Friday, 31 December 2010

Adieu 2010 et Bienvenue 2011

And ye, who have met with Adversity's blast,
And been bow'd to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass'd
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury -
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen.
~Thomas Hood

Yes, these past twelve months have been anything but kind to me. I am sincerely hoping and silently praying that the next stretch of time is better. In all respects.

Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past.  Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.  ~Brooks Atkinson

One fortunate thing that we as humans can do, is to change. We are not bound to reacting like animals under the yoke of instinct, destined to relentlessly repeating behaviours in response to given stimuli. Following blindly a set of fixed action patterns that are both unlearned and inherited. We don't have to, we can choose to think and respond differently. And we don't have to wait for Evolution to cause the adaptations, we can just decide, right now, to live, think and act differently.
 So, I guess I'm one up on woodlice.

A happy New Year! Grant that I
May bring no tear to any eye
When this New Year in time shall end
Let it be said I've played the friend,
Have lived and loved and labored here,
And made of it a happy year.
~Edgar Guest

I've decided upon just one New Year's Resolution. Just the one because I want to focus and try my hardest to achieve it.
I resolve to think before I speak. To carefully consider what I am about to say before I open my mouth to speak. To filter my words through kindness, sympathy, consideration and respect. To consider my audience and how they are likely to perceive my expression of self. Thereby, to do no harm to anyone.

Goodbye 2010. You've been happy, deceitful, joyous, frustrating, unkind, wistful, damn difficult and full of regrets, shame, tears and broken promises. You stole from me one of the things which I held most dear and for that I will ever despise you. So I frankly have to admit I don't mind seeing the back of you.

I can only offer to the future and the present that I am a work in progress, that I am honestly trying to become a better person and I hope that forgiveness for past transgressions will one day be found.

All I can now say, all that I can now add to what has been said before is this:
'I'm truly sorry to have hurt you, please accept my apology.'
And now what I must do is to stand back, let go, be patient and hope for the best.

Then like a wave upon the shore, it was gone....

Monday, 27 December 2010

France Telecom: more Orange than Lemon... this time.

Amusing conversation with France Telecom, aka Orange and telephony + internet + TV cable top box provider.

"Hello. Last time we spoke, you said that if I needed to hard boot the Livebox again, it would need to be replaced."

"Yes, I can see that from our last conversation when we reset your box together. I take it the Livebox is still causing troubles?"

"Well, this is the fourth time I have rebooted the Livebox today. Just so I could access the internet and make a phone call."

"Why exactly did you need to reboot the box?"

"Because it doesn't work unless I do."

"The Livebox needs to be replaced, yes, agreed."

"So, tell me why I should stay with France Telecom? The Livebox is buggy and always has been, you charge more a month than SFR and I don't get the same coverage as they offer for less. Convince me I should stay with you as my provider. I'm listening."

"I can suggest switching you over to our 2010 plan. It provides all calls to the places you dial most often, France Metropolitan, the UK and fixed lines plus cell numbers in the USA. This includes your Broadband internet, the TV set top box and all for 42.99€ per month. We'll even include a 3G dongle as part of the package. Plus, as far as I'm aware SFR does not offer the same TV set top box that we provide."

"They have a different one, besides, mine has never worked. I complained about it, but no one could ever figure out why it didn't work, not even the technician who came out to do the initial install."

"Hmmmm..." (sound of tapping and papers shifting...)

"Is your satellite dish working properly? Is it just the set top box that doesn't function?"

"What satellite dish? The set top box plugs into the live box and the TV is also plugged into the antennae on the roof. I don't have a satellite dish, never have."

"Ah... I see where the problem lies. You have a satellite set top box, it doesn't function without a dish."

"Why is that no one picked up on this before?"

"I very sorry this occurred, but perhaps... you never asked the right question?"

...Quite. As so often is the case here in France. People only answer questions posed. You need to know the right questions to ask. If not? Tough titties. No one will willingly offer suggestions or alternatives. Unless you happen to be speaking to a GOOD person from Assistance Sociale (and I have dealt with dreadful fonctionnaires, believe me.) Or, as was the case with France Telecom; you phone the English language help line and speak to someone who shares your mother tongue.

Say what you will about Americans, but at least as a whole we try to be helpful!

Oh, and yes, I decided to stay with France Telecom.

The last time I was struggling to explain the difficulties I was facing, (all in French) because the Livebox wasn't working, calling on my pay-as-you-go mobile phone, (which I had to recharge twice during the calls,) they suggested calling the English Language help line. One call to them, they called me back on THEIR dime and everything was sorted in minutes. SFR do not provide an English language help line. So, at least France Telecom are trying to be helpful to the Expat Community. I'll reward that with my business.

So now just to wait for a new Livebox, my dongle and my proper TV set top box. How exciting, we'll have more than just the standard five channels. I'll now get to watch 'Strictly Come Something' and find out what all the fuss is about.

(Or not...)

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

May I wish you and yours a very happy, joyful and peaceful Christmas.
Let us raise our glasses and toast absent friends.

I'll always believe that miracles can happen.

I hope and pray that one comes your way, just when you need it.

Joyeux Noël

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Something written in less-than-three

Rain falling down
Cold, turning the snow to wet, grey mush
Freezing in the wind, overnight turning hard
Shattering crisp with a light step
Early, stepping out, key guarding those asleep
Morning darkness turning grey pink tinge

My breath in white clouds
My chest burning
Salty stinging
The pain overwhelming
Walking, waiting, hoping, praying

Every other step a punishment
Pushing forward regardless
Trying not to limp but failing
The pain in my chest mocking me
My body is my harshest critic

Walking, trying to clear my mind, my thoughts
Past failures rush in, crowding any chance of Zen
How do I say I'm so sorry? How do I express regret?
How can I get past this hopelessness
When it's only the echo of my own voice that's heard?

Show me the path to redemption
Allow me the road map to forgiveness
Fulfil the promise that was always there
Give me the chance to laugh again
Warm my soul with your smile

In the between-time, that sacred space that lies between dream and reality
You and I lie tangled again in each other's arms
Breathing the same air
Our hearts occupying the same space
And for a breath, for an instant, we are still we

Monday, 20 December 2010

Merry Christmas from the Budweiser Clydesdale Horses

This had the girls and I giggling...

I know it's from last year, but, I've only just seen it!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Acapella Africa from Toto

I ran across this song by Perpetuum Jazzile on Facebook, linked from one of my friends. (Thanks Twyla!)

It gave me shivers, just a beautiful rendition. Even if you're too young to remember this the first time around, as seemed to be the general consensus on Facebook, it's still well worth listening.

Monday, 13 December 2010

EDF Alerte Orange

I just received this in my inbox:

La Bretagne est placée sous Alerte Orange EcoWatt demain, mardi 14 décembre. Les consommations d'électricité vont connaître une augmentation significative, notamment aux heures de pointe. L'ensemble des partenaires EcoWatt est mobilisé.
Nous vous invitons à modérer vos consommations d'électricité particulièrement demain matin et demain soir entre 18h et 20h.
 What that means is that they are expecting colder-than-normal weather here in our region, and as a consequence EDF, the electricity company is warning there might be brown-outs.

The reason being that people crank up the two-bar fires and oil-filled radiators to cope with this bitter snap cold snap we're experiencing here.

This morning it was 3°C in our living room! That's 37°F! OK, it was colder outside, but not by much.

The building where we live was built sometime mid-1800s. It is granite block construction, however, when it was dry-lined a few years back, they failed to put even a smidgeon of insulation between the granite and the plasterboard. As a result of the mean and centime-pinching economy of materials, it's often cold enough to hang meat in here, and safely at that.

Last winter I spent a mind-boggling 1000€ plus keeping it warm enough for all three of us. This year I'm only warming the girl's room (they've moved into the same room together) and warming the living room first thing in the morning and again after sunset around 5 pm or so, at night. Of course during these 'Alertes', I hold off until after 8pm. I'm so thankful we are no longer under dreaded Tempo, because during Alertes, the cost of electricity sky-rockets.

I've taken to wearing two pairs of socks, sweatpants, a camisole, turtle-neck sweaters, a cardigan, gloves and a hat. Sometimes even to bed. Très sexy. I have placed down duvets on the couch and we snuggle underneath at night together and watch TV. I'm making loads of warming soups, so even though it's parky, our tummies aren't complaining.

Possibly because we are forcing our bodies to adapt to the cold, none of us have had so much as a sniffle for months. Last illness was this horrid 'gastro' that caused severe cramping for weeks, literally. I had it quite bad, but luckily the oldest just had a touch, and youngest went completely unaffected.

Well, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? I'm certainly hoping that's true. About a lot of things...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


 "Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it's less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you've lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that's good."  - Elizabeth Edwards

I found this quote posted elsewhere, and I thought I needed to write it down to remind myself of a few hard facts. I can never go home, not really. 'Home' will have changed, and 'I' will have changed, and not in the same ways, not at the same rate and many changes will be subtle and unseen and unacknowledged. So trying to fit back into that old mould of myself will cause everyone concerned to feel awkward and probably pretty embarrassed. My old mates, my childhood friends, the people who knew me 'back then' are reacting to the old version of myself, and I am no longer that person. And do I really want to BE that undeveloped, immature and inchoate rendition? As I look back, I find that I was more a rough draft, a sketch, a conception with potential for realisation.

Who wants to live life as a pencilled cartoon? I don't. I much prefer these multi-layers of colour, of form, of texture. It shows I've lived. My face may be lined, but the lines come from laughter, from experiencing , the continuance and struggles and joy everyone experiences when they explore what it actually means to be human on this planet and at this time period.

My hair is greying, because each day I get older, I can't stop the march of time. Last night I actually paused for many long minutes and looked at the hair colouring products on the shelves. I thought, "If I appear younger, will that help me function better? Will I feel better about myself? Will I at least look more attractive?" I picked up the various boxes from the huge array on offer, seriously, it comprises almost an entire aisle in Intermarché. Maybe bleach my hair blonde? Men prefer blondes, I've heard. Or maybe that's just what the blonde bimbos want us to believe. I once had to dye my hair dark brownish-black for a role in theatre, that would certainly be a change! But no, I'd no longer look like the mother of my two very blonde daughters and rather blond son. I tried matching my hair colour to something from a bottle, but nothing really came close. And I really hate to look fake. Plus, I never want the phrase, "Mutton dressed as Lamb" ever whispered about me. So in the end I decided against it. The one and only time I spent the cash to have my hair coloured, not ONE person noticed any difference whatsoever. And frankly, neither could I myself. So seriously, why bother? I guess it helps having naturally Titian hair; more subtle than Red, not as brassy as Strawberry Blonde and more interesting than Ginger. I can see how women (and men) who have dark hair might choose to colour it, but, nah, not for me. Not at this point in my life.

So, since it doesn't matter, why worry over it?

Yeah, I'd like to have back that hot little bod which was me before three caesarian sections and three stints breastfeeding. I wish the car accident hadn't occurred which caused my deformed right leg and constant pain when I walk, if I think about it, that is. I've trained myself to ignore a certain threshold of pain, which is possibly why I never realise I've burned myself in the kitchen, until later, when blisters form. I simply don't feel it. However, no one will ever see the hot little bod since I abhor wearing revealing clothes, I'm extremely modest in my dress. Plus you'll not get ME in a swimming cozzie unless I'm suitably bribed and forced and I must do it to take the girls to the swimming baths or the beach. As it's December, I'm safe for now.

We exchange one thing for another. Life commerce. I traded my youth for my three wonderful children. There's not a chance you'd ever find me wish for different. I'd go back immediately and make the same choices that placed me here where I am right now.

OK, honestly? I'd not make a few mistakes I've made if given the chance. But we live. And we learn.

We cannot live in the past, we cannot go back and *fix* the past, we have to live in the present. If we can learn from our mistakes then perhaps, with time, we'll stop making the same ones over and over. We have to first love ourselves and accept ourselves, as we are. *I* especially need to do that. I need to apologise to those I've harmed with unkindness, whether it was meant or not. Then I need to forgive myself, stop ranting about how life has changed and try to make something good out of what I have right now.

So, I guess that's what I need to focus on.

No one said life would be a cake walk...

Monday, 6 December 2010

Melancholy Monday

Grey day. Seems like nothing is going right day.

I'm hurting...

But... crying helps.
A bit.

Sometimes... I just need to allow myself to feel pain, anger, bitterness, regret, remorse and know that the Sun will still be shining tomorrow, even if it is behind the clouds. I'm still this side of the flowerbed. Life is bleak but it's better than the alternative. Clichés all of them, but they work.

Depression, this overwhelming sucking blackness that wants to consume me, is something that just wicks every bit of joy and hope from me. But I refuse to succumb to the awful drugs from before, the drugs that wrapped me in cotton wool and prevented me from feeling. From living. From being in the moment. From truly interacting with reality and life.

Answers never will be found in a bottle, regardless of the substance the bottle contains. Answers can only be found inside yourself. You simply have to look. Then look some more.

It took me many long difficult months to wean myself from the antidepressant drugs and their lulling effects, months spent feeling these painful 'electrical zaps' in my head, dizziness, vertigo and an altered sense of reality as the Doctor-prescribed addiction was wrenched from my body, my mind. From my brain.

(And those long months are enough for their own special Blog post.)

It's just... drugs are such an easy option, you see? Do I really want to feel this pain in my life? This gnawing ache and agony that appears whenever I still my mind to sleep? It's unbearable at times.

But I need to function at full capacity. I have my children, they need their Mummy to be here for them. Because the 'sperm donor' that was their father so obviously is not. That's their term for him, not mine, by the way. Tragic and rather sad, maybe, but he will never again be 'Daddy' to them. Even when he forces them to call him that on his infrequent, irregular and unplanned visits. They mock him when they are safely home and away from 'him'. That's the basis of my daughters' bitterness: his lies, his broken promises, the fact he won't help them. The damage caused has all been from his own hand.

I have another Court date in March to face him for Child Support, a legal and moral obligation which he has always refused. This is not my doing, but the French Goverment, absent parents are obliged to pay 'Pension Alimentaire' it's the law of the land. As my lawyer has stated, it's being sent to Saint Brieuc, to the Tribunal de Grand Instance, the main high courts for our département. He won't get away with feigning he doesn't speak French this time, or has no fixed abode, or claiming he hasn't a job - the French view 'travaille noir' as work. With the new legislation between EU countries, the French can now hunt him down in the UK. And they will, they take a very dim view of parents who financially abandon their children. Plus, it's so stupid, if he'd just go down to Social Security and fill out paperwork, the UK would pay FOR him. But, that's too much effort.

Yeah... a lot of anger there. However it was my choice to take my daughters away from a dysfunctional family and bring them to a place where they are happy, they feel safe and they thrive. My children are my focus and always will be. They HAVE to be.

So I listen to Snow Patrol and Kate Nash and The Beatles and I cry until there is nothing left but numbness and emptiness. And I remember that even if this is where I am now, I still have choices. I still have a future, uncertain as it may be. I still have my children and my skills. I still have my smile, my Choctaw cheekbones, my artistic flair and my enviable je ne sais quoi. As long as I have those things and pair them with my sense of humour and ability to laugh at myself and all my silly foibles, life isn't so bad after all. And after musing on this and writing about it, I begin to feel better...

A bit.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

SNOW!! And Winter Soup

Today the Transports Scolaire were unable to safely take to the roads here in Côtes d'Armor, so, a day off school for both girls. Plus tomorrow is the same. We have had just about constant snowfall now for days. The snow ranges from very tiny icy particles to big feathery flakes. I reminds me of a Currier & Ives Christmas Card.

Both girls insist upon going out in it, carrying black plastic rubbish bags so they can slide down the snowy slopes. Then come in with very cold bums and huddle under feather duvets on the couch, sipping hot cocoa (the kind you make on the stove.)

It's fun to be a kid.


I'm making soup every other day since it's a great winter warmer and the girls love it. Add in inexpensive and it's a winner!

Winter soup

200g smoked lardons of bacon
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tbl Olive oil
3 Tbl Barley
1 kg bag frozen soup vegetables (leek, swede, carrot, cauliflower, etc.)
4-6 medium potatoes, scrubbed well and chunked into bite-size pieces
Vegetable or Chicken stock (homemade or use stock cubes and hot water)

Sauté the bacon and the onion in the olive oil until the onion is soft but not browned. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and soft. Add in the barley, soup veg and potatoes and cover with the stock. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
That's the basic recipe. 
To make it a bit different: instead of the potatoes, I add in a handful of pasta at the end or a cup of brown rice (but then I allow 45 minutes simmering to cook the brown rice.)
I add in a couple handfuls of finely sliced kale.
I add in a tin of chopped tomatoes, a tin of white beans and several tablespoons of pesto to make a kind of Minestrone.
Sometimes I'll add in leftover chopped ham or sliced chipolatas or blobs of ground turkey or a couple broken-up steak hachée instead of the lardons.
It's a very versatile base recipe.

Try it soon, just the thing for a winter warmer.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Soupe de Potimarron

The Potimarron, also known as Red Kuri Squash, Uchiki Kuri Squash, Small Red Hubbard or Orange Hokkaido in the United States, is a beautifully-coloured winter squash found in our local markets in abundance at the moment.
The word 'squash' comes from the Algonquin Native American words askoot asquash, meaning “to eat green.” An annual plant with trailing stems, of the Cucurbitaceae family, Potimarron is the cultivated variety of the species Cucurbita maxima. This hardy winter squash grows to maturity in full sun and is drought tolerant. The squash matures about ninety days after blooming. It is widely grown here in France, especially in and around the Provence region.

The teardrop-shaped Potimarron squash with it's intense, sunset-coloured rind has a pronounced, distinctive chestnut flavour. Poti for Potiron (pumpkin) Marron for Marron (chestnut.) This makes it a unique soup base that lends itself to pairings with many other ingredients. The skin is edible when cooked and adds a lovely golden colour to the dish. Potimarron is a good source of fibre. It also provides vitamin A and vitamin C, some of the B vitamins, calcium, potassium, iron, riboflavin, thiamine. Low in calories and sodium, this deep-coloured squash also contains beta-carotene.

I think one of the most interesting things about the Potimarron, besides it's rich taste that just begs for cooking with butter, olive oil and fresh herbs, is the fact that, unlike other winter squash such as pumpkin, Butternut or Acorn squash, the skin is completely edible when cooked!

(OK, ok, don't call me out on this, you CAN eat cooked Butternut squash skin, I'm just not overly keen on it and you certainly can't really blitz it into a soup. But now I've stated that, you know I'll need to go try it. An experiment will be done as soon as I pick up a Butternut squash from the market, and I'll get back to you with the results!)

But let's start off with something simple that plays upon the rich marriage of chestnut, carrot and pumpkin flavours found in this lovely little squash. Let's make Potimarron soup.

And as long as you have a hand blender, it has to be one of the simplest soups on the planet. Also one of the most filling, you most likely will only manage one bowl!

One Potimarron, washed thoroughly but skin left on.
A couple handfuls of roasted, peeled and softened chestnuts, either from a jar, tin or ones you've roasted and peeled yourself.
A litre or two of vegetable or chicken stock. Or use water and a stock cube or 'stock jelly', that's what I do.
Single or whipping cream (optional)

You simply take a potimarron, cut off the stem and stern hard bits.
And scoop out the seeds.

Then, either chunk it in pieces and simmer until tender in stock or roast in the oven until fork tender.  This is one I roasted in the oven. It concentrated the flavour, I think, but the other method is easier!
The cooked Potimarron and chestnuts, ready for stock and immersion blender!
Either cooking method you choose, put the potimarron with a handful of softened, roasted chestnuts and several cups of stock in a saucepan and blitz with your immersion blender or batch blend in a blender. You'll need to continually add more stock as you blend it, it is very thick. Then simply reheat gently but be careful, it will start to plop like molten lava as it comes up to a simmer, so keep it on a medium heat and stir! Adjust seasoning, adding salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

To serve, simply place three or four of the roasted chestnuts in the bottom of your soup bowl and ladle the soup on top. Finish with a swirl of cream, if you like, but it's not really necessary.

In the soup I show above, I blended the cream into the soup. The dark flecks you see are the roasted skin of the Potimarron. I could have blended it a bit better, I suppose, or passed it through a chinoise, but, it was just for us and the girls certainly didn't mind!

Thank you to Kathy G and Irene HWH for the above recipe, we all love it here Chez CheshireChat!

Now, this soup is great as is, however, I've just done it again today with a slight variation I think I prefer. I sautéed a chopped large white onion in some olive oil and butter, about a Tablespoon of each, then added the raw, chunked Potimarron and chicken stock along with a three inch or so piece of peeled and finely sliced fresh ginger root. Let the ingredients simmer until the Potimarron was fork tender, probably 15 minutes. Blitzed that together and left out the chestnuts as I didn't have any. No cream either. It was a very fresh and delicious soup and I think I'll make it again next time like this, but add fresh marjoram or chives. See? It's a great jumping off place for any number of variations!

Go get a Potimarron and try it yourself and let me know how you like it!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Writing Letters

When I feel at odds with the world, at odds with myself or confused with my situation, I write.

Sometimes it's a letter, oft-times it's a short story and from time to time it's just a long spilling out of disjointed thoughts.

Now, a lot of the time, this writing is just for me, or for a dear and close friend. Sometimes I write something completely stupid, I offend those around me, and because it is in fact written, I can't easily take it back. It's just as bad with my spoken words. I can be a bit of a hothead, I know this, I do NOT know when to step back and just shut up, I keep talking and digging myself in deeper, and deeper, and deeper until I can no longer see the light of day, let alone the person I was speaking with. Because they've high-tailed it out of here.

Honestly, you'd think after 52-nearly-53 years on Terra Firma, I'd have understood this about myself, I'd have learned to keep my thoughts to myself until fully formed and coherent, but, oh no.

Well... until now. Now I have learned this hard lesson, now I am applying it to my life.

Now that it's too late.

So, what I have decided to do is to write again. I need this outlet here, I need to communicate, I must be allowed to express how I feel or I shall explode. It's therapeutic for me. None of YOU need to read this, it's mostly just for me, it's how I need to cope with overwhelming changes going on around me. How I need to find my Northern Star, fix a course and attempt to tack my way through these stormy seas ahead. Come about. Beware of the boom. And try not to fall overboard.

The information I will put here will have little to do with my children, as I know 'certain individuals' still stalk me through this medium. However, there comes a time when you need to stand up to bullies, to people who would attempt to control your life, a life they no longer have any hold over whatsoever.

So, leave me alone, you know who you are, go find your own life and control that, you hear?

I shall be here writing letters, lots of them. The difference now is that I will re-read these letters, these missives, these musings; I will carefully edit them, I will ruminate over my different turns of phrase as I consider my words, as I reflect and contemplate, hold them up to the light and turn them this way and that. You see, in many ways, it's rather a labour of love what I am doing. Loving myself enough to effect change IN myself. Letting myself reach out and offer my words as little pieces of my soul.

The biggest difference between before and now is that even though I shall be crafting my words into what represents my self, in all possibility, in all certainty, I will never, ever send all of them.

Because sometimes, not hitting send is the very best thing you can do.

There... I already feel much better. All things considered.

Monday, 22 February 2010

A Very Sad Blog post but unfortunately, very necessary.

Because my long divorced ex-husband is using this blog for stalking information on me, I have decided to close it. This is a decision that I have not come to lightly, I have really had to put some thought into this choice, and it breaks my heart to leave, since it is so healing, this writing and communicating, but I really have no choice.
Thank you to everyone who has commented and left nice messages and has followed me this far.

I will get in contact with some of you directly.

Quiches from Kitty,

LaCheshireChat x

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Her Morning Elegance

Take some clever and witty stop action, add a truly brilliant concept and you get the following video which I ran across this morning.
I found it so completely delightful, technically so very well done plus it gave me such a giggly, happy and uplifted feeling, that I just HAD to share it!

Please, enjoy! I hope you like it as much as I have!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Tartiflette or "Bacon, cheese, potatoes, onion; what's not to like?"

Mmmmm... cheese....

If you live in the Alpine (meaning - actual Alps) Haute-Savoie region, you get to ingest a lot of hearty food, quite often based around cheese. I don't see this as a bad thing, but then, I'm not lactose-intolerant. Cheese Fondue, Pizza Tartiflette, Raclette, oh... and this particular recipe that follows.

Now, for the life of me, I have NO idea why I have never thought to attempt Tartiflette myself, but have always bought it, frozen, in a bag and just sorta re-heated the stuff either in a frying pan on the stove, or dumped into a casserole, and heated until done dish in the oven.

Tartifle means potato in the Savoyard dialect. The actual dish Tartiflette, features a raw milk, semi-pressed cheese (that resembles Brie in appearance) plus said tartifles or potatoes. According to a Haute-Savoie site:
"Tartiflette cheese is produced in the Grand Bornand, the Aravis and the Clusaz regions. There is a long history behind this cheese. In the 13th century the farmers rented their mountain pastures and paid the owners according to the quantity of milk produced. Thus, on the day the owner visited the pasture to collect the rent the farmers would only partially milk their cows. A second milking produced a very rich fatty milk, which in turn was used to make the Reblochon cheese. ‘Re-blocher’ means ‘milk a second time’."

Well, the other night I saw a block of  Reblochon 'Tartiflette cheese' at Leclerc, thought about it a bit, then decided the cheese, potatoes and other ingredients cost about half what the frozen package costs, plus it would make a lot more. And in these rather difficult economic times, we have to eat as cheaply, but as healthy, as possible. And look! There's a recipe on the back of the cheese pack! Cool.
So, I bought the less-expensive Leclerc brand and gathered the other things I needed.

Of course, any recipe is just some sort of starting place, as far as I'm concerned. So, I changed it, a bit.

Older daughter doesn't care too much for Reblochon, so she gets the Mozzarella covered bit. Clean potato skins are full of fibre plus add a bit of texture, so, I did not peel the potatoes. Many recipes call for cream or leave it or the wine out entirely. For me, the crème fraîche and white wine addition added a real lushness. I mean, I can microwave a jacket potato and cover it in melted cheese and bacon. If we are going to the trouble of making a dish, let's go all the way! Allons-z!

(serves 4-6)
1 1/2 kg potatoes (3lbs) scrubbed well and sliced thickly
2 large onions, peeled and finely diced
200 g  lardons fumé or smoked streaky bacon, diced (8 ozs)
25 g butter (1 oz)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced or squished
150ml (5 ounces) white wine (1 wine glass... ish)
1 small 25cl (8 oz) container crème fraîche or sour cream
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 ripe (if possible) Reblochon cheese (500g) or Crémier de Chaumes, Epoisses or even Brie.
2 balls of fresh Mozzarella 125g each (8-10 oz total) or the equivalent in shredded. Or use Pizza cheese mix.

Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil and cook the potatoes until just fork tender, approximately 10-15 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 5.
Sauté the onion and bacon in the butter in a heavy frying pan over a medium heat until the onion is soft and sweated, but not browned.
Add the garlic and stir that into the onions and bacon. You want to just cook the garlic until it becomes soft and fragrant. At that point, add the white wine, the creme fraîche and mix well.
Place the sliced potatoes across the base of an oven-proof dish, either earthenware or Pyrex, (I used a Lasagne dish) then season the potatoes with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and pour over the onion/bacon/crème fraîche mixture.
Cut the Reblochon cheese in half so you end up with two rounds, and place them cut sides down over the potatoes/bacon/etc. Sprinkle the grated Mozzarella or cut-up fresh Mozza balls into the spaces where the Reblochon rounds don't reach..
Bake for 10 minutes in that pre-heated oven, then reduce the heat to 180C/350’F/gas mark 4 for a further 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Serve with crusty baguette, a bit of green salad and some cornichons. A glass of that white wine wouldn't go amiss either.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Snow Update: 10-Jan-2010

I have figured out how to add images taken with my phone directly into Blogger, whoohay! let's hear it for technology! so without further ado, I give you the current state of our snow coverage here in my part of Central Bretagne. Yes, that's right, just right around 49 cm accumulation, so far, which has completely brought travel on public transport to a grinding halt, closed schools and even stopped Recovery Vehicles from being able to rescue motorists; people have to just leave their cars where they end up, lock up, and come back later. We are still under a 'Vigilance Orange' for this region, with MORE snow to come over the next few days, so, who knows how much we will eventually end up with? Certainly the older residents down our road have said they have never seen anything like this happen to this area ever, and since most are in their 80's and 90's, I have to take their view as pretty accurate, at least for this area of Côtes d'Armor.

The 'Centres d'Accueil' in the region, which deal with those less fortunate, the homeless, the people managing on or below poverty level, have been opened and the services strengthened, something I do appreciate in this culture, you won't starve here as long as you avail yourself of the Public Services.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Vigilance Orange and Chocolat Chaud à la Ancienne

So all of today, our region, along with several others in Bretagne, Normandy and the Loire, is under a heightened weather alert for 24 hours. This basically means the rubbish and recycling trucks were cancelled (and I could sleep past 6.30 on a Wednesday,) ALL local buses and school transport is cancelled (but my oldest daughter still tecked into collége as THEY aren't fermé,) and people are advised to stay home unless directly necessary since the gritter trucks have NOT been past on anything save the major highways.

Now normally I wouldn't care a bean, since I can just curl up with my youngest daughter and two purrRRrrRRring cats in front of the (electric, oil-filled) fire and stay warm, drink chocolat chaud à la ancienne, turning the vile box of chocolate truffles we received as a obvious afterthought from a friend, into something actually de-lish.

(OK, now on THAT score, just say, "I'm sorry, I completely forgot to get you anything, can I make it up later?" when I hand you your carefully wrapped and thoughtfully chosen present, don't put us in the sitting room with Gran, who is deaf, and your nieces and nephews who are on The Sugar High from Hell, and bustle off to return with a box of truffles (minus one) shoved into a Christmas gift bag and spout, "Happy Christmas! I know how you love chockkies!" I mean, please?)

So normally, I'd just be happy to watch the flacons de neige fall from the sky and marvel how this 'light dusting of snow' (by Vermont Standards) has basically gridlocked Central Bretagne.

But TODAY is the first day of Les Soldes d'Hiver - the Winter Sales, here in France, which go on for 6 weeks, then end. Period, by law, stop.

Now, as someone who worked many years in Retail in California, (May Company, Mikasa, etc. 'Which would you rather do? Work in Retail or drive a nail through your hand? Hmm... how big is the nail?') my first thought was, "Seriously? You have a 'Sale Season' twice a year mandated by law... and you can't just have for instance, a One-Day Sale, whenever you please, outside of that? You must be joking." But it's the truth. If, for instance, your business is closing down, (as Vétimarché is doing right now all over France,) you have to apply to the Government for a special waiver that has a start and end date, you have to pay for this privilege and a copy of the 'writ' giving express permission must be posted on the premises. Whoa.

Ah well, the Sales will have to start without me today, however, it better be nice for the weekend, since I want to take my girls, and the money I've set aside, and go shopping in either Saint Brieuc or Lorient or possibly Rennes.

But for today, I think I'll just sit here and admire this falling snow outside my window. And have another mug of Hot Chocolate.

This recipe that follows is one that was served here in France to Aristocrats before that whole kerfuffle in 1789. Now it can be enjoyed by any citoyen, and you as well, I hope. Then at the end, I give my quick version.

Chocolat Chaud à la Ancienne
This recipe is prepared the day before and gives 4 cups.

125 ml (1/2 cup) water
150g (1 cup) bittersweet 65% chocolate chopped or chocolate chips
650 ml (2 2/3 cups) milk
Vanilla extract and pinch of cinnamon to taste

1. Heat water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
2. On low heat, add chocolate and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has completely melted.
3. Add remaining ingredients and heat slowly, stirring constantly just to the boiling point. Remove from heat.
4. Maturation: Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.
5. Service: Heat the chocolate in a double boiler or in a large microwave safe container in the microwave. When heated, use either an electric hand blender or a immersion blender to whip and aerate the hot chocolate.

The extra step of 'Maturation' allows the chocolate to absorb the milk proteins into it's structure and gives a thick and luxurious 'mouth feel' which is usually achieved with guar gum, or the like, with instant.

Now MY quick take: Put 4-5 crappy truffles and a couple squares of plain, dark chocolate in an inch of water in the LARGE mug or a glass pyrex measuring cup. Zap in Microwave until the chocolate is warm and stirring with a spoon makes it go completely smooth and gooshy. Fill the mug or pyrex container with about ½ whole milk and nuke it again for a minute, take out and stir, zap again and stir. When the chocolate is completely blended in, add a bit more milk and microwave one last time. I like a pinch of cinnamon and a drop or two of pure vanilla extract and YOU can add whipped cream or marshmallows, if you so desire, but, it's actually great just as is. Enjoy!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Happy Birthday baby!

My littlest kitten is 10 today! Happy birthday, sweetheart!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Savoury Bread Pudding or An Excuse to Make More Stuffing.

The last week in November here Chez Nous went really well; we were graced with family and friends coming together to celebrate something that we Americans hold quite dear: Thanksgiving. Now, no, not just an excuse to eat but a moment in time where we stop, look back on what has gone on over the past year, give thanks for what we recieved and then look forward to the next year. That's the custom in my family, and it reaches back as far as I can remember, in a mostly unbroken chain throughout my life.

My family are Christian; on my Mother's side it stretches back to the first Quakers who came to the American colonies, my great-great-something Grandfather and great-great something Grand-Uncle. My Maternal Grandfather was a farmer and a preacher in rural Alabama from just before the turn of the last century. I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible school from the year dot. I was baptised and confirmed. My Father used to run Bible Studies in our huge living room during the 60's. I sang in the church choir every Sunday morning for years. In fact, my parents met each other in the church choir in Chattanooga, where my Mother was working for the TVA and my Father was helping to run my grandparents' hotel and restaurant business.
So you could say we were 'Churchy', I suppose, and you might be right.
We, (my Mother, Father, Sister, Aunts, Uncles, cousins and I,) always celebrated the Christian Year and I can say this quite matter-of-factly, I have my Faith and it's private to me.

However, it has always been accepted in our family that one should 'lead by example' and that the quintessence of a person is discovered by how they act and behave towards their fellows in real life, not the words they spout. Also that a person's Faith is highly intimate and private to that particular individual. Consequently, I won't try to convert you to my way of thinking and you shouldn't try to convert me to yours. It's just not respectful. It's like saying the way YOU think, or what you believe to be true is inferior to my mindset so I need to *fix you* and change your own 'personal to you' way of thinking or your belief system, and well, excuse me, (and I look at quite a few door-knockers out there) as far as I'm concerned, that's just not on. Therefore, if you are ever curious, you may ask me about my Faith, but - I won't offer unprompted. That's just the way I am. Period. End of discussion.
So there you have it. That's my 'Religious Rant' for the year over. Thank you for listening.

The ten of us for Thanksgiving dinner turned to nine at the last moment when one of the guests on the morning of the party was diagnosed with the A1H1 virus, (which has been given the charming sobriquet of 'Swine Flu' by the media,) and they wisely but sadly had to send regrets. They were very sorely missed by all who attended, but with this Influenza Pandemic and how it has been touching so many in the local area, their choice was the best taken. So as to partially make up for their lack of partaking of the feast, a goodly portion of food was wrapped up and sent home to them, which they were then able to nuke and enjoy a few days later.

Now the turkey was, by French standards, massive; a rather astonishing 11.5 kg (or just shy of 25 1/2 pounds in Old Money) of very well-fed bird. The crop still had a few bits of whole dried maize and wheat berries inside. Charming.

(I'll point out now you never run into the crop and other bits such as the feet and ALL of the neck with the dangley head still attached when you get an American frozen Butterball turkey or even a fresh Free-Range Bronze turkey. So let's deduct 500g for the bits that went straight into a pan, did not pass go, did not get used for stock but were cooked in a small covered saucepan for our two cats to happily dine upon afterwards. Both Angel and Triskel were very thankful indeed and spent the night purring in laps, with happy cat smiles affixed.)

Now I would really like to show you the pictures I took of Monsieur Dinde covering most of the 45 cm oven top since you will remark, "How the devil did you get that thing IN there?" but since I have misplaced my lead to transfer the images over, we'll all just have to imagine LARGE turkey, tiny oven. (When I find the fool usb-thing, I have oodles of fun stuff to Blog about.)

So, let's just get on with the recipe, I think.

I have used a variation on this recipe for years; it's how my Mother did the stuffing or dressing for the turkey. (Stuffing if it's cooked in the turkey, Dressing if it's cooked outside the turkey. Your mileage may vary, but that's how we define it.) The Epicurious recipe found here is a great place to start... or just use it as is!

So here we are, into the new year and I got such a hankering for stuffing I was beginning to even consider roasting another damn turkey. Plus the girls love it. And I have all these bits of fig and walnut bread left over from our Champagne and foie gras orgy on Christmas Day. What to do?

I know! I'll concoct some kind of yummyness by using 6-8 large eggs, some milk and chicken stock, rather creating a kind of custard to pour over the bits of bread, oven-roasted marrons or chestnuts; smoky lardons of bacon and fresh sausage meat (both meats pre-cooked first before assembly); quartered whole mushrooms sautéed in demi-sel butter with chopped celery, chopped Roscoff rose onions instead of leeks, a sprig of minced fresh sage and a couple peeled and chopped Granny Smith apples; a couple handfuls of dried cranberries and some chopped toasted pecans; fold this all together and dump into a large buttered glass baking dish and call it Savoury Bread Pudding! It actually worked really well, and the only thing I'd do differently would be to skip the milk and just use the chicken stock and eggs... but then it isn't really bread pudding. Also, it's rather nice after it's cold, just sliced and eaten as a snack, as I'm doing now.

Try that stuffing recipe from Epicurious, you'll never consider Paxo ever again... or Mrs. Cubbinson's.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Bonne Année! Bonne Santé!

The title of this post is the merry and happy greeting I will repeat to everyone I encounter over the next few weeks, until I've seen everyone at least once. 'Happy New Year and Good Health.'
I like it. It's fast, kind and allows you to greet people you might not ordinarily speak to.

2009 was a time of enormous upheaval here, for me, health-wise. However, I am now off my arrêt de travail which means I can go back to work. I've finished with the casts, the wheelchair, the crutches, the five-times-a week sessions of physiothérapie. The only thing that ISN'T completely gone is the pain, but, thats a 'time will tell thing'.

So, basically, early June, I had to travel to Paris to go pick up my daughter's UK passport so she could go to Martinique on a school trip (seriously, a School Trip to the Caribbean. I was lucky to visit the Los Angeles Science or Art Museum or go to the La Brea Tar Pit when *I* was 11 and on a school trip.) As I was heading out the door, so I could catch the 6 am bus to get to the station to get a TGV to Paris, I tripped in the darkened corridor and fell OVER my foot. And felt something go 'snap' and then my foot went all floppy... and, oh heavens... pain. I knew immediately I did something, and not just a sprain, however, I HAD to get to the bus, I HAD to get that passport. So steeling myself with a 'You can do this, it's for your daughter, you dumb twit, just WALK!' I limped to the bathroom, grabbed some codeine, some Zaldiar, some paracetamol and some Nurophen, got to the door, got my backpack, my laptop, a bottle of water, locked the door then staggered to the bus stop in the early morning chill.

Once I was ON the bus, which I'd had to shout to stop it pulling away, I got to investigate my foot. Oh boy, it was swollen, the pain was exquisite and feeling around, carefully, I figured that I hadn't (likely) broken anything.


I love Paris, I really do, it's one of my favourite spots on Earth and to be there twice in one week was just too fun for words. I went to the British Consulate on the Wednesday to get the passport application started and I was now returning on the Friday to (hopefully) pick up the completed passport. The school trip was then leaving on the Monday so, no, I did NOT have a lot of leeway here.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, why did you leave it so late? I'd pose the exact same question myself were I you, Gentle Reader, so as not to go into great personal details let's just say, 'Money, ex-husband who is... erm... well, difficult and having moved, twice, since the last time I'd used it.' Also, when I had gotten notice from the Mairie that my daughter wasn't eligible for an Identity Card, and then had finally found the passport, I'd been assured that she could travel on the expired passport since, 'Pas de souci, she is, in effect, just going to a different Département, Madame, similar to going from here to Pitou-Charentes. Ne vous inquiétez pas.'

See that 'Ne vous inquiétez pas' should have set the Spidey Senses tingling, I've lived here long enough to know better that if someone tells you it's not a problem and not to worry, you should.

On the Monday I got notice that, well in fact, no, there was a slight problem, quite grave, and serious, actually as my daughter WOULD now need a valid passport.


Arranged with work to have the Wednesday and Friday off, spent a glorious day on the Wednesday going to the Consulate so I was the first person in the queue, tearing around finding an internet place where I could receive and print out an e-mail verifying the airplane ticket, having a super three-course menu as I waited for the Consulate to open up again after lunch, then getting all the paperwork turned in and made my way back via the maze that is the Paris Métro to the TGV and then home.

Well, what a difference a day makes (or even, if I was picky, 48 hours.)

As we quickly wound our way North by bus, I carefully calculated the amount of ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine and Zaldiar I could take without doing liver damage, and chased the lot down with the bottle of water. Maybe I should see a médicin in Paris? I bought two cans of Red Bull once I got to the TGV station when it dawned on me. Codeine = sleep. I could feel it beginning already, that dozey, cotton-wooly feeling I get from being on this particular opiate where the world just goes warm and soft and rather nice, in a slurred speech sort of way. Excellent, I'll sleep straight through to Montparnasse... and I did. (Once I got my laptop secreted into my backpack and tucked to the side of me then handed over my ticket, I was out like an incandescent light bulb. In fact the ticket-person had to wake me once we'd arrived.)

Red Bull (2), a Chocolat Chaud à la Ancienne and a perfect, pure butter croissant with confiture: Breakfast of Champions.

The Métro, so easy two days prior, was a nightmare; all... those... stairs. My right foot was useless and though I was feeling very little pain, it was indeed slow torture.

However, got there, got the passport (yay!), had lunch, got back to the TGV and finally home again.

(The Parisian restaurant shots are for another story.)

An additional month working with my foot like this, a doctor, an échographie, a month of kinétherapie, another fall, another doctor, another échographie, then a specialist finds me in his office saying to me in Mid-August: 'Madame, you see how when I move your calf muscle, your foot does not move? But on your undamaged leg, the muscle causes the foot to move quite happily. This is because your muscle is no longer attached to your foot. The Achilles tendon has completely snapped. I suggest we do surgery. Malheureusement, I will have to open up the back of your leg to search for the tendon (shudder) but we should have a good result.'

Gulp... ok, as soon as possible, I suppose, yes.

'Fine, be back here tomorrow morning à jeun, nothing to eat after midnight, we do the surgery first thing.'

And we did, and now here we are.

Happy new year!