Monthly Archives: December 2010

Sometimes you have to have dessert for dinner

Who wants a pancake, Sweet and piping hot? Good little Grace looks up and says, “I’ll take the one on top.”

Who else wants a pancake, Fresh off the griddle? Terrible Teresa smiles and says, “I’ll take the one in the middle.”

—Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

Sometimes you have to have dessert for dinner.  That’s the kind of a night it was last night.  Nico and I just decided to have apple pancakes — with the possible excuse of getting a small amount of fiber and vitamins from the fruit — for dinner.  No salad. No vegetables. No protein. Just straight up sugar and spice and everything nice.

Here’s the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I used a little less sugar, a lot more cinnamon (the recipe didn’t call for it anyway) and some vanilla.  And, I chose yogurt instead of milk and will never go back. These were the most scrumptious pancakes I’ve ever had — regardless of the time of day.

I suggest you do it too…either before New Year’s Resolution time…or maybe as one of your resolutions.  Either way, let me know how it goes!

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Filed under Adventure, Chatillon-sur-Seine, Christmas, Food, Just for laughs, Recipes/Cooking

Direct from France to Lake Wobegon; no delays, no cancellations

It’s funny that after a weekend full of new and wonderful Christmas memories, a house full of Nicolas’ sisters, brothers-in-law and nine little nieces and nephews, more champagne than I knew what to do with, and enough laughter to keep us warm despite the cold that brought a foot of freshly fallen snow, I feel like talking about Garrison Keillor.

It was a present of sorts, left unwrapped on top of my laptop by an American brother-in-law who must have known in his heart I was missing my family despite it all.  Scrawled in Rick’s hand across the CD, the words Lake Wobegon brought back a flood of memories.  Memories of Saturday morning errands with Dad, from the dry-cleaner to the grocery store to Breadworks, where Dad refueled on coffee and Bryce and I on cinnamon rolls.  No matter where we went, whenever I think of those Saturdays in the car, I always remember the melodic sound of Garrison’s great American story-telling voice.

Last night, as Nicolas and I packed up the car, throwing unused wrapping paper on top of a new fondue set, tucking leftover cheese and foie gras in between boxes and suitcases, I tenderly placed Rick’s CD on the console.  Then, after kisses and à bientôts, we got on our way, slowly but surely through the snow, to the sound of that great American story-telling voice.  It must be an old one, because Garrison sounds particularly young, and his Minnesota accent is particularly pronounced, but I recognized with pleasure his faithful pause in between thoughts — the one that starts with a click of the tongue and grows into a sort of deep breath that is so typically Garrison.

We made our way through the little villages covered in snow and lit with Christmas trees on their corners and I made my way back to my childhood home and to springtime, as Garrison painted the unseasonably perfect picture of April in Lake Wobegon.  It’s the time of year when the schoolchildren emerge from hill and dale  wearing their spring jackets instead of their winter ones and singing a parody of the Battle Hymn of the Republic called “The Burning of the School.”  Of course, Garrison broke out in song:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
We have tortured all the teachers – we have broken all the rules
We cheated our principal  in a dirty game of pool
And our troops go marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah
My teacher hit me with a ruler…

I laughed.  The show continued.  Like clockwork, Pastor Ingqvist made his appearance, as did mention of that Catholic Church, “Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.” Leaving behind the white-out in front of our windshield, I became more and more immersed in the land of Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie and the “Catchup Advisory Board.”  By the time Nicolas and I drove into the soft yellow glow of Chatillon-after-dark, I was in another world.  When he stopped the car in front of the apartment, I reluctantly waited for one of Garrison’s breathy pauses, then switched off the CD player.

But before I got out of the car, something occurred to me: after a weekend full of new and wonderful Christmas memories, I had been home, if only for the stretch of road between Leuglay and Chatillon.  For twenty-five minutes I could have been in the car with my Dad and brother and it could have been a Saturday morning, and, you know what, we could have been on our way home from Breadworks, digesting a bunch of white dough and cinnamon-sugar.  And yet, here I was now, at Nicolas’ doorstep. As I said so long to Pastor Ingqvist and the Midwest April weather, I realized that I was exactly where I wanted to be in this moment.

Thank you, Rick, for the CD.  Thank you, Garrison, for the trip back home.  And, thank-you-very-much, for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling just fine exactly where I am!

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Filed under Adventure, Bryce, Chatillon-sur-Seine, Christmas, Cool Characters, Gratitude, Home, Travel

Awesome Things Thursday: It’s Christmas Eve Eve!

The Ancient Abbey at Lugny

 

It’s raining here on this marvelous Christmas Eve Eve, but I am busy looking at recent pictures of sunny (if cold) days with good friends and loved ones.  Yes, I am missing my family back home, as well as the “things” that make every Christmas, well, Christmas: the smell of Dad’s cinnamon rolls in the oven, Mom’s masterful decorations, and my brother’s homemade wooden star illuminating the second floor window of my parents’ room.

I’m remembering Christmas mornings spent swimming in wrapping paper, then a ritual phone call to Kate across the neighborhood. “What kind of loot did you get,” we’d ask each other every year, even when we grew too old to refer to presents as “loot.”  One year Kate answered, “You won’t believe it! I got a kitten!” and, to our surprise, I answered, “Me too!”  Hallie and Howie: twin kittens from the same litter, shared between best friends.

I’m thinking of Christmas hikes with the family and the year my Dad and I spotted two fox cubs from horseback.  Racing across a snow-covered pasture, they were too busy chasing each others’ tails to notice we were close enough to chase them!

Gregorian chants on the stereo, and the soothing voice of NPR’s Christmas DJ announcing church choirs from across the country.

Too much chocolate before breakfast.

 

The Spirit of Christmas Past: Coming back from our Christmas Hike 2007; Photo by Dad

Bryce and I taking turns opening presents: a ritual that took more and more time over the years, as we relished each present with the understanding that when it was over the tree just wouldn’t look the same again.

Midnight Mass.

Christmas cinnamon roll deliveries across the neighborhood…then a giant brunch a la Dad: eggs and turkey sausage and home fries and toast with butter and honey.  Too much.

It’s that time of year again, and I am far away from home.  But it’s AWESOME THINGS THURSDAY so I’m looking forward to the new traditions that are yet to be made! Meanwhile, here are a few in the making:

— Sending Christmas Cards from France: Joyeux Noel to the USA!
–Actually doing Christmas shopping in a city: much easier than going to the mall
–The smell of Christmas trees in the streets
–Signs for Vin Chaud everywhere. Everywhere.
— Buying Big-As-My-Hand Gingerbread Men for the nieces and nephews!
— Enlisting Nicolas to help me dig sticky caramels out of the pan
— Enlisting Nicolas to help me form sticky bourbon balls, and watching his face as he tastes the straight Kentucky whiskey.  (“Je ne suis pas trop fan!”)  I agree that it’s better in 1000-calorie morsels.
–Watching You’ve Got Mail and Home Alone on my computer, in English.  Something about those old movies…

Nicolas and Geoffroy


Christmas Markets in Strasbourg

Good Friends: Taya, Sara, and I

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Filed under Adventure, Bryce, Chatillon-sur-Seine, Christmas, Cool Characters, Dijon, Food, Gratitude, Home, Kentucky, Photography, Recipes/Cooking, Travel

“Never Apologize.” Thank you, Julia, I think this Christmas I will take your advice.

Eat less chocolate...(and more caramel)

To think that all these years, as I was chowing down on Christmas cookies from the neighbors, I never fully realized that cooking (and baking) really is an act of love.

It’s also, in my case, an act of hate…as in “love-hate,” since I still lack the confidence in the kitchen that, according to Barbara Kingsolver is 80% of good cooking.  The other day as I was watching a divine yellowish mixture of butter, honey, sugar, and creme fraiche boil, I kept nervously asking my three sous-chefs whether it looked like it was turning the amber color of real caramel…

“It looks like it is turning colors. Emile, what do you think?… Emile? Emile!”

Emile nonchalantly gets up from his job cutting parchment paper.  “Did you turn on the stove light?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I think it’s just the light that makes it look darker.”

“Oh.”

After forty minutes of torturous staring at the potion, hoping it would transform into caramel, it did.  All of a sudden it went from yellow to butterscotch to deep amber and bam! we were in business!

“Jules, clear the counter! Emile, hold the pan! Lucien, get out of the way!”  I was barking orders like I knew what I was doing, hoping we’d have something to wrap in parchment paper and give away as gifts by the end of the evening.

Oh, me of little faith.  While I had been fretting, the boys had prepared fortune-cookie style (or papillotes here in France) inserts to wrap with the caramels.  Beginning with traditional phrases like Joyeux Noel and Bonne Annee, the boys’ senses of humor quickly took over to produce little papers with sentences like, “You resemble me a little…and it’s a compliment!” and “Give your caramel to Jules.”

When I saw that the coast was clear and the caramel-colored caramels were cooling safely on the counter, I laughed with Jules, Emile, and Lucien.

Then I went home and got the funny inclination to make another batch to give away.

And I decided that while I was at it, I might make bourbon balls too.

So, here’s to my first grown-up effort at making Christmas goodies…maybe they aren’t a sight for sore eyes, but they’re tastefully seasoned with the good-humored nonchalance I am learning to embrace thanks to those three boys.

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Filed under Art, Christmas, Cool Characters, Dijon, Food, Just for laughs, Laugh it off, Recipes/Cooking

Awesome Things Thursday

weheartit.com

Oh hello World.  I didn’t see you there.  Were you hiding under my bed? Behind my shower curtain? In the fridge?  Wherever you were I didn’t notice, probably because I’ve been too busy hiding a certain something of my own.

But, since you’re there, I’m just going to be honest.  For the last couple of weeks I’ve been hiding my doubts and insecurities.  Yep.  I’ve been hiding them behind hunky-dory, happy-go-lucky blog posts with pretty pictures and…

What? You didn’t buy it? You heard through the grapevine that I’ve been France’s #1 complainer lately?  You heard I’m homesick? Someone told you I have trouble with bureaucracy and the rectorat and that I’ve been a big baby about growing up?

Well then.  I guess I’ll have to restore my image, won’t I?

What’s that you say?  Why don’t I just restore my attitude?  Right.

Okay.

Yes, I remember what Mom always used to tell me.  “Every time you’re feeling low, go out and run, and repeat positive things.”  Endorphins and brainwashing.  It’s worked for me before.

So World, I’ll spare you the details of my “It’s-Too-Cold-to-Run-Outside Stair-running routine” but I’ll share the brainwashing part.  Here’s the deal:

I know I am blessed. I know I have so much to be grateful for.  I know that despite small challenges like repeated confrontations with the woman who refuses to pay me my guaranteed partial reimbursement for my daily commute, my life is a bowl of cherries.

I’ve posted this sentence on my bathroom mirror for easy-repetitional purposes, as you can see:

And voila a list of mundane and magical things I am grateful for this week:

–Leftover soup
–Letting it snow
–Hot Christmas-flavored tea, available 24/7 chez moi
–Pandora Christmas Carols
–Melt-in-my-mouth, still hot baguettes
–IKEA
–Church bells
–Drawings of girls with British flags from students who still think I am from England
–Christmas cards
–My warm coat
–Nicolas
–Clementines from Corsica
–Spaghetti and Meatball dinner at Annie’s apartment
–Making caramels, which look like potion in the pan, with the boys
–Returning to the quiet of my penthouse…and doing whatever I want
–The best free chocolates EVER at the bookstore
–A Christmas wreath hung by I-don’t-know-who on the door to my building

…Stay tuned for more “Awesome-things Thursdays”…doctor’s orders until further notice.

P.S. – I’m the doctor.

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Filed under Gratitude, Inspiration, No Excuses

The real star of the Festival of Lights

France is a secular country.

Wait, what?  I thought it was a Catholic country.  With all the life-sized crucifixes on country roads, Virgin-and-Child statues in centre ville, nation-wide annual festivals dedicated to St. Vincent, the patron saint of wine-growers, and Lyon’s million euro Fete des Lumieres honoring Mary on her December 8th feast day, I’d say I have reason to be confused.

And yet, ask any French person and he will say — and I quote — “since ze revolution we ‘ave been laique. It ees very impohtant to us to be secular because of what ‘appened during ze revolution.”

Um, the Revolution was over two-hundred years ago.  I’m not sure that’s a valid explanation anymore.  In fact, isn’t that kind of like saying “because I got sick at church once, I decided never to go back?”

Anyway, that’s not my point.  My point is that there are dozens of signs that prove that religion, if not faith, is alive in France.  Maybe there is no mention of God in public schools, but his presence is much more obvious in public places here than anywhere in the U.S.

Since some friends and I just got back from a day trip to Lyon on Wednesday, I’ll return to the example of the Fete des Lumieres.  Check out the official tourism poster advertising the festival of lights in places as varied as metro stations and shop windows to bar walls and church doors.  It features the face of a statue of the Virgin Mary with the simple words “Merci Marie” written under the date of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Since 1852 the tradition in Lyon has been to light balconies with candles in gratitude to Mary for sparing Lyon from the plague of 1643.  This tradition grew into an amazing light festival that now lasts four days, with different shows in every major square of the city.

The focal point, however, remains on the impressive basilica at the top of the hill overlooking Lyon.  Dedicated to Notre Dame de Fourviere, during the festival it boasts a giant illuminated sign that reads “Merci Marie.”

Photo credit: "Allez Allie" via google

 

Something in me rejoiced when I saw that sign from as far away as Place Bellecour.  As a Catholic, I feel connected to the tradition, to the Catholics who even before the plague have been honoring Mary in this country on this day, in celebration of her conception (and not, as is commonly supposed, Jesus’) in her mother’s womb.

Where else in the world do we celebrate this feast day with such pomp and circumstance?

Nowhere.  I am sure of it.

In many ways, France is a secular country.  Since the Revolution her people have resisted being labeled Catholic, to the point of — I can admit the reality — disconnecting altogether from the true meaning of festivals such as this one.  Among the thousands and thousands of people who flocked to Lyon this week I am sure only a small number of them paid intentional tribute to Mary.

But while people were enjoying the light shows in the town, no one could deny the meaning of the words on the hill.  Clear as day they stood out against the night.  Merci Marie.  Thank you Mary.

I know I wasn’t the only one who rejoiced.

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Filed under Christmas, Cool Characters, Gratitude, Inspiration, Travel

Jingle all the way to work

Cutouts and Coffee: Part of a teacher's balanced breakfast

Twenty-five paper Santas spread like a garland across my place mat.  Just as many Christmas trees lie piled next to my empty cereal bowl.  It’s not even nine and my students’ Christmas cards are well on their way to completion, thanks to a hard working little American elf who wants to make sure they are finished in a timely (20 minutes, give or take) fashion.

The bells of Notre Dame chime three times — fifteen minutes before the hour.  I spring from my chair, throwing the dishes in the sink for later as I rush to brush my teeth.  Time to go! Time to go! How does it always seem to happen that no matter how early I wake up (two hours ago!) I manage to get a morning workout on my way to the train?!

Stuffing the cutouts in my binder and the binder in my purse, I grab my lunch, arrange my comforter haphazardly on my bed, throw on my coat, and take a final look to make sure all is in order (minus the dishes) before I slip out the door, turn the key, and bound down the cold stone staircase and into the street.

The old "Hotel Lebault," built circa 1650, and my current home sweet home.

I’ve been here for two months now and I still feel privileged every time I step through the green door frame of my building’s 350 year old courtyard and find myself right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Dijon in the morning.  All around me are people going to work — you can tell by their I-mean-business pace.  And! I am one of them.  I too have a train to catch.  I too have colleagues who depend on my timeliness.

As I begin my morning speed walk/run, I pass the woman with too-high heels negotiating the cobblestones, then the old man with his morning baguette, fresh from the boulangerie, tucked under his arm. I nod at the antiques merchant, Monsieur Georges, who arranges his wares in the same meticulous way every market day.  Nearly every morning since my arrival I’ve had my eye on a certain golden wall mirror he displays on a park bench.  Each time I pass I wonder why it’s still there.  The gold’s a little faded and the mirror is scratched, but gosh if I had a wall big enough I’d rescue it from its lazy park bench slouch.

My watch reads 9:03 but I’ve got about three minutes till the hour.  Still, it’s not enough time to slow my pace.  I round the corner of the square and look both ways before I cross rue de la Liberte. Beyond the arch at Place Darcy I spot the man who sits in front of the tabac, asking everyone for change.  I pass and, as usual, offer him a smile in lieu of money.  De toute facon, I don’t have time to dig in my purse.  But he’s gotten used to my hurried passage, and now he just smiles back, not asking for anything more.  “Bonne journee, Mademoiselle,”  he says.

Two more cross-walks later and the gare is in sight.  It’s the final stretch.  I laugh to myself as I imagine the store owners on this busy street whispering something to the extent of “there goes the young lady who trains for a marathon on her way to work.”  I’m sure they recognize me in my long black coat, my bagged lunch flying like a kite in the wind behind me.

At the station, the departure screen directs me to voie H. Typical.  It’s the farthest platform at the station, but don’t worry, I mentally accounted for the extra distance while I was lollygagging till the last minute back at my penthouse.

The good thing is there aren’t too many people in the station as I make my way to the opposite end.  When I see H, I’m staring at the finish line.  I take the stairs two at a time, pause to make sure it’s the right train at the top, then jump through the thin, French-sized door.  The train pulls away as I find an empty chair.  Success. Again.

I sit down, smug, even if a little humid around the temples. Unbuttoning my coat, I settle into my seat and pull out my binder to go over lesson plans. Opening it up without care, paper Santas and Christmas trees flutter out, scattering across my lap and into the aisle.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good day at work!

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Filed under Art, Christmas, Cool Characters, Dijon, Just for laughs, Teaching