Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A splash of color.

In our neighborhood, heavy trash pickup is on Friday. This means that one man's junk can turn into another man's treasure on Thursday evening. Typically, what people deem garbage around here is exactly that, trash. But sometimes you get lucky.

So far I've scavenged a drying rack, an assortment of hanging baskets for the balcony and an end table. My mother in law told me that rummaging through the garbage like this is très américain. But I could tell she meant it as a compliment!

At any rate, the base of the table we found was in decent shape. The top had visible water damage, but Monsieur J was able to pry it off and replace it. What to do? Mosaic.

Armed with an assortment of plates from the flea market, some glue, cement and varnish, what was once a poor pathetic end table destined for the trash is now enjoying a new life in our living room. Pas mal!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

This just in.

You don't have to be Julia Child to be tempted by the idea of culinary school or maybe just a cooking class in France. The country is synonymous with gastronomie, wouldn't it be cool to take a cooking class on your next trip?

Unfortunately, the rates for these classes aren't always reasonable and of course space is limited. What's a girl to do? In Toulouse I've lucked out; l'Office offers fairly priced classes in proximity to the city center. I especially love the express midi option, where you cook for 45 minutes and enjoy your creation with classmates.

The 15 euro fee includes the lesson, main meal, dessert, coffee or tea and a 2 euro supplement will get you a glass of wine. For the price, you'd have a hard time paying for a restaurant meal of similar quality -and can you really put a price on savoir faire?

But when Americans come to France, they go to Paris and it's a well known fact that everything is more expensive in Paris. What if you could sign up to take a cooking class for FREE?

The city of Paris, in conjunction with the Fédération Française de Cuisine Amateur, have organized a series of free cooking classes on a rotating basis around the city's markets.

The schedule of classes for the remainder of 2010 is as follows:

– Marché Mouton-Duvernet – Paris 14ème : Friday September 17
– Marché Ordener – Paris 18ème : Saturday September 18
– Marché Monge – Paris 5ème : Sunday September 26
– Marché Anvers – Paris 9ème : Friday October 1
– Marché Maison Blanche – Paris 13ème : Sunday October 3
– Marché Point du Jour – Paris 16ème : Thursday October 7
– Marché Villette – Paris 19ème : Saturday October 16

All you have to do is pick a market and register for the class online on the FFCA website. Since there aren't any classes going on at the moment (read: it's vacation) there are currently no prompts to register for classes. However, this should change as September approaches.

All classes start at 10 a.m. and a different neighborhood chef is designated to teach each one. The chef will help you select the best produce from the market and prepare the meal. At the end of the class, everyone gets a chance to taste the fruits of their labor. What's not to like?

Planning a trip to Paris this fall? Looking to branch out and try something new? Not willing to break the bank to learn how to cook? This could be a fun option. Even if your French is médiocre, you can probably get by.

Pay close attention to what everyone else is doing, especially the chef. Look for cognates: carrottes, concombre, tomate -as one of my favorite professors used to say in her thick Parisian accent, "French eeez eazy!" Most importantly, don't forget to smile. You never know who might take pity on you and offer to speak a little English...

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Lately, the blogosphere has been abuzz with kouign amann, the famous breton butter cake. I can understand the excitement. It's sweet, salty, caramalized goodness in layers that are almost impossible to recreate at home. Brittany produces hardly any cheese to speak of, but they are master butter makers, which gives you all the more reason to indulge. Let's face it, Cookie Monster and common sense deem this dessert a "sometimes" food.

Kouignettes, are essentially little baby kouign amann that make perfect individual servings -they almost look like roses. I love the concept behind these little treats, but don't be fooled by all of the different flavors on display. Stick to plain or caramel, no need for extras like rasperries, chocolate or pistachios.

After admiring paintings by Sérusier and Gauguin at the museum in Pont Aven (don't miss it!), we walked around the quaint village and couldn't help but duck into some of the more tempting pastry shops. La maison Larnicol was the perfect stop for kouignettes. We also couldn't resist Pont Aven's chocolate shop for millefeuille and lots of drooling over the cases of petits gâteaux.

How we managed to resist all of this, I have yet to fully understand. And in case you were wondering, that's a lime tart with vanilla bean on the right. Why didn't I taste you?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Goodbye Toulouse, Hello Brittany.

The temperature was 100+ when I left Toulouse last week. We're talking HOT, so hot that most of what I packed in my suitcase (skirts and t-shirts) wasn't even weather appropriate for my destination: Brittany. In ten days we covered Moëlan-sur-Mer, Rennes and Saint-Malo with many day trips in between.

Though just a quick trip from Toulouse by plane, I might as well have been in another country. And don't tell the French this, but parts of Brittany feel a little bit like England. I gladly traded red tile and stucco for gray slate and granite, faded pastels for vibrant blues and greens, occitan for breton, cacti and succulents for thriving hydrangeas.

Cool mornings, intermittent sun and drizzly afternoons, fresh seafood, regular naps, reading, lots of walking, bike riding, boats, museum visits, lighthouses, apéritifs on the patio and just general relaxation. Oddly enough my bathing suit remained in the suitcase. Watching other people swim in the 62 degree water was enough for me!

Over the next few weeks, I'll continue to post about Brittany. There are buttery pastries to describe, a memorable Bastille Day celebration to recount and lots of pictures to share. Enjoy!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Where is Darwin?

I think I might be evolving. Though I have yet to grow a beak or sprout gills, something has changed. You see, strange things happen to me on a regular basis here in France, much of it borders on the absurd. Nothing in America could have prepared me for this. But that's just the way it is.

When I find myself in these types of situations, I can never seem to think of the right thing to say en français. I wouldn't want to upset anyone and I've found that it's easier to just carry on about my business. The brilliant retort I could've used always comes to mind long after the episode is over.

But this week was different. Not only did I come up with something to say, it a. worked and b. came out of my mouth all by itself. Had I stopped to reflect, I never would have said what I did. I can only conclude that I must be adapting to my surroundings.

You see, I found myself at Carrefour to pick up a few things: chickpeas, radishes, lemon, shampoo -nothing too exciting or expensive. Since I knew that I wasn't doing a major grocery run I left the house with my reusable Ukrops bag and a 10 euro bill. I couldn't think of anything else I'd need.

After waiting my turn in the check-out line, the cashier scanned my items and announced the total: €7.88. Like any normal human in the midst of a monetary transaction, I extended the 10 euro bill to pay for my purchases. This is where the story takes a turn towards bizarre-o-land.

The cashier froze, looked at me like I was holding a smelly sneaker and told me, "but I don't have any change." Now you see, normal American me would have been shocked and bug-eyed. You can't really expect me to believe that a store the size of Target operates without any change, can you? Certainly there is €2.12 lurking around here somewhere, even if it's not in your cash register.

However, my newly evolved getting-used-to-France self, hardly reacted at all. Some part of me must have known that snapping, fussing or even just pointing out the sheer ridiculousness of the situation wouldn't get me anywhere. Instead, a voice I didn't even recognize took over. I may have flipped my hair in disinterest as I casually informed her, ce n'est pas mon problème.

Not exactly polite, but boy oh boy was it effective. This one little gem of a sentence got me everything I needed. Without hesitating, she opened a few rolls of coins and handed me my change. Really?

Of course I told Monsieur J about the newly assertive pseudo-French me that evening. He was both proud and incensed and can't wait for me to show him which cashier it was so he can try paying for a pack of gum with a fifty euro bill.

And another piece of the puzzle falls into place...