Black diamonds

This is a trip back in time. Back to December 4, 2008, to be exact. I am not sure why I woke up thinking about this adventure while I was on sabbatical. Coincidence? Who knows. But what I do know is that once I pulled up this blog entry, I was transported back to the woods on a chilly day, two Frenchmen, a dog and me. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had a truffle since I came home in 2008. Big sigh…

Enjoy. Bon appétit! Merci, René, Sonny et Érick. Je vous aime.

Yesterday I fell in love with a man, his dog and a mountain. After last Friday’s truffle market in Carpentras, Chef Érick and I were invited to have lunch with René, pictured above, and Françoise, his wife, at their home in Isle sur la Sorgue in the Vaucluse. René called on Tuesday of this week to confirm that we were coming. He asked me if I am afraid of walking in the mountains. He did not know he was talking to a mountain girl. And then he told me not to wear my high heels. Since I do not own any, that would be easy enough. He also reminded me that we needed to get there early. So, I dressed warmly, lacing up my tennis shoes, and we set out around 10:00 am. Isle sur la Sorgue is about an hour’s drive from Arles. We drove through fog for about 30 minutes and after it lifted, we could see Mont Ventoux in the distance, covered with snow.

When we arrived in the town well-known for its antique shops, Érick pulled off to the side of the road to phone René because he was unsure of how to find his house. René gave him directions and said he would come find us on his bicycle if we got lost. We set out again and, sure enough, at the turn to his neighborhood, there sat René on his vélo. We followed him home. We were greeted by the barking of Sonny, his white lab. Françoise had prepared a feast for us. We ate shrimp, paté de fois gras and smoked salmon on toast and radishes as appetizers. Then Françoise made omelets with truffles for the next course. René brought out a bottle of red Côtes du Ventoux wine and uncorked it. The omelets were followed by endives baked with ham and cheese with truffles sprinkled inside. Lunch conversation consisted of René telling me about his teaching days at the nearby high school and Érick instructing Françoise on the proper way to prepare truffles. He told her that truffles should not be cooked. They should be added to a dish after it has been cooked. Heating them causes them to lose their flavor. Françoise seemed very grateful for the advice. We had cheese, a little dish of ice cream and coffee before setting out on our adventure. Françoise elected not to go (probably because she had so many dishes to wash…) and she lent me her boots. René loaded Sonny into the truck and off we went.

I really had no idea what to expect. I did have a vague recollection of oak trees and roots after reading Peter Mayle’s books. We parked by the side of the road and found a little path up the mountain where René owns property and where he does his hunting. I followed behind René and Sonny, keeping a bit of distance between us so as not to distract her. I learned to walk in the grass or on the moss, not on the dirt path. Lesson #1: leave no tracks for others to see. Lesson #2: whisper so that your voice doesn’t carry. Others are probably around, hunting for truffles, too, poaching most likely. It is still a bit early in the truffle-hunting season and I had been warned not to expect too much. So, it was a pleasant surprise when Sonny started digging about 10 minutes into our walk. As soon as she begins to dig, René hurries over and scoots her out of the way. She has no interest in eating the truffle, however. I had read about hunting with pigs, but pigs like to eat the truffles. We did see lots of places where wild boar, sangliers, had beat us to the treasure. Once René finds the diamant noir, or black diamond as they are known in France, he rewards Sonny with several dog treats from the little bag he keeps in his pocket. He tells her what a great dog she is and pets her. It is obvious that he loves her dearly and she is fiercely loyal to him. She decided that she kind of liked me, but I think it was because I was wearing Françoise’s boots, to be truthful.

René then checks out his treasure, smelling it and carefully rubbing some of the dirt away in order to see if it is a good one. He can tell immediately if it is too wet or too dry. If so, it will not fetch much at the market. There are stories of fake smell being added to the truffles, lead pellets being inserted into them to make them weigh more, poachers who steal from the property owners, and so on. This seems to be a business based on trust, however, and René is a man of his word. He taught high school for about 30 years and loved it. He has hunted truffles for over 40 years. He took great pleasure in showing me how he goes about it. I am deeply grateful to him for the lesson.

We spent about two hours following Sonny’s nose and a little path up the mountain. René remembers where he has had success in the past and guides the dog towards those places. She, however, is guided by her nose and her knowledge that a treat awaits her should she find a truffle. We came out of the woods with 11 truffles of various sizes. René even let me dig one up. He carries a small screwdriver in his pocket for this purpose. He places his truffles in a small white plastic sack. His jacket has lots of pockets to hold all the tools of his trade.

At first glance, I thought his René’s mountain resembled the Appalachian Mountains, my home. However, once we started climbing up the path, I realized there was not very much resemblance at all. Snail shells are scattered everywhere. A wall made of stones winds up the mountain, built from the flat rocks that are found everywhere. Small stones huts, bories, are hidden away, built long ago by shepherds as shelters while they tended their flocks of sheep. I ventured into one of them, admittedly not very far as it was very dark and I am not too fond of spiders, even French ones. The oak trees are not large ones, as I had expected. They are small and different from any I have ever seen.

All in all, it was one of the best days of my life. René is a master storyteller and continued to tell me stories after we returned to his house. He pulled out his scales, a basic set, nothing fancy or digital for the truffle hunters here in the Vaucluse, and weighed the week’s findings, coming to almost a kilo or 2.2 pounds. He gave me two small ones. I just ate one of them grated on top of fresh pasta. To really get a taste of a fresh truffle, take a small piece of bread, dip it in olive oil, grate the truffle on top and sprinkle it with coarse sea salt. Heavenly. In one week’s time, I have become addicted to truffles. I just had dinner and am already thinking about tomorrow’s lunch. I plan to make an omelet from the fresh eggs we just bought, add some cheese while it is cooking and then grate my last truffle on top. I only have nine days to savor as much of Provence as possible, after all!

Here is the dish we made last week, after the market in Carpentras. This recipe is courtesy of Madeleine Vedel.

Bon appétit!

Fresh Pasta with Walnut Sauce and Truffles (or Mushrooms)

Pâtes Fraîches aux Champignons Sauvage avec un Sauce aux Noix –

Fresh Wild Mushroom Pasta with Walnut Sauce

This is rightly a recipe for the fall, but it can be made all year round with a stash of dried mushrooms.  The walnut sauce is a classic preparation that dates back to the time of the Etruscans. Walnuts are particularly present in the Cévennes, the hills of the Gard in Languedoc, just an hour or so from Arles. Fresh pasta is really quite easy to make. Anyone who’s made bread a few times, can easily start making pasta. From start to finish, this recipe can be on the table in an hour after a bit of practice.

Ingredients for the Pasta :

If served as a main course, one egg per person, if served as a side dish, then one egg per 2 people.

One cup (100-150g) flour to one whole egg.

Pinch of salt

Dried mushrooms ground to a powder – 1/4 cup to 4 cups of flour (30g to 450g) if you are not using truffles

For the Sauce :

300 grams of walnuts (this is about 2 cups chopped walnuts)

2 garlic cloves (good sized)

1/2 cup of olive oil (120ml)– not too bitter, extra-virgin cold pressed.

Salt to taste

A few fresh mint leaves (optional, or another herb you like…)

Grated cheese – we like a young sheep tome, or pecorino. A mild parmesan is fine, too.

For the pasta:

On a smooth work surface, such as a large counter space or marble slab, pile your flour in a well, in the middle of the well put your mushroom powder and your pinch of salt and your eggs. With your hands, gradually incorporate as much flour as the eggs are thirsty. If there is a bit of flour left over, you can add a tablespoon or so of water, as needed. You need to work the dough for at least 10 minutes, kneading it and stretching it, till it is smooth to the touch. Put aside covered to rest for 30 minutes.

Either with a pasta machine or by hand, continue rolling and folding the pasta dough. With the machine I pass a portion of the dough through, fold it in three and pass it again, always on the largest setting. I continue this at least 7 times, if not more, till the dough is very smooth and elastic and does not seem brittle and cracks stop appearing. When the dough is ready, then you can either roll out by hand, turning the dough in every direction, gradually increasing its elasticity and thinning it out, the pros use a bit of gravity letting the dough hang off the counter as then roll. Or, alternatively, use the pasta machine and gradually reduce the size of the setting to the desired thickness.

When the dough is the thickness you desire, cut it as you please, in large long noodles, in triangles, in thinner spaghetti lengths… to your preference. Lay the prepared pasta on floured cloths, – you can layer these – and let dry till you are ready to put them into the salted boiling water.

For the sauce :

In a mortar and pestle, grind your garlic cloves and walnuts to a fine paste, add the olive oil as you work to make it easier to form the paste, if you are adding the mint leaves, do so now, and salt to taste.

When your pasta is done, save some of the pasta water to add to the walnut sauce to lengthen it and thicken it. Toss the pasta with the walnut sauce, grate the cheese on top, and serve. If you are using truffles, grate them on top of the pasta, sauce and cheese.

Have fresh bread ready in order to wipe your plate clean so that you do not waste one bit of the sauce or truffles!

My friend, The Geezer

I read this book several years ago and fell in love with it. When I pitched my own (still unfinished) book to Algonquin, I was asked if I had read French Dirt. Oui. A couple of times. Little did I know that a few years later I would be introduced to Richard Goodman through a mutual friend, Jo Maeder, albeit by email. Richard is a seriously talented writer. A recent post on his blog has proven his way with words once again. He is a poet. Paris on a rainy day. My dream at the moment. And when you are finished reading this, open a bottle of red. Start a fire. Curl up under a soft blanket. And fire up Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. You deserve a trip to Paris. We all do.

Merci, Richard.  Bon appétit!

Paris in bad weather

“Then there was the bad weather,” begins Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of living in Paris in the twenties, A Moveable Feast. “It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus in the terminal….”

I’m not dumb.  Start with Hemingway.

Hemingway knew exactly what he was doing when he began his poem to Paris with a cold, rainy, windswept day. He knew that bad weather brings out the lyrical in Paris and in the visitor, too. It summons up feelings of regret, loss, sadness—and in the case of the first pangs of winter—intimations of mortality. The stuff of poetry. And of keen memories. The soul aches in a kind of unappeasable ecstasy of melancholy. Anyone who has not passed a chill, rainy day in Paris will have an incomplete vision of the city, and of him- or herself in it.

Great photographers like André Kertész understood how splendid Paris looks awash in gray and painted with rain. His book, J’aime Paris, shot entirely in black and white over the course of forty years, draws heavily on foul weather. I don’t know of anyone, with the possible exceptions of Atget and Cartier-Bresson, who has come closer to capturing the soul of Paris with a camera. The viewer will remember many of these photographs—even if he or she can’t name the photographer—because they have become part of the Parisian landscape in our minds’ eyes. That solitary man, his coat windblown as he walks toward wet cobblestones; the statue of Henry IV on horseback reflected in a puddle fringed by—yes—those sodden leaves. Kertész’s Paris sends a nostalgic chill through our bodies.

On one memorable trip to Paris, it rained. When it didn’t rain, it threatened to. This was in October, so leaves were starting to fall from trees, and that added a sense of forlornness to my visit. Each morning, I stepped out from my hotel on the Left Bank just off the Boulevard St. Germain into a dull gray morning. The sky hung low, the color of graphite, and it seemed just as heavy. The air was cool and dense.

But I wasn’t disappointed. After a shot of bitter espresso, I was ready to go. That week in October I set myself the goal of following the flow of the Seine, walking from one end of Paris to the other. I had bad weather as my companion, and a good one it was, too. I walked along the quays and over the bridges in a soft drizzle. The colossal bronze figures that hang off the side of the Pont Mirabeau were wet and streaming. The Eiffel Tower lost its summit in the fog. The cars and autobuses made hissing noises as they flowed by on wet pavement. The Seine was flecked with pellets of rain. The dark, varnished houseboats, so long a fixture on the river, had their lights shining invitingly out of pilothouses. The facade of Notre Dame in the gloom sent a medieval shudder through me. None of this I would have seen in the sunlight.

 

Then there is the matter of food.

There may be no Parisian experience as gratifying as walking out of the rain or cold into a welcoming, warm bistro. There is the taking off of the heavy wet coat and hat and then the sitting down to one of the meals the French seemed to have created expressly for days such as this: pot-au-feu or cassoulet or choucroute.

I remember one rainy day on this trip in particular. I walked in out of the wet, sat down and ordered the house specialty, pot-au-feu. For those unfamiliar with this poem, do not seek enlightenment in the dictionary. It will tell you that pot-au-feu is “a dish of boiled meat and vegetables, the broth of which is usually served separately.” This sounds like British cooking, not French, and the dictionary should be sued for libel. My spirits rose as the large smoking bowl was brought to my table along with bread and wine. I let the broth rise up to my face, the concentrated beauty of France. Then I took that first large spoonful into my mouth. The savory meat and vegetables and intense broth traveled to my belly. I was restored.

I sat and ate in the bistro and watched the people hurry by outside bent against the weather. I heard the tat, tat, tat of the rain as it beat against the bistro glass. The trees on the street were skeletal and looked defenseless. Where had I seen this before? In what book of photographs about Paris? I looked around inside and saw others like myself being braced by a meal such as mine and by the warmth of the room. The sounds of conversation and of crockery softly rattling filled the air. Efficient waiters flowed by, distinguished men with long white aprons, working elegantly. Delicious food was being brought out of the kitchen, and I watched as it was put in front of expectant diners. Every so often the front door would open, and a new refugee would enter, shuddering, with umbrella and dripping coat, a dramatic reminder that outside was no cinema.

I finished my meal slowly. I had left almost all vestiges of cold behind. My waiter took the plates away. Then he brought me a small, potent espresso. I lingered over it, savoring each drop. I looked outside. It would be good to stay here a bit longer.

I got up to go. Paris—gloomy, darkly beautiful Paris—was waiting.

Your Loving Vincent

When I first read about Loving Vincent, I was afraid that it would not come to Durham, NC. My fears were confirmed when I started seeing lists of cities where it would be playing on the film’s website and Facebook page. No Durham. The closest city listed was Fayetteville. Arles Lucy and I were ready to plan a road trip. Then, about a month ago, I saw that it would indeed come to our lovely downtown Carolina Theatre. I have now seen the movie twice, once with the Ex-Ex and once with my crew of girlfriends who have been to France with me. It is playing in Durham for an extra week so I may see it a third time. It IS that good, mes amis. If you have read my previous posts about Vincent (April 2014, May 2010, May 2010, November 2011) then you already know that I love him very much. Maybe a bit obsessively.

A team of 125 artists spent 6 years bringing Vincent’s paintings to life in 65,000 frames. The film is completely animated, with the scenes based on his paintings in color and the flashbacks to scenes of his life in black and white. The story comes to life as Armand Roulin, son of Postman Joseph Roulin of Arles, travels from Arles to Paris to give a letter to Theo, Vincent’s brother, a year after Vincent’s death. The letter had been found when Vincent’s landlord in Arles was cleaning out Vincent’s rooms in the Yellow House. However, upon finding Père Tanguy, Armand discovers that Theo died only six months after his brother. By this time, Armand wants to learn more about the last six weeks of Vincent’s life.

Vincent was a prolific letter writer. According to Mark Roskill in The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, 670 of the letters Vincent wrote to Theo have survived to present day. The letters were gathered, transcribed and edited by Theo’s widow, Vincent’s sister-in-law, so that they could be published. The first batch of them was published only three years after Vincent’s death, in 1893. Johanna “Jo” van Gogh-Bonger spent years bringing the letters to light and was also instrumental in Vincent’s rise to fame as an artist. She inherited around 200 of his paintings upon the death of Theo and was seemingly relentless in her push to have Vincent’s talent recognized. Merci, madame.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has put together a touching tribute to Vincent and Theo. The museum’s website is very well done. Someday, I hope to visit it in person. In Noord Brabants Museum in Den Bosch (an hour from Amsterdam), there is an exhibit about Loving Vincent that will run until January 28, 2018. Paintings from the movie are on display. I believe that they will then be sold.

Without giving too much away in case you haven’t seen the film yet, let’s just say that the final scene with Roulin and his son is my favorite. Vincent was shot on July 27, my birthday. One scene in the movie revealed that July 27, 1890 was a Sunday. July 27, 1958 was also a Sunday. Perhaps my love for Vincent is fate.

image description
CBS This Morning recently paid tribute to the film.
This clip from Dr. Who pays hommage to Vincent and allows him to hear praise for his work while standing in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
It is written that Vincent did not eat well or very much. He gave away most of what he had during his stint as a missionary. One of his early paintings, The Potato Eaters, 1885, is dark and somber. He often forgot to eat, I imagine, as he painted for hours on end. According to Biography.com:
Vincent van Gogh completed more than 2,100 works, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings and sketches. Several of his paintings now rank among the most expensive in the world; “Irises” sold for a record $53.9 million, and his “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82.5 million.
Over the course of 10 years, van Gogh created more than 43 self-portraits as both paintings and drawings. “I am looking for a deeper likeness than that obtained by a photographer,” he wrote to his sister. “People say, and I am willing to believe it, that it is hard to know yourself. But it is not easy to paint yourself, either. The portraits painted by Rembrandt are more than a view of nature, they are more like a revelation,” he later wrote to his brother. The works are now displayed in museums around the world, including in Washington, D.C., Paris, New York and Amsterdam.
vincent's eyes
Some believe that Wheatfield with Crows, July 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, was Vincent’s last painting. I’ve walked through that field on the way to Vincent’s grave in Auvers-sur-Oise.
wheatfield
No story of mine about Vincent would be complete with this one, Starry Night over the Rhône, painted in Arles, September 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
starry rhone
What would Vincent eat? Here is a recipe I hope that he would have liked. Potato soup was a staple in the Bell-Gillespie household when I was growing up. There is nothing fancy about it, but it is delicious.
Leek and Potato Soup
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped (or 1-2 more leeks, if you prefer)
2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed and thinly sliced
(I also add 2 stalks of celery, chopped)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper (black pepper is fine)
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise, washed, and thinly sliced
2 large Idaho (russet) potatoes (I doubled this- Dorie calls for only one potato), peeled and cubed
6 thyme sprigs
2 sage leaves
4 cups chicken broth (or water but the broth gives it a richer taste)
3 cups whole milk
Optional toppings:
Minced parsley, sage, tarragon or marjoram, or a combination
Snipped fresh chives
Grated Parmesan, Gruyère or cheddar cheese
Croutons
Crispy bacon, crumbled
Corn kernels
Truffle oil
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir until they are coated with butter, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but not colored.
Add the remaining ingredients, along with a little more salt, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the soup bubbles, turn the heat to low, mostly cover the pot, and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Taste the soup and season generously with salt and pepper.
You can ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve as is, mash the vegetables lightly with the  back of a spoon, or puree the soup through a food mill or with a blender (regular or immersion), or a food processor. (I leave mine with the potatoes in chunks.) If desired, garnish with the toppings of your choice.
You could also chill it and turn it into Vichyssoise, a fancy name for cold potato soup, which was invented in 1917 by French chef Louis Diat who ran the kitchens at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City, according to Dorie.
Bon appétit and thank you, BreakThru Films, Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and all the artists who re-created Vincent’s paintings. Thank you as well to all of my friends and students who have been to Paris and Arles with me and who have paid tribute to Vincent with me. In Vincent’s words:
Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.
Je t’aime, Vincent.

 

Paris by proxy

joanie on her pony

Joanie on her pony

Jeanne d’Arc, 1874, Emmanuel Frémiet, 4 rue des Pyramides, Paris 01

Okay, so I am not really sure that I am using “by proxy” properly, even though I looked it up on-line at Urban Dictionary.

by proxy:  the ability to do or be something without actually physically doing it. “John was invited to the party, and since I’m his best friend I was invited by proxy” “Sarah lives with a smoker so when they watch tv together she smokes by proxy”  -by Ballet Queen June 01, 2005

One of my buddies is in Paris this week. At this very moment, she is eating foie gras and sipping Bordeaux. (I know this because I texted her for an update. I just cannot help myself.) I guess I could have called this post Paris Vicariously, n’est-ce pas? Am I jealous? Envious? Of course I am. I haven’t been there since March. Six long months. But who is counting, right? I am, however, thrilled that she is there. We have been to France together several times and she is an excellent traveling companion… meaning we laugh at the same things, we both love art museums, getting lost, eating in places with great views, and sipping wine and/or champagne and watching people.

She may very well kill me for what I am going to post next, but I have to do it. It is just too funny not to. I will ask forgiveness when she returns. Here is the first text I received, the day she arrived:

First off. On our flight here there was THE MOST GORGEOUS FRENCHMAN!!!!!! sitting in our row. Pleasant with manners and looks that I cannot describe… cut jawline, thick gorgeous hair, leather coat and well he looked good:) you’ll love this… he had a glass of milk and put on the shades for the evening. No meals. I said they are bad, aren’t they and he laughed and said oui!! He is from Lyon. Oh to be young again and free spirited. We can always admire from afar. We went to the Passage St. André des Arts. Saw your Tennessee hangout and ate dinner in one of the restaurants. We are trying to map out as many as we can. Rodin is tomorrow!! We are staying on Rue Saint Sulpice. Pierre is our host… another helpful and friendly skinny good looking Frenchman. So far the most fun was people watching at our café at lunch. Miss you mon amie. I have done a bang up job of using my French:) they always answer in English… does not deter me:) Bisous

pacman

The day she sent this, I showed a ZAZ video, Sous le ciel de Paris, to my 7th graders and talked to them about street art which has helped me to appreciate.

I could watch this over and over– oh, wait, I HAVE watched this over and over.

Next text, a bust by Camille Claudel from the Rodin Museum.

camille claudel

What a talented, tragic woman. There was a movie made about her life in 1988. I found this blurb-

When renowned French sculptor Auguste Rodin (Gérard Depardieu) notices the raw sculpting talent of the beautiful and precocious Camille Claudel (Isabelle Adjani), the two artists begin a scandalous love affair. Camille becomes Auguste’s muse and assistant, sacrificing her own work to contribute to his sculptures. However, when her work goes unrecognized and she desires attention of her own, Camille is left alone and gradually spirals into mental illness.

Then two photos from her visit to Les Invalides. The first is of the Cathedral St. Louis des Invalides.

st louis des invalides

The flags are from Napoléon’s campaigns. From the Musée de l’Armée’s website:

The cornice of the Veteran’s Chapel is decorated with some hundred trophies taken from the enemy, throughout the history of the French armies, from 1805 to the 19th century. Bearing witness to age-old traditions, these trophies were hung on the vault of Notre Dame Cathedral up until the French Revolution. Those which escaped destruction were transferred to the Hôtel des Invalides from 1793. The Hôtel des Invalides was then entrusted with the mission of keeping French emblems and trophies. Nearly 1,500 of these trophies were burnt in the courtyard in 1814 by the Governor of the Hôtel des Invalides to prevent them from failing into enemy hands.

It is one of the only, if not the only, church where the French flag is on display. Separation of Church and State is taken seriously here.

Next came Napoléon’s tomb — “he had a rather large ego”

napoleon

I found this information on the Napoléon.org website:

Visitors enter the crypt via a staircase. This leads to a heavy bronze door (forged from cannons taken at Austerlitz) flanked by two statues. Above the lintel is the following inscription (an extract from Napoleon’s will): “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine among the people of France whom I so much loved“.
The sarcophagus was put up on a green granite pedestal and contains a nest of six coffins: one made of soft iron, another of mahogany, two others of lead, one of ebony and finally the last one of oak. Napoleon is dressed in his Colonel’s uniform (of the cavalry of the Guard) which bears his sash of the Légion d’Honneur. His hat rests on his legs.

I have paid my respects to the Emperor several times. And heard some interesting stories from some of the guides we’ve had… I will leave it at that. But one is about a missing body part when his body was exhumed to be sent back to France for burial. This part was supposedly bought by an American urologist and has been kept on display. That’s all I know.

One of my friend’s goals on this trip is to visit as many of the beautiful passageways of Paris as possible.

Here is the Galerie Vivienne-

Galerie Vivienne

It is located at 4, rue des Petits Champs, Paris 02.

I thanked her for this photo and she came back with:

De rien!! Most of the good ones are on my Canon camera. Will show when home. I have taken some on my phone just for you. Had a wonderful French lesson with a taxi driver… too much fun. We have walked over four miles or so each day. Hubby has a cold, but has hung in there so after walking all over yesterday and walking to the Rodin and Invalides he was ready for a taxi. Lucky me!!! We have met some wonderful people and some Frenchies that are not so tolerant of my attempts at speaking their language. Pas problème:)!! Give me six months and my taxi driver and I would be good to go.

Before she left for Paris, she checked the weather and it looked as if it was going to rain quite a bit. So I asked– Raining much?

No!! We have had a bit of rain off and on. Mostly good weather!!! Just pulled out the umbrellas and kept walking. It is 64 and cloudy and feels great:)

This is from the woman who was THRILLED that it snowed one March while we were in Paris. Of course, we had just read one of Laura Florand’s romance novels about a gorgeous French pastry chef (or was he a chocolatier?) who has a snowball fight with his equally gorgeous American girlfriend on the Ile Saint Louis, but I digress.

yo snow-SNOW

Next text-

Hubby walks 10 feet behind me looking at his google map. He directs and I lead:)!! Crazy, I know, but it works for me:) I love Paris!! Headed to Père Lachaise maybe tomorrow. Mapped out all the folks I want to pay my respects to.

kir royale

And to go along with this photo of her kir royale, she texted:

You have taught me well, my friend. Where to go, what to drink and how to enjoy it all.      Je t’aime.

That is the highest praise I could receive.

Next week, another friend will make his first trip to France, spending time in Normandy and in Paris. I’ve shared my Paris Cheat Sheet with him, but I am sure that he will not be sending me texts. I am not even sure that he has a smartphone! That’s okay.

I have no recipes for foie gras, but I have photos. I eat it as often as possible when I am in France. These are from January 2013.

foie gras 2foie gras

This particular amie is very fond of mousse au chocolat. In a text responding to my wish that she eat and drink good things for me, she said-

Definitely taking care of that. Rosé twice a day! It’s chocolate that I have neglected. Remedy tomorrow.

In her honor, I will repost my favorite recipe for mousse. For its origins, read this post.

La mousse au chocolat de Fanny

6 eggs
70 g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
200 g dark chocolate (use the best you can find/afford– the Nestle’s she uses is dark 52% chocolate; European chocolate is just plain better than our stuff unless you go high end; they have higher standards for theirs)
pinch of salt

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.  Do not let it get too hot.  Stir it with a metal spoon, not a wooden one.  Take it off the heat as soon as it is almost melted and continue stirring until completely melted.

Separate the egg whites and yellows.
Beat the whites, with a pinch of salt, until stiff peaks form.

Mix the yellows and the sugar.
Then add the melted chocolate.

Delicately add the whites, about 1/4 at a time.  Fold them in very gently.

Refrigerate it for at least 2 hours before serving.

finished product

Bon appétit! Bon voyage! Bonne journée! Bonne soirée! Bon courage! Bonne chance! May my friends continue to travel and enjoy all the sights, sounds, tastes and inevitable adventures that come with traveling.

 

 

Dear Ten-Year-Old Teresa

teresa 5th grade

Am I the only one who thinks about this stuff– Who am I? Why am I the way I am? How did I get to this place? What makes me different than everyone else? I have spent more than a little bit of my time trying to figure out the answers to those questions. I am not a philosopher type. I studied French philosophers enough to get through my literature courses. But I didn’t really understand much of it. Mountain girls don’t really have time for that stuff. We are busy surviving. And then we plan our escapes. I think back on me when I was the age in this picture, which has always been my favorite photo of myself.  I think that I was in 5th grade, maybe 6th. I loved this dress. I felt pretty in it. I am pretty sure it was a hand-me-down from one of my talented cousins who could sew up a burlap sack and make it beautiful. I look like my brother, I think. Definitely a Bell. Sorry, Mama Mildred.

I remember sitting in our yard on summer afternoons and occasionally seeing an airplane pass overhead. I always imagined John, Paul, Ringo and George were in that plane, traveling to a concert or maybe back to England. I would wave from my spot on the grass and long to meet Paul. My aunt, who was 11 years older than me, and the very essence of cool introduced me to The Beatles. It was instant love. Still is. My iTunes account houses all the oldies, thanks to a CD given to me by Alex F-B, an advisee a few years back who was a Beatles fan as well. So, the question is… is that when my longing for faraway lands and adventures began? Cool Aunt let me hang out with her occasionally and she studied French in high school. Is that where my obsession began to take root? Or was it Looney Tunes and Pepé Le Pew?

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Image: photobucket.com

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Image: Wikipedia

Getting back to philosophy, though, I saw a blog post today by a woman who has become a virtual friend to me and many, many others. She packed up her dreams and moved to France a few years ago. Her post today is about her daughter-in-law’s illness, explaining why she is back in the States. Her son and his wife need her. She is here until they don’t need her. A visit home to see them and the grandbabies turned into more. Life happens. Barefoot Blogger‘s advice struck a chord with me.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I want to share the lesson I’m learning with you.

Don’t wait to enjoy your life.

If you want to travel,  travel.

If you want to live abroad, start working on it now.  

Life doesn’t wait for you to “get around to it.” 

There it is. Maybe when we get to be d’un certain âge we “get” this advice. Or maybe I am just weird, selfish and shallow for wanting to see more, taste more, take more pictures, meet more people like me, see what’s around the corner. A friend just moved to England to teach for a year. This has long been a dream of his. He made it come true. He dreamed about it for a long time. Then he actually arrived, unpacked his bag, opened a bank account and realized that he didn’t have anything to dream about anymore. Now, he worries that since he has crossed that mark he will have nothing to dream about. What if he made a mistake leaving his family and friends behind? Is he shallow for wanting/needing this experience? Why did he need it in the first place? I can tell you that, having been in his shoes (the beginning of The Sabbatical Chef), there are no easy answers. Are you selfish? Maybe. Not everyone gets it. Not everyone needs it. Is it worth it? Oh, yes, it is. Will you come out on the other side a different person? Not fundamentally because you are who you are. But you will see life differently. You will appreciate baseball, American English, hot dogs, and chocolate chip cookies with a new passion. You will feel more complete, more whole after this experience. Will it make you stop looking for the next adventure?  I can’t say for sure, but I doubt it. There will still be things to see and people to meet. Go with it. Embrace it. Learn from it. Grow.

Dear Ten-Year-Old Teresa,

Stop worrying so much, my dear girl. You can’t change people who don’t want to change or who feel as if they can’t. They have demons you cannot even begin to understand. But you can’t fix them no matter how many tears you shed or how many Dear God, if … then…  you send up to Heaven (it might make you feel better to do that, though, and that’s okay).

Don’t worry about what other people think. It doesn’t really matter in the long run. So what if the boy you have a crush on comes from the “nice” neighborhood and his mother doesn’t approve? She will take back those thoughts someday, trust me on that one. And I hate to tell you, but no matter how much you think that you are hiding it all, people know about what you are going through, but the ones that matter love you anyway and they will always love you.

You will live to be at least 59 years old. You will have two incredible sons who have strong, amazing women who love them and an adorable granddaughter who lights up when you walk into the room. You will have the love of a man who has known you for over half of your life, has seen you at your worst and your best and who still respects you and makes you laugh. And who is one hell of a father to those two boys.

Friends? You will be abundantly blessed in that department. Seriously. Many who love you and support you on a daily basis. Some who will pop into your classroom just to say hi and to see what you are up to. Some you will not see for months and years at a stretch, but who you know so well and love so much that it doesn’t matter. A couple who you know that you can call any time of the day or night and they will grab the car keys and be right there if you need them.

You will be blessed by family members who may live in a different place and have different dreams and they may not understand yours, but that’s okay. They love you unconditionally. They are proud of who you are and you are equally as proud of them. They know you better than anyone, from back when you talked with a different accent and ran around barefoot all summer long chasing lightening bugs.

You will indeed pack that suitcase and see the world. You will visit Paris more times than you can count. You will have French friends who feel like family. Your incredible job will allow you to do this, in fact, it will be a part of your job.  You will get paid to take students to France. Can you believe that? You will live in the south of France, work with a chef, eat the most amazing food ever, meet people from all over the world, and write about it. It will change you forever. It will open doors you never imagined possible. Heck, you don’t even know those doors exist right now. You may not ever meet Paul McCartney, but you will still listen to his music and dream of meeting him. You will read so many books about Vincent Van Gogh that you feel as if you know him. You will walk in his footsteps, take the path that leads through a wheat field and kneel at his grave. You will cry every single time you stand in front of one of his self-portraits and Starry Night Over the Rhône. You will look back and wonder how on earth you could have missed the meaning behind Don McLean’s song Vincent back in 1971. You will read Lust for Life in the ’80’s and finally have an aha moment.

Keep wearing pretty dresses, Teresa. It’s more than okay that they are hand-me-downs. You will have a thing for thrift and consignment shops later probably due to those gifts of “new” clothes. Keep reading stories of people in other places and times. Sing, dance, and laugh as often as you can. Keep looking for the next adventure. Don’t wait to have fun and enjoy life. Be grateful. Tell people you love them. Eat good food and when you are legal, drink good wine. Be happy.

I love you.

My great baking adventure these days is baguettes.  Oui, c’est vrai.

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I took a class, taught by Franca Gilbert, a French teacher friend.  She bakes up a storm and sells her goods at local farmers’ markets. Her business is Alimentaire. I am not confident enough to share the recipe for feeding the levain yet. But I can assure you that it is a work in progress. I am a messy baker, but that’s okay. I clean up the messes!

Bon appétit et bonne nuit! It’s okay to be different. Eat good bread. “Life doesn’t wait for you to get around to it.” Remember that.

I miss Mayberry

Okay, if you are a Rascal Flatts fan then you know I stole borrowed the title of one of their songs. I don’t think they will get upset when they read today’s blogpost. I think they will be honored. I have been in a bit of a blue mood the past few days. I’ve recently read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. (more about those book in a later post- they deserve their own) I’ve been very bothered by the news that the CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC earned $3.5 million in compensation in 2016. I am trying not worry too much about things that I cannot control. Really I am. Therefore, I am going to a happy place and taking you along for the ride.

The Ex-Ex and I decided to take a couple of days to explore Mount Airy, the town that inspired the Andy Griffith Show’s fictional town of Mayberry. I read an article about hiking at Pilot Mountain (or Mount Pilot in TV-land) and we thought that sounded like fun. It was amazing.

pilot mtn

You can’t hike all the way to the top- that’s for climbers.  But you can hike all around the base.

We did it early in the morning before the 90˚F+ temperature set in.

Back to Mayberry.  As a young’un, I thought that the Andy Griffith Show was only shown in North Carolina.  This was back in the days of three TV stations, television programming signed off after the 11:00 news and the national anthem played, and a TV set was a real piece of furniture.

old tv

And shows were in black and white.  Yep, that’s how old I am.  I now know that New Yorkers, Nebraskans and Delawareans were also watching. I wonder what they thought of us in North Carolinians. Not that I care, truthfully. Sheriff Andy Taylor, played by Mr. Griffith, always taught a lesson, mostly to son Opie, played by Ron Howard, and to his deputy, Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts. All in a 30 minute time slot. Add in a few other characters:

  • Aunt Bea, who showed up in the first episode to help take care of Andy and Opie. There was never much mention of Opie’s ma, except to say that she had died.
  • Floyd, the ditzy barber (I saw this t-shirt at a wine festival)

pink floyd

  • Otis Campbell, the lovable town drunk who would just lock himself in his cell after he got loaded

otis' cell

  • Howard Sprague, the county clerk, a mama’s boy

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  • Gomer, a gas station attendant with an amazing singing voice (Grandma Christine loved him and had fantasy lunches with him) who later went on to have his own show after he joined the Marines
  • Goober, Gomer’s cousin who also worked at Wally’s
  • Miss Crump, a school teacher who later married Andy
  • Thelma Lou, Barney’s main squeeze (she is still alive and was signing autographs the day we were at the Andy Griffith Museum- we didn’t want to wait in line or pay to get one but later saw a lady who had an autograph on her pink purse)

andyhelenbarneythelmalou

  • The Darlins, a musical family of hillbillies who periodically came to town, usually bringing moonshine with them as I recall

darlin truck

  • Ernest T. Bass, a wiry little hillbilly who had a penchant for throwing rocks and climbing trees (I have a second cousin who reminds me of Ernest T)

ernestt brick

There were others, but these are the ones I remember the most.

Andy Griffith lived in Mount Airy until he left to attend the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. You can even rent out his family home and spend the night there.

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At his recently renovated museum, I learned that he was a teacher at Goldsboro High School for a few years.  Who knew? Not me. Quite a few of his personal belongings were donated to the museum.  His guitar-

andy'sguitar

Some evenings after supper, Sheriff Taylor would sit on the porch and play.

There are also quite a few things from the set of the show. The doors to the courthouse/jail-

courthouse doors

Barney’s sidecar-

sidecar

The one artifact that I found especially touching is the white suit that Andy Griffith wore for his part in Brad Paisley’s video for the song Waitin’ on a Woman. The video was filmed in 2008, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where Andy spent his final years.

waitingonawoman

Paisley’s 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times tells the story of how it came about. Andy passed away four years after the video was made.  I double dog dare you not to shed at least one tear watching it.  Rest in peace, Mr. Griffiths.

While we were in Mayberry Mount Airy, we had breakfast at Snappy Lunch, made famous in the TV show.  It is the only real place in Mount Airy mentioned on the show.

snappy sign

According to the fellow sharing the lunch counter with us at Snappy, a local, Snappy was delivering lunches to the local high school, which was just up the street back in the day, for years before the school got a cafeteria.  It is quite famous for its pork chop sandwich, which Our State magazine has written about, even suggesting it should be our State Sandwich.

ourstate

So, I had one for breakfast.

I didn’t expect to be wowed. Just a fried boneless pork chop, with slaw, a tomato slice, chili and mustard on a regular old hamburger bun, right? I loved every bite.  Truly.  I would go back just to have another one.  And I vote YES!  A young guy stands in the window and cooks the pork chops for all the passers-by to watch. Snappy keeps short hours, opening around 6:00 am and closing around 2:00 pm, it isn’t open on Sundays and it isn’t very big. It has two rooms for eaters, the front room filled mostly with locals (and us at the counter) and tourists in the room to the side, it seemed. The Pork Chop Sandwich costs $4.20. I got a bag of chips with mine- no fries that day.

snappywindow

I love the Appalachian State hat! Go Mountaineers!

I found a blog, Happy Hodgepodge Home, with a recipe for the sandwich.  Try it if you would like. I don’t think I am going to try it myself.  I want the memory of the sandwich to be unsullied by my own feeble attempts at reproducing it. If you try it, let me know how it turns out.  Might be best to have it with a Cheerwine, a drink concocted in Salisbury, NC in 1917. (I’ve seen advertisements for a Krispy Kreme Cheerwine doughnut, but I haven’t had one. Yet.) I did find a recipe for a Cheerwine Pound Cake in an article in Our State.  This might be worth a try! Who doesn’t love pound cake?

Cheerwine Pound Cake

Makes one 10-inch cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Cheerwine soft drink
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Red food coloring gel, as desired (optional)
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch, light-colored metal tube (angel food) pan, tapping out any excess flour. (A dark metal or heavy Bundt pan will make the crust too dark and thick and will interfere with the baking time.)

2. Beat the butter, shortening, and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer set to high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. Whisk together the flour and salt in another large bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in thirds, alternating with half of the Cheerwine, beating only until the batter is smooth after each addition. Quickly beat in the lemon and almond extract.

5. If you want the cake to have a deep pink color that suggests Cheerwine, tint the batter with the gel. Start with a little and work up to the desired shade, keeping in mind that a large amount of food coloring can make the cake taste bitter.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Gently tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes.

7. Cool the cake in the pan set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out the cake onto the rack and let cool to room temperature. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if you wish.

Maybe you could make a drizzled sort of icing with confectioners’ sugar and Cheerwine? Just thinking here.  Haven’t tried it.

biscuitsandgravy

Bon appétit to all!  If you’ve never been to Mount Airy or Pilot Mountain, go!  I bet it is beautiful in the fall, when the leaves change color.  Be ready for a charming small town and very nice Southern folk.  But before you go, watch a few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.  Goober says Hey! If you are lucky and it’s a Saturday morning, maybe these guys will be sitting around playing some old songs.

menplaying music

 

Le 14 juillet 2017

monet detail

Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Claude Monet, 1878, Musée d’Orsay (detail)

Should I wish France Bonne Fête nationale or Joyeux 14 juillet or Bonne Bastille or … just what?  Does it even matter?  I could sing La Marseillaise.  The bloody version or La Marseillaise de la Paix by Chanson plus bifluorée.  Bertrand of My Private Paris turned me on to this group. What do you think?

The original…

Or the peaceful version?

I guess it depends on your mood?

I prefer to look at all the lovely photos on Facebook and hear about what Judy C and her picture-taking Hubby are up to in France.

Let’s start with Virginia Jones’ magnificent photo from her website Paris Through My Lens:

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I actually watched this year’s celebration and fireworks by live stream on my computer. Not the same as being there, but what’s a girl to do?

This one I found on a fellow French teacher’s page:

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Sandra Boynton, my favorite cartoonist,  drew this little guy:

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Here’s the line-up for the military parade on the Champs-Élysées, also taken from FB:

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I would love to have been on top of the Arc de Triomphe to watch! The first time I was in Paris on le 14 juillet was in 2006 with the Arles 6. We didn’t have that view! We were farther down the boulevard, with a couple of the people in the group standing in the Gucci window, I believe. I was afraid they would set off the alarm and the gendarmes would come take them away in handcuffs. I was standing on top of a trashcan alongside AG, trying to get a good view of the goings on. We were actually on a little side street where some of the participants were lining up. I love men in uniform…

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Only later were we able to get a good view of the Champs-Élysées and some tanks.

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I was there again in 2012 with my BFF Trip girls. Not the best filming in the world.  We were with about a gazillion of our new best friends watching from a street near the Bir Hakeim metro stop, if I remember correctly.

And my photo of the Leaning Tower of Eiffel.  No idea how that happened. Too funny. I had not had too much champagne, trust me on that one.

July14

It was our last full day in Paris. We started the trip in Paris, headed south to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon for a week of traipsing around lavender fields, visiting a goat farm, tasting wine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and visiting friends.  Most of us then came back to Paris. At the TGV station in Avignon with Frenchie and his lovely wife:

group2

Où est Judy C?  Oh!  Dans les toilettes, j’imagine, avec Mme Arizona.

JC and I stayed on for an extra day to visit Mont Saint Michel. Her special place.

MSM

She was just there a couple of days ago again with her Hubby.  He sent this amazing photo–

montsm

I hear they are having a fabulous time- eating, drinking, meeting lots of Frenchies, seeing a lot of the beauty that is France. (Word to the wise– do not try to go to France unless your passport is valid for at least 3 months after your departure. They won’t let you on the plane. Due probably to the fact that no visa is required for stays shorter than 90 days.)

In 2012, for our last meal in Paris, we ate a few typical French dishes in a little café.

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soupe

croque

bread

creme

cake

Think my Sister-in-law found the raspberry cake to her liking??  I’m guessing oui. A sweet fit of eatin’.

cindy

Anyway, back to the present.  Think I will go stir up some Nutella brownies to take to a going away party for my Partner in Pink. I will miss her. Off to Miami she goes! Bon voyage, mon amie, et bonne chance! I will still bring back Fragonard perfume, Belle de nuit, for you from Paris.  C’est promis!

partners in pink

 

Nutella Brownies

This recipe is from Alaska from Scratch who adapted it from a recipe by Mother Thyme.

1/3 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar*
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. Nutella
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Grease an 8×8 pan (I used an 11×7 pan, greased with the wrapper from the softened butter).
Cream butter and sugar together.  Incorporate eggs and vanilla until combined.  Mix in Nutella until smooth and fluffy.  Add in flour and salt until just mixed.
Scoop batter into prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake 30 minutes or until set in the center.
Cool at least 10 minutes.  Cut into squares.

*Mother Thyme recipe uses 1 cup of sugar.  I thought they were sweet enough with just the half cup.

Licking the bowl is allowed.  Certainly encouraged. Maybe even a requirement!

licking

Bon appétit et bonne journée!  Celebrate with friends.  Eat chocolate.  Look back on your memories of good times with friends.

#frenchproblems

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Image: Lina Nordin

Social media could take over a person’s life.  Am I right?  Tweets, Instagram, Facebook posts and private messages just to name the ones I actually have on my phone.  Lord only knows how many more there are and how many more are either in the works or in someone’s head about to pop out. I tweet once in a blue moon, I post photos on Instagram just about as often. Facebook and I are buddies. I mean, how amazing that I can “talk” to my French friends in real time. Back in the olden days, way before the internet and cell phones, when regular phone calls to and from France cost a small fortune (not to mention that in 1978 I had to give Mama Mildred’s phone number to a woman at la poste, who would pretend not to understand my French thus reducing me to tears, and ask her to dial it for me, I would go to a bank of phones, talk to Mama for 30 seconds or so, then give the woman however many French francs she demanded, hoping that I understood her number and didn’t give her 10 times more than she asked for). Ah, the good old days.  Damn traumatic is more like it.  At least that first time in Paris. And letters? They took (and still take, by the way) 7-10 days to arrive, if they arrived at all. I’ve watched postal workers take my postcards, stick them up on a shelf, then assure me that they will get to my friends, Mama, husband and/or children in the U.S. But for all of that, I do not allow my students to randomly use their cell phones except to take photos and check the time.  No text messaging, snapchatting, instragramming, or whatever kids do these days. They may most certainly check in with their parents and pals once we are back at the hotel and checked in for the night. I am careful to follow my own rules as well.  It’s called living in the moment.  And having something to show and tell everyone when you get home.

I digress un peu. I came across a very funny article in The Local this morning.  Tell me that this would not pique your interest if you are at all interested in France.

Twitter reveals 25 everyday ‘problems’ about life in France

I could not not read that, could I?  And then try to locate my Twitter password (I couldn’t so I had to change it), log on, and follow this group (or whatever a group is called on Twitter). #franceproblems

Here’s the run-down on the list with my experiences noted.

  1. Waiters giving women their phone numbers.  Even as a femme d’un certain âge, I have to admit this is rather flattering.  Harmless really. It happened to me about three years ago during a solo January trip, but it wasn’t a waiter,  but a museum guard at Le Grand Palais.  I had just seen an exhibit about Gertrude Stein and her art collection and was exiting the exhibit when a guard stopped me. Of course, the first thing that popped into my head is that I swear I did not touch a painting. Did I take photos? No flash? Was it even allowed? No, he just wanted to tell me how beautiful I am, ask me my name (that day I became Isabella) and give me his phone number on a slip of paper.
  2. Kiss vs handshake.  Okay, this can be a bit worrisome.  Kiss your friends.  How many times?  Twice? Three times? Depends on where you are in France. In Paris and northern France I’ve found that two times suffices.  With my friends in the south of France, it’s usually three.  Total strangers? A very quick handshake will do. Not the pumping thing that Americans tend to do sometimes.  I practice with my students. Not les bises, just the handshake. I call in a nearby teacher to help me with the kissing thing. But no hugs. At least not unless they are very good friends and grab you first.
  3. Somewhere to eat in the late afternoon. The French eat at meal times, my American friends. They are not a nation of snackers and eat anytime you please people.  Look around you next time you are there. They are not obese. Plan your meals a little more carefully when you are there.  Or find a café that is open all day. No, it won’t be a Michelin star restaurant, but it will tide you over. And dinner before 6:00 pm? Never. Apéritifs, the after work drinks with a friend, but even dinner at 6:00 is a ridiculous idea.  Usually around 8:00-8:30 pm for families.  Later in Paris on a night out perhaps or the weekend.
  4. Resisting the temptations of French cuisine. Ha! I do not do that. Why? Moderation and the knowledge that you are walking many kilometers a day help. Resist a chocolate dessert?  A pretty pink macaron from Pierre Hermé?  An éclair at Christophe Adam’s shop? Jamais. Now, granted when living there, you really have to practice that moderation thing. But I found that the food at meals was so incredibly satisfying that I didn’t really need to overindulge. Sweets aren’t as sugary there either. (Dare I say sugar is the downfall of the American diet?)
  5. Baguettes.  No preservatives are used so you must consume the whole thing within a few hours and buy a new one tonight or tomorrow. Otherwise you are looking at a baseball bat not fit to consume unless you are going to toast it a bit, throw on some gruyère cheese and add it to the top of your soupe à l’oignon. The government controls the price of basic baguettes so that everyone can afford them.  There is also a yearly baguette competition in Paris with the winner supplying baguettes to M. Le Président for a year.  How cool is that? I try to remember to check the list, write down the address of the top finishers and try one.  Well worth it.
  6. Planning Sunday meal in advance. Or buying anything much on Sunday. If grocery stores are open on Sunday, it is for a short period of time in the early morning.  Day of rest. Time with families. Think and plan ahead. Period. I learned that when I thought I would run over to Monoprix in Arles one Sunday afternoon to pick up a few things I needed.  Guess again. I sat down at a café for a glass of rosé instead, wrote some postcards and people-watched instead.  Much more fun.
  7. French hobbies- striking and smoking. It does seem that a lot of French people smoke.  The crowd I hang with at home does not. When I go home to my little mountain town in NC, there is still plenty of evidence of smokers. French cigarette packages are not pretty– they carry the words Fumer Tuer or something to that effect in big black letters.  Smoking kills. Strikes?  Yes, they can be very inconvenient for visitors.  No trash pick up.  No train. No public transportation. No museum guards. No postal service. No air traffic controllers. It seems to be a part of the way they get things done… better pay, better benefits.  Maybe it all dates back to the Revolution, what do I know of such things.  There are unions for teachers in the US, but not in my state.  It’s illegal.
  8. Filling out forms- French bureaucracy.  I have heard horror stories, but I have no firsthand knowledge of this one.  You are on your own if you decide to move over, buy a house or even apply for a visa. Talk to someone who has lived through it and get some sound advice (from an American, not a Frenchman- you will probably just get a Gallic shoulder shrug and a C’est comme ça or C’est normal.)
  9. Red wine, smelly cheese and kissing your boyfriend afterwards.  Seriously? This is a problem? Not in my book. I have nothing to add. Except maybe eat some of the cheese yourself and slurp some Côtes du Rhône with him and then you won’t notice.
  10. Face cream that smells like Camembert and has to be kept in the fridge.  Never heard of it.  Désolée.  I just use a basic American brand, nothing fancy or smelly. In Arles, we did have a small refrigerator just for the cheese, though.  Smelly?  Oh yeah.  Délicieux aussi.
  11. Watch where you walk- dog poop.  Very real danger. And smelly to boot. Yes, everyone is supposed to carry plastic baggies and clean up after Fifi when she does her business, but does it always happen in any city?  Non. And one day in Paris, I did overhear an older monsieur berating a jeune homme for not cleaning up after his chien. A real tongue-lashing.  The French love their dogs and there are many mostly well-behaved ones.  They take them almost everywhere they go- with the exception of museums and supermarkets.
  12. Looking chic- no sweatpants in public.  It’s a thing. I did not wear mine outside of the house. I don’t take any with me when I go. You do not have to look like you stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, Elle, for instance, but watch the jogging and yoga clothes in public unless you really are going running.  Yoga clothes would probably be changed into in the studio. If you want to wear sneakers, Converse and Vans are popular. When my feet are killing me and I must wear mine, I have black ones that don’t scream tourist. I already wear a lot of black.  And scarves. Casual is fine- meaning jeans. Put together, I guess you’d say.
  13. Fiscal stamps needed for visas.  Once again, no experience here.  Take a good book to read and just don’t be in a rush.  Won’t help.  Will only make you très mad and trop frustrated. Have a nice drink  and people watch at a café afterwards to calm down.
  14. Good meat pie. Seriously? You miss that? Try Québec and their lovely tourtière next vacation.  If you are living there, make one yourself. Feed it to a Frenchie to gauge their interest. That’s always fun. You will know if they don’t like it. And you will know if they do. And then maybe you will start the next food fad.
  15. Frenchmen find their next love on the street.  Well… one lovely January Sunday afternoon I was strolling (flâner– I love this word) along the Seine making my way towards Notre Dame. I felt as if someone was following me, well, not really following, just walking along parallel to me.  Sure enough. A nicely dressed Frenchman struck up a conversation. He even asked if he could buy me a souvenir at one of the bouquinistes stands.  Mais oui, merci, monsieur. When he asked if I’d like to stop somewhere for a coffee or a drink, I declined and told him that I was meeting friends at Notre Dame.  Was I? Non. But he didn’t press the issue and got lost, perhaps looking for another single woman to buy a salt and pepper shaker for. I didn’t feel threatened or harassed. It was broad daylight, there were a million other people strolling the same as we were, I speak French well.
  16. Breakfast- no eggs and bacon.  The French do not eat eggs before lunch and then they will be in an omelette, quiche or hard-boiled with a lovely house made mayonnaise spread on top.  Bread, butter, jam, yogurt, fruit, coffee, tea or hot chocolate for le petit déj.  Voilà. Who am I to argue with a baguette or croissant or pain aux raisins.
  17. Train strikes.  A pain in the neck. They are usually announced beforehand so that you are warned. See #7. I’ve missed a side trip or two due to this. C’est la vie.
  18. Finding an open food store after work or a late class. Check times for the corner grocery store.  Plan ahead.  What else can I say? The French like to go home to dinner, too. Easier to find an open one in Paris than in smaller towns.
  19. Banks and businesses that close for lunch.  Mealtimes are sacred, in case you haven’t caught on, even for bank employees and shop clerks. Sacred. An hour and a half usually.  No running errands during lunch.  Barbarians do that. Eat. Have a nice lunch break. Don’t eat in the car or at your desk. A picnic outside if the weather is nice.
  20. Becoming addicted to French cheese.  This is a problem?? Only if you have to go home and you can’t find your favorite kind(s) or you have to pay a small fortune for it. I don’t think you will find a recovery group for this. I dream about fresh chèvre and Camembert or Brie served at just the right temperature. But remember, it is NOT eaten as an hors-d’oeuvre in France. Cheese has it’s own course, after the main course and green leaf salad dressed with house made vinaigrette. Three choices usually suffice. A cow’s milk, sheep perhaps, and a goat. Mon dieu, I miss the cheese.  Or as the French say– Le fromage me manque.  The cheese is lacking to me.
  21. Obtaining a French visa for non-EU citizens.  I am a non-EU citizen, but I have never tried to apply for a visa.  When my dream school or company hires me, I am sure they will take of that for me. Right?
  22. Drinking coffee. Well, I drink it with lots of hot milk for breakfast, but I never adapted to the custom of little cups of espresso after lunch and dinner and at a coffee break in between.  I do get disbelieving stares sometimes in restaurants, but I imagine they are thinking — Eh, l’Américaine. With the Gallic shrug. That explains it.
  23. Listening to neighbors have sex.  No comment. Not touching that one.
  24. Having your French corrected. It happens. Take it for what it’s worth. A quick smile and apology for butchering their lovely language will usually get the corrector off your back.  Once again, you may get the Eh, l’Américaine look. After all, the corrector probably does not speak English and is not aware that we do not have that guttural R thing in our language nor do we care about all words flowing together nicely. Most Frenchies are very nice to me and think that I have un accent charmant. I have learned to take that as a compliment. I try. It took me a while to accept the fact that I will never sound like a Française.  Pas possible. I started learning French at the age of 14 or 15.  Too late. But I will keep trying until I draw my last breath.
  25. Shower curtains and hand-held shower heads.  The shower curtain thing puzzles me, too. Some hotels have half glass doors. That, mes amis, does not protect against water all over the floor.  And I am very careful. Imagine the angst I suffer when taking 14 year-olds to stay in French hotels.  I am lucky we have never had to pay for a flooded room below. I pray to the shower gods about this every March. The hand-held things sometimes attach to the wall, sometimes not. I just sit and take a shower-bath, if necessary.  After all, I AM IN FRANCE.  What is there really to complain about?

The blue and yellow salt and pepper shakers hugging are my souvenir from the Random French Man day.  On my shelf of do-dads in my classroom!

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Bon appétit!  Hope you learned something! 

Paris has to wait (for me)

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Finally.  The movie made it to Durham.  Arles Lucy and I went to see it a couple of nights ago. It was the second time for her. She was very tightlipped and gave me no hints about what was in store.  Impressive, AL!  And merci.  So, I will not go into the details.  But let’s just say that the story hit home.  No, I am not as drop-dead gorgeous as Diane Lane. My grandmother was not a Pentecostal preacher, although she was religious enough to have been one. My mom did not run off to Mexico to divorce my dad, even though she did threaten to join the Foreign Legion if her four brats did not stop arguing and fighting and start behaving. My dad was not a drama coach and taxi driver… he was a plumber and drove a truck.  I did ride around in that with him from time to time. When he was actually holding down a job. I did not declare my independence from my family at age 15 and run off to California. I did escape my hometown at the age of 18 and ran off to France at age 20. I didn’t stay gone long enough. Hindsight. Ms. Lane did come to North Carolina to film Nights in Rodanthe. She has kissed Richard Gere. Sadly, I have not. However, friends, I am saying right here and now and putting it in writing, that if a movie is ever made of my life, I want Diane to play me. Period. I’ve said that before and I still mean it. Should that not happen and should I be dead and gone, returning to another life, I will haunt you.  And I will haunt you in interesting ways.  Let’s leave it at that, shall we?

I loved every second of the film.  Arles Lucy has vowed to buy it as soon as it comes out. (You can pre-order it at Apple.) She will host a viewing party at her house so that she can stop it and I can translate the French tidbits.  I caught some of them the other night and translated a bit, but I, too, want to hear everything.  And see the Pont du Gard, picnic along the Rhône, drool over chocolate desserts, ride in a car through a lavender field. You get the idea. Oh, and don’t forget hang out with a handsome Frenchman who, it must be said, has un accent charmant when he speaks English. And, Arles Lucy, this thought just popped into my head… he calls her Brûlée, as in crème brûlée, as in burnt. You were once nicknamed The Woman on Fire by a Frenchman, if memory serves me properly. Just saying. I will leave it at that.

Here’s the trailer. Fall in love. Indulge in a little fantasy. It’s okay.  They do eventually make it to Paris, at night, when the Arc de Triomphe is all lit up and Mme Eiffel is sparkling.  Big sigh. Paris must wait for me.  My summer trip didn’t work out. She will still be there, waiting for me, when I do get there again.  Hopefully, in January, definitely in March.

Now I think I will go google Arnaud Viard.  Au revoir.

How about some chocolate tarts? I made these several times while living in Arles and working with Chef Érick.  The ganache recipe has come in handy many times over.

Hazelnut Sablée Crust and Chocolate Ganache Tarts

recipe from Érick Vedel and Madeleine Vedel

For the crust (makes enough for a dozen little tarts or a large single tart):

2 cups flour
1 cup toasted and ground nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans)
¼ lb plus 3 tablespoons sweet butter
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon water (if necessary)

In a large mixing bowl, put in the flour and toasted, ground nuts, the sugar, the salt and the butter, cut in small pieces. Push up your sleeves, wash your hands, take off your rings, and with your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until you get a sandy texture that, if you squeeze a handful will hold together. Into this mixture, break your whole egg and work in the egg with your hands lightly, then, as needed, add a tablespoon of water, work the dough quickly together and pat it into a ball. Wrap it in plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator to chill.
At a minimum 2 hours later, remove the dough from the fridge and put it onto a work surface. At this point, preheat your oven to 350F/160C. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface and start to knead your dough. Press it down and fold it over, press it and fold it, for about 2-5 minutes. You want it to start to hold together and no longer crumble apart too easily. When making tartlets, take a small amount of dough, roll it out and place it in the greased tart pan and press into the pan. Do not make the dough too thick. It works better for small ones, rather than one large one, as it is not easy to cut once cooled after cooking.
To preheat the crust, poke the crust with a fork multiple times, place into your preheated oven and bake just until it begins to brown, about 5-10 minutes. Cool before filling.

For the chocolate ganache:

300 grams (12 oz) superior quality dark chocolate
225 grams (9 oz) heavy cream
90 grams (4 oz) butter, cut in small pieces

Chop the chocolate into very small pieces. Put into bowl. In a saucepan, heat the cream to boiling point. Remove from heat and pour slowly over the chocolate. Stir gently until the chocolate melts, then add the bits of butter, one at a time, stirring gently and continually until the chocolate starts to thicken. Pour into the shells. Let cool before eating.

I love you, Arles Lucy!  Thank you for being my friend and indulging me in my love of all things French.  Let’s hit the road in a little décapotable and see France the right way!

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my lavendar

Bon appétit!  Fantasies are fun and good for the soul.  So are movies, music and chocolate. And amazing friends.  Indulge.

SV Day 4: Out and about

around the curve

I have no sense of direction and often get lost.  Ask any of my friends or family members. It used to drive my boys crazy.  Always turing around. I have a hard time reading maps and I don’t trust GPS systems. With good reason.  I programmed in my destination this morning- Blowing Rock to Banner Elk- even though I know how to get there (I really do). I thought there might be a better or more scenic way to go. Better, not necessarily.  More scenic, definitely.  I ended up on a dirt road where I saw one house-

house

met three cars, ran over one big black snake (he was right in the middle of a one lane road- he might have already been squished by another car) and saw no bears. Thank goodness.

I was listening to Balsam Range‘s latest CD, Mountain Voodoo, and singing along.  Maybe that kept the bears at bay?

car dashboard

I saw this tree all of sudden- seems to be signaling a fork in the road, right?

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Non.  I kept on going, sure I would end up on the right highway eventually.  And I did.  I ended up in Banner Elk where I roamed around for a few minutes before getting back in the car to find Apple Hill Farm.  I read about it in High Country Magazine. I was supposed to get on 194N and somehow ended up on 184N until I realized that I couldn’t possibly be on the right track. Turn around… not always easy to find a place to do that on mountain roads, I might add.

Signs should be this straightforward–

straight sign

Lee Rankin, a single mom, saw an alpaca, fell madly in love, bought an abandoned apple orchard and turned it into a farm.  God bless her. It is a beautiful place.  Mountains views on every side. I took a tour of the place with about 10 other folks from Florida, NC, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Yvonne was our guide, wearing this t-shirt-

t-shirt

Ag teachers from several counties were there for a workshop and Lee was helping them learn how to help their students.

We met Mr. Pickles, the pig.  He is a rescue pig who was bullied by the other pigs he was hanging out with on another farm so Lee took him in.  Snickers the cat is his BFF, but Snickers didn’t come to meet us.

MrPickles

There is a chicken coop.  Lots of hens, one guinea and two roosters kept in separate coops.  You know how roosters can be.

A couple of guard donkeys, Chip and his daddy. Meet Chip, who was quite friendly and a touch pushy with his dad. He literally pushed him out of the way once or twice.

chip

Next up, Napoleon the shetland pony/horse.  Prized for his studliness.

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Maybe the ladies like the long shaggy hair/mane that falls over his face.

Angora goats.  Beautiful and incredibly soft.

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This one accidentally got pregnant.  Teenagers.  What can you do?

These two babies are twins.

baby goats

There are guard llamas as well.  It seems that a mountain lion got into the fence one day and killed several of the alpaca so Lee had to put several layers of protection into place, the donkeys, the llamas, and an electric fence. Meet Carly.

guard llama

There is also a llama to guard the goats. What a sweet face.

The main attraction are the alpaca.  They were shorn two weeks ago for their prized wool and to keep the cool in the summer heat.  This is the only one who came close enough to check me out. They are skinny without all that lovely wool.

black alpaca

They are native to the Andes Mountains and although they can no longer be imported to the United States, there were several well-established herds before the ban was put in place so there are thriving farms of alpaca now. They seem to do well in the mountains of North Carolina.

This one’s legs weren’t sheared.  The curly wool is prized- guess they are letting it grow a bit longer.

alpaca leg

Lee has a garden, bees, and plenty to keep her busy. Pretty impressive.  I learned that alpaca poop is called beans and is excellent fertilizer.  It doesn’t smell and it doesn’t attract flies.  Who knew?

I challenge you to throw that out into a conversation sometime.  Did you know, by chance…

A few other photos-

I enjoyed my time at her farm immensely.

I then set off, turning on the GPS again, trying to get to Foscoe.  I passed by this spooky abandoned house. The stuff ghost stories are made of, right?

old house

I was looking for Grandfather Vineyards and Winery.  I found it with no wrong turns on a road with many twists and hairpin curves.

vines

There’s not much room to grow grapes here, so the winemaker brings grapes in from the Yadkin Valley as well as Lodi, California.  I’ve been to Lodi.  It is well-known for Zinfandel. All of the wines are made on site. The winemaker works with the fermentation classes at Appalachian State University to come up with a couple of his blends. They didn’t have that class back in the late ’70’s! I tasted dry whites and reds and then sat by the creek for a little bit and sipped a cold glass of verdelho, a grape I had never heard of before today.

wineglass

I watched little kids doing what little kids are supposed to do in the summer- play in the creek. That restored my belief in kids. And parents.

playing in the creek

I love this drawing that was done of the owner, Steve Tatum, and his dog.  It graces the label of some of his wines. It is a family run operation, with Steve and Sally’s son, Dylan as the winemaker and general manager.

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It started to rain, so I got in my car and headed back for my last retreat night. That’s Grandfather Mountain in case you can’t tell.  You will just have to take my word for it.

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I head for Mama Mildred’s tomorrow morning for the second part of my adventure.

Bonne route!  Et bon appétit to all!  Get lost once in a while.  You never know what is just around the bend. And splash in a creek next time you get a chance.  At least put your toes in!