Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fresh Memories

I decided to make financiers again this afternoon, just as I had done two years ago at about this time, for Easter weekend as well. I pulled out the same recipe I had used then, from a past issue of Elle à table, and checked to see what I would need. I knew I still had some ground almond powder leftover from a past recipe, so I really would only need to get some strawberries at the market because I like to make the version with half a fresh strawberry planted in the middle of the almondy batter. [And as an aside, I scored some luscious early-season Gariguettes at the market, 4 barquettes for only 3 €! Still not sure what I'm going to do with the rest of them...] My financiers had been quite successful the first time around, and I had even made them a few times since then, but I think I'll always remember that first time, because it was one of the first pastries I had brought to contribute to a family meal at my in-laws' home in Le Havre... Two years ago this month, and I had also brought a tarte bourdaloue, recipe taken from the same magazine. I think I was feeling ambitious that weekend... Miraculously, both recipes had turned out well, and even though I was suspicious of the pear and almond tart results, it was scarfed up pretty quickly, which is always a good sign...

When I try to think back to that weekend, I don't remember many details, but it was one of the last times we spent with my mother-in-law before she passed away unexpectedly from a sudden and severe stroke. It was an enormous shock for my boyfriend's whole family, and I still recall that period like it was yesterday, stunned into such silence and pain for several weeks, trying to make some kind of sense of her loss. Even today I know it is still fresh and very painful for my boyfriend, and he often tells me of his desire to pick up the phone and share something with his mother -- and suddenly realizing that he can't do that, because she isn't there anymore...

You see, my mother-in-law was someone really, really special... Perhaps the exception to all those stereotypes we all hear about mothers-in-law. She was strong and supportive from the beginning of my relationship with her son, never suspicious and critical, and if anything she encouraged me in my new cooking and baking ventures, telling me to have more confidence, to not worry about every little detail like I tended to do. I would call her up for a small tip when trying a new recipe, and she would laugh and say, why, if I were doing that I would just improvise... She would reassure me and tell me that she was sure it would turn out great. Oftentimes it did, and to this day I think this was the case because of her words; I am so grateful for her support, for the short time that I knew her, for her trusting smile and her respectful warmth and discretion, always giving advice when needed but keeping a certain distance when things got délicat. I never knew anyone quite like her: she had such wonderful taste, chic and yet simple at the same time, warm and yet not afraid to say what she thought, a marvelous combination of her German heritage and her time spent in France for most of her life.

My boyfriend is still very attached to his German roots, in spite of spending his adult life in France, having grown up on French soil. He tries to go back to visit his uncle and cousins in Konstanz, on the border of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, whenever possible, but as you can imagine, it seems to be less and less in recent years... We made a brief trip there two years ago this past winter and had a wonderful time at the Karnival, visiting the region and spending time with his German family. I have vivid memories of the many pretzels and huge glasses of beer, my pathetic lack of skill with the German language, my struggle to breathe after eating so much for so long... (Man, can they put it away in Germany!)

Who would have ever thought that we would lose her so soon? We all have those fleeting thoughts of the things we would do if only we could be with that person again... I know she would have helped me to decorate our apartment, to choose curtains for the windows (Something I STILL haven't done! Maybe partially because she isn't here to share it with me...), to make it through the tough times in my pregnancy. She was a warm presence and shared so much with me in such a short time... I learned to use a Romertopf baking dish because of her, with the one she passed on to me, and took to preparing a pintade aux pommes et lardons on a regular basis, as I knew it was one of my boyfriend's and his father's favorite dishes. I plan on making one again this weekend, as a matter of fact...

Now if only I could find enough confidence to attempt the sacred linzertorte, the German tart that my boy's mother would bake for him every year, without fault, on his birthday and bring to him especially, even taking a train from Le Havre to Paris just to see him and to bring him his favorite dessert. This year his sister e-mailed me the recipe, but when we dashed off to visit his father again I didn't get a chance to give it a try the weekend of his birthday. I still plan on trying my hand at it, but I have to admit that I'm more than a bit intimidated, as I know how much he loved that tart, and how much he associates it with his mother and his memories of her.

I think of her so often when I'm in the kitchen, baking away. And I think of her now, as I head back into the kitchen to pour the financier batter into the baking molds. I know she would be happy for us, for the baby we are expecting and have desired together, and I know she would ease all of my fears about being a good mother.

I miss you, Brigitte.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Perfect Day

Where did the last 10 days go?! I actually started writing this post on Sunday, when my thoughts were fresh and I was feeling good about the day I had just spent with my boy, but then the week got away from me, I didn't get a chance to develop my ideas, and this post fell by the wayside. All week long I've been wanting to post here, but either work or one of these headaches-from-hell would get in the way and keep me from expressing myself coherently. Wednesday was particularly hard -- I woke up feeling like a mack truck had run over me, and I dragged myself into the kitchen to have breakfast with my boyfriend, who had been awake for over an hour already and was as CHIPPER as a chipmunk. Have I mentioned before that he's more of a morning person?! And my bad influence has led him, on occasion, to stay in bed much longer than he ever did in the past when I first knew him. In any case, the poor thing had to tolerate my grumbling as I tried to get some coffee down my throat and figure out why my head felt like it was going to explode. Was it these supposed allergies? The bizarre weather? The wind, the humidity, the mold? Who knows... But it kept me in a nasty mood most of the day, and I still don't know how I made it through work at the office. And I had colleagues telling me how NICE I looked that day -- what's up with that?! Oh, the irony, I tell ya! Obviously I should have been flattered, yet somehow I was a bit suspicious... But they're convinced that this pregnancy is making me look as healthy as a freshly-bloomed spring flower, so I guess I should take it while I can get it...

[As an aside, my trip home in the RER on Wednesday night was kinda grueling -- I literally tried to coach myself as I walked up Avenue Hoche beforehand, muttering that for once I needed to be assertive and simply say, "S'il vous plaît, je suis enceinte, pourriez-vous me laisser une place ?" And yet once I was confronted with the situation, I stook there stupidly, with my coat hanging open, my admittedly small belly hardly noticeable to most people around me -- especially those who were markedly choosing to ignore me in the first place. I managed to score a seat after one stop down the line, but only because a few people got off the train. What a daily struggle!]

I'm officially in my 2nd trimester, you see -- actually, I'm officially five months along as of this week! -- so where in the heck is that wonderful energetic period I'm supposed to be experiencing?! Why am I STILL so tired all the time? I can only guess that part of the reason is this crappy March weather, and the fact that I'm desperate for warm spring weather to get here, that and the fact that I haven't been exercising much lately... Of course, I've never been the best about fitting in a regular exercise routine en temps normal, but somehow I think it would probably do me a lot of good. I've been putting off ordering a prenatal yoga video from Amazon for weeks, and yet I put it in my shopping basket ages ago... I have a colleague who swims at a local pool regularly, and she was very emphatic about the beneficial elements of swimming, both during pregnancy as well as any other ol' time. I already know how much my boy loves swimming, how much relaxation he gets out of it, but I tend to prefer the ocean to the chlorine of a strangely-lit public pool. Plus I'm just plain stubborn -- and lazy I guess! I should just bite the bullet and give it a try, though, because I need all the possible energy-producing solutions I can get my hands on, and I keep reading all over how good swimming is for us pregnant gals.

So that's one of my plans for tomorrow: to squeeze in an hour or so at a nearby pool with my boyfriend. He tries to go on a regular basis, but he's been a bit tired himself in recent weeks and has had a hard time motivating himself too. I'm going to try to convince him that it will be good for BOTH of us tomorrow... Even if last Sunday we were thrilled to stay home and just lay around and be our lazy selves. You see, last Sunday was the perfect day I'm referring to in my post title -- last Sunday was the day that originally inspired me to write this post...

When my boyfriend mentioned to me on Saturday evening that we might take a day trip on Sunday, I was torn between feeling excited about the potential of getting away for a change of air and the disappointment of once again missing the opportunity to prepare my long-delayed rabbit recipe... But somehow I should have known that the potential vague plans for "getting away" wouldn't probably pan out, either because of our bad habit of getting up late on Sunday mornings or because of the crummy gray weather -- in this case, it was a little bit of both! So we woke up well-rested around 10:00 (yes, I know, a luxury we need to enjoy while we can, given the fact that in less than five months' time those lay-ins will be over... and a distant memory!), had a leisurely breakfast (one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday) and then proceeded to rest and relax all afternoon long. I was relieved that we didn't have to rush anywhere, and I DID finally get to make that rabbit -- the recipe turned out to be ho-hum, though, which was a bit of a disappointment after all that anticipation, so I think I'm going to turn back to one of my tried-and-true recipes this weekend, one I'm sure to pull off with flying colors. I also managed to salvage some apples that were on their way out, slicing and dicing the suspicious parts in order to prepare a late-afternoon crumble. We watched From Here to Eternity on TV -- random chance, and believe it or not I had never seen it in its entirety! -- and then a DVD or two... It was SOOOO nice to just lay back and not think, just really RELAX and enjoy our time together. It was truly one of the nicest days I've spent in a while, and just thinking about it makes me smile. We just enjoyed each other's company, we were both in good moods -- it was just perfection!

I know, that's pretty pathetic -- an uneventful Sunday afternoon, full of nothing but laying around, watching movies and baking apple crumble constitutes the perfect day for me, right?! Yup. That's about it in a nutshell. Heck, I love to go see a show, visit a museum or spend time with friends as much as the next gal, but sometimes a weekend just calls for some real laziness. And last weekend was one of them.

This weekend promises to be about as uneventful, as my boy has to work on Sunday, which will probably guilt me into doing some more housecleaning. If I'm feeling inspired, I may just try to bake Clotilde's chocolate raspberry cake from her book, so I'll keep you posted! We will also be visiting some friends who just had their first baby, wee leetle Zoé (I love that name!), and I plan on taking lotsa photos! My boy seems a bit reticent, and I suspect it's because he's fearing the reality of holding that tiny one in his arms and realizing that if all goes well we'll be experiencing something very similar in a very short time.

Oh, and by the way, I think I felt the baby for the first time on Monday! I still can't quite describe the feeling, but words wouldn't do it justice anyway... It was odd, unexpected, surreal and comforting all at the same time -- the complex signs of so many more emotions to come...

Monday, March 3, 2008

By the way...

Yep, it's me -- I know, I know, I've been MIA once again, and I realize there's no use in my listing off all my excuses... I was pretty much suffering from the longest-extended-and-excrutiatingly-miserably cold-flu-virus thingie in the history of time, and it totally zapped my energy, my motivation and any level of creativity. Add to that the actual WORK I've had to do in my day job for a change, and I wonder how I'm ever able to fit in time for personal e-mails and catching up on all my favorite blogs -- forgive me if I've gotten behind in my commenting as well...

But I did want to squeeze in a much-belated mention of the fact that I passed the one-year mark of blogging sometime last month -- okay, now that's actually more than a month, so shoot me! -- and I can hardly believe that so much time has gone by so quickly. It feels like yesterday that several of my favorite blogging divas twisted my arm and talked me into starting this here blog, and although I still have aspirations of improving it, adding in a more personalized banner one of these days, posting more often and possibly increasing my traffic, I also know that I'll probably never be as "hard-core" about blogging as so many of my favorite bloggers really are -- perhaps this all stems from the fact that I've had a hard time keeping a personal journal or diary all my life, or perhaps it's just my laziness kicking in. Who knows?! In any case, I'm grateful to the wonderful friends I've made in this here blogosphere, and I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for being out there, for supporting me, for stopping by, for commenting -- for just being YOU!

And on that note, I realized that I also hadn't even taken a moment to thank so many of you for your warm, encouraging words regarding my pregnancy and the months ahead. I really appreciate all the nice things you had to say in response to my "Year of Promise" post, and all the lovely things you've said to me since then as well, either by e-mail, via the blog, or in person. As a matter of fact, I was lucky enough to see some of my blogging friends once again this past Friday night at Petite Anglaise's book launch party, and I was so happy to have the chance to catch up with so many of you! I think I may have almost forgotten I was pregnant that night, because the time got away from me and before I knew it it was after midnight, and I was running down to the métro like Cinderella after leaving her glass slipper on the stairs of the palace. Luckily I ran into King Negrito and his lovely friends on the way, and they shared a taxi with me to Châtelet, where I managed to catch the RER and make my way home just in the nick of time! I had a great time, although obviously without the champagne that was flowing so freely (Petite and friends kept my glass filled with some grapefruit juice most of the evening), and made sure to have a taste of as many of Meg's delish canapés as possible. After all, I was STARVING! Go figure.

Anyway, the only photographic evidence of me at the party is, as usual, atrocious -- why is it that I simply never seem to take a good photo?! Cameras are just NOT my friends. In spite of Frog's friendly efforts to make me feel otherwise -- and trust me, your sweet words sure did make me feel much better, Frog! And it should also come as no surprise that I completely forgot to pull out my own digital camera to take some pics for the blog. Oh well! Again, nothing new there. I simply don't have the instinct for these kinds of things, I guess.

All in all the weekend was a whirlwind of busy-ness... Between the party Friday night, my participation in a children's writing workshop on Saturday afternoon, and a trip up to Le Havre and back on Sunday, it was pretty much non-stop. But in a nice way for a change... Here's hoping I'm really starting to feel the "second wind" of my pregnancy and am moving into a good place in my second trimester! Now all I need is some true spring weather here in Paris and a real change of seasons so I can pack away all of that winter blues and put it behind me... (And I don't count those few days of teasing warm weather in February -- I think that's the kind of thing that gets us all sick anyway!)