Monday, February 27, 2012

Slumber Party

It's Monday and I'm tired. Yesterday I couldn't manage much more than a long sit in the square, drinking coffee in an attempt to fend off the nap that was threatening to take me over at any moment. I finally succumbed, walked home and tumbled into bed for an hour in spite of my 5 cups of espresso.

I'm not sick, I'm just recovering. Because I got to spend a portion of this weekend with 3 friends whom I had never met before...except through our blogs. Two Texans, Sara and Adrian and Kirsty, an Aussi, who live here in the south and who also blog about their lives as expats. If you read their blogs, you'll understand why we had so much fun! These women were a kick times 10.

I shouldn't be tired. We only had two things we HAD to do. The first was get to O'Shannon's pub so Sara could watch the first half of the Ireland/Italy rugby match. I don't know why it was specifically O'Shannon's but I led the group to what I thought was O'Shannon's.

 Except it was not.

Oh sorry. Oops. 
Now I know where it is. We can get there in a few minutes.

Oh geez!  That's not it either.  Who knew finding an Irish Pub in a French city could be so difficult? Or that we'd have so many to choose from. Sara said, "it's across from a fountain, just at the end of Cour Mirabeau and off to the right".  Oh yeah, I know where that is. I spent St. Patrick's Day there once. I forgot about that one. 

Strike out. 

It starts with an O. Doesn't that count?

No, she said, I think it's on the other end of Cours the right. At this point we'd covered most of the town but we schlepped to the other end of Cours Mirabeau, running the last few meters because  Adrian and Sara (who have both lived in Ireland) wanted to hear the national anthem. National anthems make them cry.

We talked a blue streak ( in English....yeah!) through the first half of the game.  Sara, being a woman, was able to watch her game and talk trash with the rest of us AT THE SAME TIME. 

The only other thing we HAD to do was put down the wine bottles on the terrace in time to get to dinner. Which we managed because I'd already scoped this one out. Properly.

So here's the deal. These girls were rarin' to go at about 7 am the next day. AND they had to return to their families, husbands and dogs and hit the ground running. I didn't have to do anything. Except attempt to polish off the chocolate cupcakes. And sleep. Which, as I said, was all I could manage. Is this the difference between the being in your 30's/40's and surpassing age 50? I guess I could be depressed about that...except I'm still giggling thinking about all the funnies from the weekend. 

Thanks girls. Let's do it again soon. But give me a little time!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cuisine Americaine- Part Two

The last line of my last post: "Even if I and my meal fall flat on our respective faces, this has got to be worth a laugh."

Did I really have to write that? Really? They say that putting things into words can be prophetic. Why didn't I just say, "the meal is going to be fabulous and we'll have lots of laughs."?

In fact, we did have lots of laughs. This was a good thing. But I think it was mainly because this is what I produced for the main course.

Yeppers, a 2 1/2 kilo, 30 Euro, rack of.....CHARCOAL! Looks like something that came out of the ruins of Pompeii, don't you think? I should have known better. Meat on a grill and Delana do not go hand in hand. There is not even a minor affinity. 

I had this whole thing under control. The meal was to be at a friend's house; a bachelor whom I was sure would not have kitchen full of cooking equipment, so I worked ahead. I made the potato salad and coleslaw the day before chez moi, where I do have great knives and a food processor. Besides, those things are always better given a day for all the ingredients to get used to each other a form a team. I mixed up the peanut butter and the chocolate cookie dough with my mixer. I made the BBQ sauce, bought the meat, loaded up my salads and dough and headed to his house Saturday afternoon. 

I was SO under control. I baked the cookies, set the table, and made the guacamole. The guacamole was a challenge (and proof that it had been a good idea to make things ahead at my house) because all I could find was a cutting board the size of my palm and a knife that served only to rip the onions and tomatoes.
My idea of grilling the meat was met with protests as in "are you kidding? Grill the meat outside? We're going to freeze to death!" My response was,  "hey, man up!  I'm from Minnesota. We grill outside all year. Do you want an authentic American meal or what? Don't be such a pansy. It's 40 degrees outside...practically springtime!" This was said in French, of course, and I don't know the words for man up...or pansy,  but the monsieur got the idea. But we decided to do it just before the guests arrived so we could warm up before they got there.

This did not go well. It was dark. The grease from the pre-baked ribs caused flames. A lot of them. It took me so long to spit out the word vaporisateur (spray bottle) that by the time the first guests rolled in, I was removing a charred carcass from the grill. And laughing my fool head off. I don't know why I found it so damned funny. I was on the precipice of disaster. As this first guest kindly took the pan of ruins from me to carry it inside, I told him that McDonald's is also American and what did he think about hamburgers? He carried the meat to the sink, and bless his heart, starting scraping the charcoal from the rack of ribs.

I, in turn, placed a pink pepto bismol tablet at each place setting. They went very well with the tablecloth. 

Then we re-covered the recovering ribs with BBQ sauce and popped them in the oven.

In the end, the meal was delicious. I served everything American-style, all at once,  and the French guests ate everything in courses....salads first. (I didn't try to stop them. You can only take this American meal thing so far) Then we started in on the ribs. And they were wonderful! I was speechless.

The guacamole (served with an excellent champagne which always helps) was depleted. They loved the salads, especially the potato salad which I will share the recipe for next week. They thought the meat was excellent with the slightly sweet sauce and there was not a morsel remaining at the finish of the meal. The cookies, as always, were a hit but it surprised me how much they liked the peanut butter version. French people DO NOT LIKE peanut butter.

Four hours at the table and a looming presidential election here in France brought on the usual political discussions and, as usual, I worried that somebody would be killed. I worked hard to try to keep up but between the Marseille accents, the topic, and the rapid-fire discourse, I got lost.  I sat back, had another glass of kick-ass French wine, and checked out. My job was done.

And by the way, nobody ate the pepto bismol!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cuisine Americaine??

I've been asked to cook an American meal for French friends. I'm terrified. I mean, I've lived alone for the past 5 years and practically alone for the 5 years before that. I'm not sure I even remember how to cook! And I don't have all my wonderful, top-of-the-line cooking equipment surrounding me and ....and....and...

Okay, I can do this. I know I can. So then comes the problem of what to cook that is all-American. This poses some serious dilemmas. I actually asked this question on facebook last night and got all sorts of suggestions ranging from hot dogs and hamburgers and fries to meat loaf and pot roast and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. The problem is, I am having a difficult time finding something that would be truly American.

We're all immigrants...mutts (save the native American population) and our traditional foods all seem to come from somewhere else.  Pot roast is basically French Pot au Feu. Hot dogs are originally German. French fries are Belgian.  Beef stroganoff was a suggestion but that is Russian. I thought meatloaf might be a nice idea but it comes from Germany and Belgium. A grilled ribeye steak could work, but I think our meat here in no way compares to steak back home and besides, I have yet to master barbecuing any type of meat (see more about that here). Tater tot hot dish came up as well but if I remember correctly, that's made with creme of something soup and we don't have that here in France. And I just CAN'T do that. Nor can I subject the French to the world's greatest hangover food, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese...even though I have 3 boxes stashed just in case!

For dessert I thought of my old staple, carrot cake. This is Swedish.  Perhaps Apple Crisp...but this is more or less British Apple Crumble. I could try apple pie but I know it would be too sweet for them. Bread pudding maybe? Nope, seems every country has that! Jello? Oh god, no! And besides, I can't get that here either.

You see my problem?

So this is what I've come up with:

Grilled Barbecue pork ribs with a nice, slightly piquant BBQ sauce (the French have very sensitive taste buds). Barbecue and BBQ sauce seems to be  genuinely red, white and blue.

Potato Salad and/ or coleslaw (neither are really American but we've put our own, unique spin on them)

Garlic bread with lots of butter. Nobody puts butter on their bread here except if it's for breakfast.

Chocolate chip/peanut butter cookies, although I reserve the right to sic 'em with apple pie and ice cream.

My last problem is an entrée (appetizer). Anybody have any suggestions? I'm thinking nacho chips and guacamole. Did you know the avocado originates in the Americas?

I will take photos of the grand event and comments from my French guinea pigs. Even if I and my meal fall flat on our respective faces, this has got to be worth a laugh. Doesn't it???????


Monday, February 6, 2012



Scared ya, didn’t I?

I know, I know…it’s been a really long time. I’ve been away on my yearly Christmas trek to the Midwest and even extended my trip a bit. Each year I think I’m going to blog while I’m away and, of course, I never do. And each year it takes me a couple more weeks to chew my way out of my self-built cocoon and “get on the stick”, as my mother used to say.  I can hear her saying it now…in my head of course. But the things mothers say, even if their echos are only bouncing off the walls of your brain, can be VERY, VERY LOUD!

It was a wonderful trip and even better because it was longer than I expected.  Time with friends and extra time with family warmed my heart and soul. And this year, I did not frostbite my toes or anything else for that matter because it was unseasonably mild.  In fact, I heard on the radio that it had yet to get below zero, which is simply unheard of for a Minnesota January.

Even so, I made my yearly trek (okay, I was probably there 10 times in 5 weeks) to the Valley of the Gods... my shopping nirvana, TJ Maxx.  I bought plenty of warm sweaters, a new coat, new boots, and wool socks and such because I always imagine that it’s going to be so cold when I get back to Aix en Provence.  Even though I live in the south of France, I often feel colder here than I ever do in Minnesota.  I am not alone in this feeling; my other ex-pat friends complain continually about how cold they feel here in the winter. It’s probably because we have stone floors and little tiny heaters that do not much more than heat the wall they’ve been placed on.  No such thing as central heat, near as I can tell. 

I arrived in Marseille donned in my new wool coat with the fur collar thinking I was all that and was spit out into 60 degrees and sunny. Feeling ridiculous did not mar one bit the glory of the warmth and the smell of the sea once again. It’s just too bad I spent the rest of the day unpacking because the next two days were dreary and rainy and then…..the snow arrived.

I’m not feeling so ridiculous now in my woolies and fur! Because the snow and cold have just kept on coming. Not grand measures of the white stuff but you have to understand one inch in Provence is probably equal to one foot in Minnesota. Except it causes more PANIC! And it's bone-chilling. 

Maybe I'm making excuses for constructing a cozy cabin around myself and cutting myself off. And maybe I'm just making an excuse for what I'm doing now. Which I'm not going to tell you about until the next post!

It's good to be back. If you're out there and still reading, I'd love to hear from you. Sorry about the scare!  

Have a great week, my friends.