive I am?)
Quelle est votre saison préférée?
I do love the warmth, even the heat, of summer above all. But autumn can be a wonderful time, too -- if it doesn't get too cold too fast!
Collectionnez vous un objet quelconque?
Well, not officially, but I recently realized (when some friends who were visiting pointed it out) that I have a set of little boxes on the dresser in my bedroom that originate from different places around the world. So I guess I've sort of been unconsciously collecting them! There aren't that many, though: just a few from France, Spain, the US, Japan and Iraq. And the last two were gifts.
Quel magazine lisez vous?
(Shouldn't that read "magazines"?) When I can squeeze in the time between books, I'm a sucker for French Elle, and I also enjoy Elle à table and Muze (a magazine supposedly aimed at 20-somethings -- I hate the fact that they claim this, when I've been enjoying it for almost a year now and I'm long past my 20s... I also have a blog-post-in-the-making about this mag.) And when I need some pure distraction, I have been known to page through US or InStyle. I need my US celebrity fix from time to time (guilty as charged). But now I try to get most of that from the Internet, of course!
Quel est votre style vestimentaire?
Oh, that can vary, depending on my mood and where I'm going. I guess I tend to be very classic in my taste in general, but with some little quirky touches. I love accessories -- fun, unexpected jewelry and lovely scarves, bags and gloves. I prefer skirts and dresses because I find them more comfortable than pants (I hate things squeezing me around the waist!) but when it gets cold I dread having bare legs -- so not a true fashionista, I'm afraid! I'm also a sucker for a beautiful coat. But my all-time favorite article of clothing is a shirtdress -- so simple, feminine, and easy to wear anywhere. Just makes you feel like a woman!
Pratiquez vous une activité manuelle?
Well, I've recently become more and more interested in cooking. I've always wanted to learn how to sew or knit, but I've never tried my hand at either and I just don't know if I would have the patience. Oh, and I don't know if it counts as "manual" but I used to draw, and I'm desperately trying to get back to it again. I studied art in college.
Quel est votre animal préféré?
I have a weakness for dogs, the bigger the better. My boy has always had a soft spot for bloodhounds, believe it or not! I don't know if we will ever have one, but I think he associates them with the big, wide open spaces of American Westerns.
Quels sont vos loisirs?
Reading, bien sûr. Cinema -- more and more in recent years. (But there are so many older films I still need to check out! I'm eternally grateful to my boy for introducing me to Ernst Lubitsch. I adore Heaven Can Wait and Cluny Brown.) I, too, love to travel and discover new cities. I enjoy listening to music, and I miss being able to turn it up loud in a car while driving. (I try to make up for it at home, but it's just not the same.)
Comment décorez vous votre intérieur?
We have a mix of dark furniture and touches of red and dark green -- but our apartment still needs quite a bit of decorating! If I could do everything myself (if I ever had the time and energy) I would love to repaint the walls different colors, really brighten up things. Then again, I've been trying to declutter and become more zen in recent times, so I would try to limit the amount of furniture in a room.
Avez vous une liste de cadeaux en ligne?
No, not really, but something tells me that perhaps I should -- my brother sent me an Amazon gift certiciate for my birthday, and I guess if I had created a wish list he wouldn't have had to do that! And of course there are always new books and CDs I would love to get my hands on... But these days I'm trying to stick to used books and borrowing, whenever possible.