Goodbye France!

I have been back in the US for a month now and have had time to reflect more on my experience in France. I wanted to wrap up my blog with a few of the highlights of my time abroad.

  • Friends and family

First and foremost, it was special forming a real relationship with Cyril’s family, getting to know his friends to the point of them becoming my friends, and also adventuring out and making my own friends. Learning French enabled me to do this which brings me to my next highlight.

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Cyril and I with his mom and stepdad

The sunny south

  • French

I am now comfortable speaking French! It is no easy task learning another language; living in France and surrounding myself with French was necessary. I still remember how the language sounded before I started learning; completely alien and unintelligible! The process has been like a blurry picture slowly coming into focus. Very rewarding as one of my life goals was to become fluent in another language.

Thoughts on learning French

Embarrassing things I have said in French

Embarrassing things I have said in French Round 2

Embarrassing things I have said in French-round 3

  • Volleyball

I loved playing volleyball with ACBB, first as part of the Panda’s and then with the departmental woman’s team. I am not sure if the endeavor was a net loss or gain of calories though, with all of the aperitifs after the games and drinks after the Friday night practices:)

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  • Visitors

Visits in France from my favorite people were the best. I adored playing the tour guide and showing them around.

  • Paris

What an amazing city! I got to know it intimately by walking around and getting lost, biking with velib, and doing a book of paper chases. The museums are world-class and the parks are lovely- one of my favorites was right next to my home.

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Parc de Billancourt cannot be beat in March!
  • Food adventures

French cuisine lives up to its reputation; eating out and family meals were always a treat. My favorites were cheese and fresh bread. We had 4 bakeries within 10 minute walking distance, something I will miss dearly in the US.

Six week mark ramblings

Escargots

Misadventures in Easter egg dyeing

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Mmmm frog legs!
  • The Euro football championship

Last June and July were crazy with the Euro in full swing. If only France had beaten Portugal in the Finals!

Euro 2016

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  • The 2017 French presidential elections

It was a roller coaster election that unfolded with scandals, plot twists, and unlikely candidates gaining prominence. It was fascinating to see the process from beginning to end. The political atmosphere was tumultuous with the French wrestling with many of the same issues as Americans had a few months before. In the end there were many records broken, some good some bad, including the youngest president ever, the largest voting abstention rates ever, the first time that neither of the two major parties’ candidates made it to the final voting round, and the most legislative turnover ever. Even though it was long, drawn-out, and stressful at times, this was a highlight because I felt like I bonded with the French through the process.

  • Teaching

I enjoyed the challenge of teaching. I learned a lot about myself and more about English grammar than I ever cared to know. The students were really the best part of the gig. My elementary class students were so darn cute and my private lesson students all had interesting personalities and different learning styles.

Le commencement

Week one impressions

French kids say the darnedest things

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 2

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 3

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 4

French kids say the darnedest things round 5

English is Weird

English is Weird Reprise

American and French Education, contrasted

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  • Comedy

It was a lot of fun going to the smallest, most tucked away comedy clubs of the capital and paying 10 euros to see talented comedians who weren’t famous yet.
Cyril went up on stage at our favorite open mic, first as a special audience guest, then as a performer doing his first ever 5 minute stand up set! (Pst if you speak French don’t forget to ask him to see the video).

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  • Traveling

We traveled extensively, often to visit family and friends in far off places.

In France we visited Normandy, Alsace, Angers, Verdun, Dreux, the French Alps, the Drôme, and Montpellier (more times than I can count). We also went to the Netherlands, London, Venice, Munich, Vienna, and Morocco (Blog post #2).


It was a lovely two years of my life! Leaving was bittersweet but tomorrow I am opening up a new chapter- graduate school at Rutgers in New Jersey!

À très bientôt la France!

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Misadventures in Easter egg dyeing

Sometimes I struggle in France because I want to do things my way (traditions, recipes) but it doesn’t work out because I can’t find the right materials and ingredients. I have to remind myself that these things aren’t big deals and to accept that I can’t have everything that I have in the United States. I love the adventure and discovery that comes with living abroad but sometimes the small differences send me for a loop.

Two weeks ago, I realized that it had been two years since I had dyed Easter eggs and I missed it terribly.

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Eggs that I dyed last time around

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Perhaps being with my Minnesotan friends and family is the real reason I miss dyeing eggs.

I decided it would be fun to introduce the tradition to Cyril and his family. In France, the ‘Easter bells’ hide chocolate eggs for children to find. The Easter bells?? Seriously? But then again the Easter bunny doesn’t make that much more sense.

Because of the late notice it wasn’t easy to find a pastel egg dye kit that would ship in time, but luckily I was able to get one shipped from Germany. (The shipping cost more than the product but no matter.) Unfortunately, I forgot to pack it to bring to the south of France for the weekend…

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At first Cyril thought that they had sent me an empty package. Such a big box for such a small thing!

I decided to go with plan B: regular old food coloring. I had never done it like that before but thought why not?

After searching two supermarkets I found the food coloring and then added some crayons to my basket. Crayons are great for decorating eggs because they repel the dye from the eggshells. I had wanted a white crayon in particular because the white crayon designs are super classy, but the only pack on sale didn’t have one- oh well- I could get over that.

Last but not least, I went to find the eggs. This is where I hit the wall. I had noticed before that eggs in France had brown shells, but I didn’t realize that they are exclusively brown. Also, all eggs in grocery stores are stamped in red with the date on which they were laid. In short, impossible to dye. I had come this far only to be thwarted by the eggs!! It was almost too much to bear.

Photo credit http://www.gourmet.com/food/gourmetlive/2011/081511/fresh-french-and-gorgeous.html

However, despite my egg dyeing failure, Easter turned out well.

On Easter morning when I came downstairs for breakfast, Cyril’s mom handed me a basket and said, ‘Now before you can eat, you have to go find the chocolate eggs in the garden. I am afraid they are going to melt!’ I was pleasantly surprised and had fun searching. It had been a while since I hunted for eggs.

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After church we headed over to Cyril’s grandparent’s house for Easter lunch.

Cyril’s mamie, Roberte, prepared frog legs for the appetizer so that I could try them. Frog legs are one of France’s famous typical dishes. Last time I visited the south she made me escargots (snails). Check out that blog post here.

Roberte did an excellent job; they were very tasty.

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Tasted like chicken;)
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The second batch came from a different supplier and were smaller

In return for all of Roberte’s hard work in the kitchen, I indulged her and the family by saying ‘grenouille’, the French word for frog, several times. I can’t say it quite right and French people find it adorable/hilarious.

I hope everyone had a great Easter weekend with friends and family!

Escargots

France has many peculiar dishes, the most famous of which include escargots (snails) and frog legs. However, as of yesterday I had yet to try either. It’s not as if French people eat these two things often; they are just the stereotypical dishes that Americans like to talk about when discussing French cuisine because they are strange to us. Nevertheless, I felt a little bit like a failure having not tried them after almost a year and a half in France!

Cyril isn’t particularly a fan of either, so he never made of point of introducing them to me as he did with other French specialties. Lately, whenever I asked about escargots, he would tell me, ‘You shouldn’t order them at a resturaunt! My grandmother’s are much better. They should be the first ones that you taste!’

Escargots themselves don’t have much taste, so how they are prepared is really important. Cyril was right to make me wait; the way his grandma makes them, with butter, parsley, oregano, and anise seed, is heavenly!

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Mamie is dishing out her specialty!

Apparently Cyril’s ‘mamie’ also makes some mean frog legs so that is on the menu for next time we go south to visit family!

Minnesotan meals

Several times I have cooked for Cyril’s family to thank them for their hospitality and welcome. His relatives are so kind to us and always inviting us for dinner or over the weekend.

When I cook for them, I try to make dishes they never have eaten before, which are very American (or even better Minnesotan), and yet which I can make with ingredients that I can find in France or bring with me easily when I go in between the two countries.  Grocery stores offerings are not at all similar in France.

My favorite dish to make for Cyril’s family is wild rice hot dish. It is my favorite hot dish of all time, one that my brothers and I would beg my mom for growing up. She got it from an old Lutheran church cookbook.

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Minnesotans have a love affair with wild rice, and it is not really available in France (I did find it in a rice mix once). When I make it, I explain the concept of a hot dish to my French family as well.

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Wild rice is so beautiful!

Here is the recipe; I recommend trying it! The ingredients sound a little strange, I know, (who ever thought to mix sour creme and soy sauce together?) but it is to die for.

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I never add salt because I find that it already has enough thanks to the soy sauce! Also I suggest sauteing the mushrooms, onion, and celery longer than five minutes (perhaps 20) because then they aren’t so overwhelmingly crunchy in the finished dish. Stirring every 15 minutes is important to keep the rice on top from burning. Bon appétit!

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For an appetizer, I have made deviled eggs several times. For me deviled eggs are a staple of potlucks, something quintessentially Minnesotan. One time I had even been to a wedding where the dinner was a potluck. (Best wedding dinner I ever ate!)
I didn’t realize this before I made them here, but apparently they are very similar to the French dish egg mimosas: same concept, but with a few more ingredients and a different presentation. For mimosas, the egg  is cut in half and the yolk is taken out. The egg yolk cavity is filled with mayonnaise and then the egg yolk is crumbled over the top. Deviled eggs go over well because for them it is a fun twist on a familiar comfort food.

photo credit: http://skinnyms.com/deviled-eggs/

Here is the recipe I use for the deviled eggs. The first time I made it for Cyril’s family, I used french mustard because that is all that is available in France, and now that is what I prefer to use. French mustard is much spicier than yellow American mustard. I find that it gives the deviled eggs a nice kick! You can find French mustard in the US labeled as Dijon mustard.

Recipe

6 eggs
1/4 cup mayo
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1.5 teaspoon dijon mustard
a pinch of salt and pepper
paprika for garnish

Place eggs single layer in a saucepan and cover with water so that there is an inch of water above the eggs. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn off heat and cover for 8-10 minutes. Then rinse the pan and eggs under cold water for 2 minutes.
Peel the eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks to a bowl and mix them well with the mayo, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper.
Spoon the egg yolk mixture back into the egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika and enjoy.

Recipe adapted from the food network- ‘classic deviled eggs’


I enjoy making tortilla chip stew for French family and friends because the tex-mex flavors are quite novel for them. I don’t have any Hispanic heritage but I think it is a very cool example of American melting pot culture!

Photo credit: http://www.thebrunettediaries.com/tex-mex-food-different-from-mexican/

I make the stew in my crock-pot, which is perfect when entertaining because then I am not stuck in the kitchen when we have guests over. Also the timing is very easy with this. I can rest easy knowing that I can keep it warm even two hours after guests arrive. The French love long meals; when we have people over we also serve an aperitif and/or an appetizer so it is not easy to time the main course!

I don’t follow a recipe for this one- I just throw in whatever my heart desires.
Normally it is a variation on this theme:

A can of salsa (important)
Chicken breasts, cut into bite sized peices
Canned or frozen corn
Unspiced tomato sauce
Cans of red/black beans and/or chickpeas
Diced fresh or canned tomatoes
Chopped onion
Dried red pepper flakes

Serve over a bed of crushed tortilla chips and garnish with shredded emmental or cheddar cheese, olives, cilantro, avocado, and/or sour cream.


Last but not least: JELL-O!
This is something that French people have usually only ever heard of, but never actually tried. It is hilarious to watch them approach this strange jiggly substance that seems alive. They tend to giggle uncontrollably when faced with it. Either as a dessert or as jello shots, it is always a hit!

Photo credit: http://natashaskitchen.com/2011/04/12/raspberry-pretzel-jello/

I would love to hear your thoughts and recipes for classic, unique, delicious, American dishes. I am always looking to introduce something new to my French family and friends!

 

Euro 2016

It has been a while since my last post but June was a busy month with work, researching grad schools, entertaining friends and family, and soccer mania!

It’s the month of soccer round these parts. France is hosting the European Championship, which happens every four years between the world cups. The games are spread out in stadiums of several major French cities.

The atmosphere is crazy. There are throngs of soccer supporters throughout Paris. Every time I get into the subway I see groups of fans singing on their way to or from a stadium or bar.

Every night they light up the Eiffel Tower with the colors of the country whose supporters tweeted the most about their team that day. It is very beautiful to see! I saw it bathed in red one Friday night for Turkey and another time when it was blue, white, and red for France.

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Needless to say, it is way more impressive in real life!

A lot of French people are surprised that I enjoy watching soccer because there are two stereotypes working against me- I am a women and an American. I don’t go out of my way to watch soccer, and I don’t support a specific team besides the national French team, Les Bleus, but if someone invites me to a bar or to their house to watch a game I always enjoy it.

The craziness started on June 10th. Cyril found a lovely bar to watch the games in- beautiful and spacious with reasonable prices (for Paris).

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France played Romania  for the opening game which they won 2-1. In their second match, Les Blues won at the very last moment against Albania.

We went to the fan zone near the Eiffel Tower to watch the last of their pool games, against Switzerland. It was a nail biter that ended in a tie, even though France had controlled the ball much more than Switzerland and took quite a few more shots on the goal. However, a tie against the Swiss was all we needed to be first in the pool and move into playoffs.

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This screen is almost as big as a basketball court!

The fan zone was a cool experience because of the sheer number of people and the view of the Eiffel Tower but I think I prefer watching the games in the bar. I spent my whole time there on my feet, standing as tall as possible to see over or in between the heads of fans in front of me! Thankfully I am pretty tall- one of our short friends had to go to another area by the concession stands, where people where sitting down and chilling in order to be able to see anything.

My brother Matthew, his wife Brooke, her sister Alicia, and Alicia’s husband Matt were able to visit us during this craziness too. (Hopefully I will have time to blog more about their visit later.) Cyril managed to get tickets to a game for us, not an easy task by the way. We saw Germany vs Northern Ireland.

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The gang

Coming into it, I wasn’t sure who I was going to cheer for. I had a vague notion that I would support Germany just cause they were probably going to win. However, the Northern Ireland fans were so loud and crazy and funny that their team spirit infected me and before long I was rooting for Ireland too.  I don’t think I have ever seen that level of enthusiasm or endurance or coordination before; they all sang the same cheers at the same time.

They literally only stopped singing to make fun of the Germans, who I would describe as more reserved and dignified.

‘Do you hear the Germans sing? I don’t hear a f****** thing!’
‘Shhhhhhh!’ -Silence-
‘Let us sing a song for you!’
‘Deutschland!’ Clap clap clap ‘Deutschland!’ Clap clap clap

One of my favorites was sung to the tune of ‘you are my sunshine’.

I love my Guinness, my lovely Guinness,
It makes me happy when skies are gray,
So fill a big cup with all that good stuff,
So please don’t take my Guinness away!

And of course, Will Grigg’s on fire, a song they sang over and over and over and over.

The chorus is this
Will Grigg’s on fire- your defense is terrified,
Will Grigg’s on fire- your defense is terrified,
Will Grigg’s on fire- your defense is terrified,
Will Grigg’s on fire- OOoo
Na na na na na na na….

It is the unofficial anthem of the 2016 Euro!

The Germans ran circles around the Northern Irish on the field, but because of the luck of the Irish, the Germans only won 1-0.

Nothing could dampen the Northern Irish fans’ spirits. Even after they lost they stayed in the stands and sang ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ over and over and over again. We stayed and watched them for a good twenty minutes before finally leaving. The Irish fans were still going at it. It seemed like they weren’t going to stop until they were cleared out by security. You can see it with this link Will Grigg’s on fire.

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The corner of hardcore Northern Irish fans just kept on singing!

Playoffs started last weekend, and there have been a few upsets, most notably the second ‘Brexit’ in a week. Ireland gave the French team a run for their money, and the fans quite a scare during the first playoff game, where they scored two minutes into the match. However, France game back in the second half to win 2-1.

This evening France is playing Iceland in the quarterfinals: if they win they will go against Germany and then hopefully to the championship- Allez Les Bleus!!

Buon Giorno Italia!

Last weekend I visited my brother Brett in Italy, where he is spending a few weeks working and traveling around. After taking 2 and a half years of Italian classes he finally gets to try out his skills!

I joined him in Alonte, a small town an hour west of Venice. He is staying with Chiara and Paolo and helping them with their vineyard, La Pria, and their horses. Here is the link to their website

I took two and a half years of Italian classes and even studied in Florence for a semester. But that was two years ago and I haven’t had much opportunity to practice since. Everybody I talked to in Alonte was patient with me and my Italian skills, even though a lot of what came out of my mouth the first day was French! The extent of my regression was clear, but I could also tell that if I were ever to spend an extended amount of time in Italy I would be able to get it back. By the end of the third night I was doing pretty good! Remembering a language is much easier than learning it for the first time.

I love French, but I have missed Italian. Even though they are both Romance languages, they are fundamentally different in character and intonation. French is sophisticated and sexy in a smooth way. Italian is passionate and animated to the point of being over the top. I also adore the way they use their hands when they speak. There is a joke that goes, ‘How do you make an Italian shut up?’ ‘You tie his hands behind his back!’

But I couldn’t choose between them, their cultures, or their food. I just love them both!

I think the rivalry between them is hilarious. Cyril is not fond of Italians. As I was leaving he jokingly asked me not to go. ‘Their wine isn’t even good!’
The Italians in Alonte told me things like, ‘But seriously, between us and France, it isn’t even a contest, we have the best food.’ or ‘France is beautiful, yes, but the people are not very friendly at all!’

One of my old Italian teachers explained the animosity like this, ‘It all boils down to the fact that they are competing to be the best at the same things: wine, food, and soccer, even the reputation for being the best lovers.’

Brett is thriving there. He has the right kind of temperament for language learning because he is super outgoing. Brett constantly jokes around with Paolo and the farm hands. He also has a notebook with pages and pages of new vocabulary that he has learned since he got there. It is an amusing mixture of normal vocabulary, farming terminology, regional slang, and swear words.

Brett and Paolo picked me up at the train station on Thursday and drove me to the pizzeria in town for an aperitivo with Samuele, the man who held the guinness world record for the longest pizza for a year (1595 meters, 5243 feet). Someone from Napoli broke it the day before I arrived in Italy. He is also very proud of his prize of second best pizza in the world. Unfortunately I never actually got to try it. A few days before I came, Brett was initiated into cult of Neapolitan pizza when he spent time in the pizzeria’s kitchen.

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After the aperativo we went to a neighborhood restaurant for lunch with some of the farmhands. It was a classic Italian style meal, with a first course of pasta and second course of meat or fish. Brett is already famous here for how much he can eat, and like proper Italians they are basically force feeding him. ‘What do you mean you don’t want a second steak? Mania, mania, mania!’ (Eat eat eat! in the regional dialect) Brett is going to be a heavyweight by the time he leaves!

In the afternoon it rained, so we chilled in the farm house and talked to farmhands and whoever happened to pop in. Paolo and Chiara have a business boarding horses and giving horse riding lessons, so people are always dropping by. I got the impression that in this region western riding is very popular, along with the whole culture that comes with it: country line dancing, American and confederate flags, flashy belts, and cowboy boots. They all dream of the famous wide open spaces of the western United States. Some of these horse aficionados have taken trips to the southwest or Wyoming to tour ranches and ride horses.
It is a facet of Italian culture that I never encountered in Florence!

At night Brett and I ate dinner with Paolo and Chiara and their son Giulio. Again, there was too much food!

Friday I helped Brett and two farmhands, Giovanni and Denis, prune the vines. I figured I shouldn’t freeload on Chiara and Paolo’s hospitality. I have missed working with and being around plants since I have lived in Paris.

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The landscape there is similar to Tuscany with its rolling hills and vineyards. At this time of the year poppies (Papaver rhoeas), common agricultural weeds, are in full bloom in fields and ditches.

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Saturday Brett and I took the train into Venice to explore and get lost in the winding streets. I adore Venice; for me it is the most beautiful city in the world.

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The view from San Marco Campanile

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I am sorry, I can’t help myself, I have to throw in pictures of beautiful flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that I spotted there!

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Brett wanted so badly to speak Italian to people, but it isn’t easy in a place as touristy as Venice. Most people hear the accent and switch right away to English which is frustrating. However, we did find some nice Italians to humor us in little shops.

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Carnivale, mad max style

That night back in Alonte, Chiara and Paolo hosted a huge steak grill out with their riding friends.

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They took out wine from their cellar as well as homemade grappa and rosolio alcohols. Grappa is made from the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from the winemaking process, and rosolio is made from rose petals. It was the first time I had ever heard of or tried rosolio- it is so good!
We ate and drank and talked until one in the morning, a lovely end to my time in Italy.