Category Archives: food/drink

short story for the longer stories to come

Here’s my predicament (as told in a run on sentence):  You know when a friend emails you and you have so much to say, but you don’t have that much time to write the meaningful note that you would like, so rather than write back a short little note to acknowledge that you received his/her note and are thinking of him/her, you don’t write back because you want to wait unit you have more time to write something better than, “I’m alive.  Thanks for asking,” and then days, weeks and months go by and you haven’t bothered to write back……….

Here’s my note to say I’m sorry to all of the people who I’ve been meaning to write to and I’ve been thinking about you all – in the downtime between wiping the French dog shit off my shoes (did you know that dog owners in France don’t really pick up their dog shit?  True fact.).  And I sincerely apologize to this blog because I’ve been very neglectful.

Here’s the short rundown of what’s happened since I last told you my story on the blog:

  • I got a job (kind of) and am now an illegal worker in France
  • It has been made clear that I am one of the few people in this country who knows how to carve a pumpkin
  • I flew to Ireland and attended a Literary Pub Crawl with my mother and her 3 college friends and drank too much beer, way too fast (sort of like college)
  • I stayed in a house in Brittany that was built in 1368
  • It has become evident that I don’t know a thing about tea
  • My mother visited us in France for 2 weeks where we simultaneously scared her, amazed her, and exhausted her (in between the time she was wiping the French dog shit off her shoe)
  • I’ve come to peace with the fact that I will likely never know anything substantial about French wines and still buy wines based on my own vetted criteria which is as follows (if I can answer “yes” to both questions, I buy it):
    • Does it cost under 5€?
    • Does it have some sort of gold or silver seal on the bottle?
I have also been asked by a friend (shout out to you, Susannah) to give her some French phrases to yell at her kids to boost their understanding of the language (in advance of their visit to France). Since I haven’t had time to compile the entire list, I’ll throw in one of my favorites:

What the hell are you doing?   =     Mais qu’est-ce que tu fous?

I’m working on the rest of the list and will post for all of you to see.

I promise that within the coming days I will give you the details of all of our adventures, but for now, I’ll leave you with this:

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Mont St. Michel is even more amazing than I imagined it would be.

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me + giant beer = fun

If there’s one thing I try to avoid, it’s being pegged as an American.  It’s not that the French have low opinions of Americans……………….necessarily.  It’s just that sometimes I have a low opinion of Americans.  Especially when they’re interacting with other people in foreign countries.

There are so many nice people to meet here, but honestly, some of the trickiest situations come up when I meet other Americans.  There is one woman I met (who has lived here for many years), who actually said to me, “Are you one of those Americans who is trying really hard to speak French because I’ve lived here for years and I’ve found that you can get around fine without really knowing any French at all.”  It’s hard to know what to say in those situations and it kind of hurts me to hear things like that because I can’t help but wonder why anyone would have that attitude.  I’m not going to lie, learning a foreign language at any age is not easy, but it gives you a better window into a culture than just looking in from the outside.  It also gives you an incredible amount of empathy for people who are forced out their home countries and have no choice but to assimilate into a different culture.  I am sure it’s harder work than most of us will ever know.

So now that you know my feelings about Americans abroad, you can hear my story about dinner the other night.

On the first night of school each year we have a tradition that we go out to eat as a celebration of surviving the first day.  In Vermont, the restaurant choices were easy since most of my favorite restaurants are the same as my kids’.  But now we live in France.  Let me just start by saying that although the French like to eat out as much (or more) than any culture, there is virtually no kid/restaurant culture here and kid’s are not necessarily welcome at restaurants.  It’s nearly impossible to find a restaurant with a high chair, let alone straws or plastic cups. We have friends here who lived in the US for a few years before moving back to France when their kids were little.  To combat the anti-kid culture, they would keep a high chair in the trunk of their car in case they wanted to got out to dinner. If you’re looking for a restaurant with crayons, you may need to hop a plane back to the US or a least remember to shove some in your purse.  For all of these reasons, most French kids eat at home.

Our kids have eaten out a few places, but not many times, so when it came time to decide where to go for the first night of school I started pushing for the Japanese restaurant.  Sadly, for me at least, the kids had their eyes on another restaurant. It’s called Buffalo Grill.

Buffalo Grill is a big chain restaurant in Europe with a distinctly American theme and feel.  It’s big and red and has giant Texas-style horns on the roof of each restaurant.  In a land of crepes and foie gras, it is absolutely screaming “America!” Just the kind of place I would like to avoid.  As a side note, there are no buffalo in Europe.

I was pushing hard for Japanese, but the kids pushed even harder for Buffalo Grill.  Tim finally had to intervene because it was turning into a showdown.  The comment that finally broke me down was Tim saying, “At least they don’t want to go to McDonald’s.”  Good point.  So off we went to Buffalo Grill  with me secretly hoping that I would not run into anyone I knew.

I was hanging my head as I crossed the threshold into mini-America.  As we entered, the wait staff looked at us and smiled.  They even kind of shouted, “Bon Soir,” to give us an American-style restaurant welcome.  Once we were seated, the kids found some giant fake American Indian headress hats to put on.  They were like the Burger King crowns but even bigger and more ethnically questionable.

I’m not sure you want to sit here through all the details of our dinner, but let’s just say it involved all of the following:

  • giant cold beers
  • real bbq sauce
  • jalapeno poppers
  • placemats with mazes
  • crayons
  • country music
  • really good french fries
  • Heinz ketchup
  • real hot sauce
Minus the country music, it was the most fun we’ve had at a restaurant since arriving – and the food was good too!

As the night went on, I started to feel less bad about my presence at Buffalo Grill. I think the giant beer may have helped.

I was having so much fun at dinner, I barely noticed a family we knew from school enter the restaurant.  The parents of this family are no nice but slightly intimidating, in a European way.  She is beautiful, always tan and never without 5″ stilettos.  He is fit, super friendly and always wearing a beautifully tailored suit.  They have a summer house on the southern coast of Spain and ironically, they are also the previous tenants of the house we’re living in.

This family clearly noticed us and stopped by our table to say “hi,” before sitting down to eat.  I was stunned.  This fabulous family at the Buffalo Grill, doing mazes on placemats and wearing giant fake feathered crowns???  Suddenly my entire opinion of Buffalo Grill changed.  If it’s good enough for them, damn it, it’s good enough for me.

While we were at the Buffalo Grill, it would have been easy to forget we were in France for a moment, except that the occasional dog barking inside the restaurant reminded us that we are not in America any more.  At the end of the dinner, the server wrapped up the uneaten half of Eamon’s burger for him to take home, a concept you could never find in a real French restaurant.  I guess there is something to be said for American-style customer service.

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frenchified labor day

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I think it’s been well documented how much my kids like burgers, but burger buns are a rare species in France and when you can find them, they are about as fresh as……………….(my first thought was to write Owen’s undies in that space, but let’s just say the buns are not fresh and we can leave it at that).  For those interested in a story about Owen’s undies, feel free to wait until the end of this post about hamburgers.  

Our bakery has been closed for A MONTH which has made us search farther and farther afield for bread.  Kind of like the arctic fox when it’s hunting ground is being destroyed and it has to stray further from it’s habitat…………..but when I write that, I make myself sound like some sort of rare and endangered animal, when in reality I am just searching for bread in France.  You could argue that my rubbish French puts me in danger every day, since I often agree to do and buy things for which I had no knowledge or understanding………………….

But, back to the bread.  So our bakery is closed and we’re in a scramble for bread every day because there really is nothing else like our bakery and we have to go to a couple of different joints around town to find the kids of things that we usually buy.  All this to say:  When you don’t want to buy stale buns and you can’t find a good baguette to save your life, you resort to a burger on croissant when you’re trying to pretend you’re celebrating Labor Day in a foreign country.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

And here, for those of you waiting with bated breath, is the story of Owen’s undies:

When we went away to Normandy for a week earlier in the summer, the kids packed their own bags, which is usually a hit or miss proposition.  Sometimes we forget socks, sometimes it’s the shorts and most times it’s the toothbrush.  That week, the kids remembered everything which was great.  We stayed in the same place for the bulk of the vacation, but the very last night of it we were going to switch hotels so I suggested that we repack our stuff to only bring in one bag, rather than carry all of our bags in.  I pulled out one clean outfit for Eamon and piled all of his dirty clothes back in his suitcase.  Here is the conversation that happened with Owen:

Me:  Hey O, can you pull out a clean outfit and stuff all of your dirty clothes back in your bag?

Owen:  I don’t have any dirty clothes.

Me:  What do you mean?  We’ve been here for a week……………..did you put your dirty clothes in Dad’s bag?

Owen:  No, I’ve been wearing the same clothes all week because I didn’t think they were dirty.  The kids in France never wash their clothes.  I’m just trying to save water.

Me: {silence}

HOW DID MY KID WEAR THE EXACT SAME OUTFIT FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK WITHOUT ME NOTICING?!?!?!?  It’s true, when looking back at the pictures of our vacation it’s hard to tell the days apart because Owen is wearing the same clothes.  And it’s also true, the French kids never wash their clothes.  So, if the planet is saved by a reduction in water usage, you can thank Owen.  And the French.

marais

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So the Eiffel Tower is cool and so is Notre Dame, but the real “best” parts of Paris lie out of the downtown area.  We’ve been slowly winding our way through all of the neighborhoods and finding nice places a bit more out of the way.  One of the best places so far is the Marais – a hipster neighborhood that has some nice art, cool used clothing and some killer falafel.  A recipe for success every time – at least in my book.

Like any hipster place, it is fun to visit, but it would be challenging to live there. This is mainly because there are a lot of hipster-gawkers like me in the Marais. Hipster-gawkers are people hanging around trying to remember what it was like to be a hipster.  Now that I’m married with two kids, I am slowly coming to the realiziation that I’ve compeltely lost that hipster vibe that I may have once had (or at least thought I had).

Now, most of my clothing has butter or jelly stains on it and I haven’t had my haircut since I moved here since I’m worried that my rubbish French will have me leaving the salon a scarily unsatisfied customer. Frankly, I am looking more like a hippy than a hipster. It doesn’t make me like the Marais any less though. I feel like my presence in the Marais gives a fair warning to the hipsters – enjoy your hipsterness while you can because soon you, too, may have butter on your shirt. But if you live in France, at least it will be really good butter.

burrito black hole

I like cities enough.  I have no desire to live in one at this point in my life, but I love to visit for a day and then I am always more than happy to leave. My first visit to Paris didn’t really fit my typical “love a city visit for a day” mentality. After a full day in Paris, I was chomping at the bit to get out of there. It may have been the bus loads of tourists wearing visors crowding Notre Dame or the swindlers hanging around the Eiffel Tower (which my friend Louise has renamed the “Awful Tower”), but I was more than happy to get out of Paris to the refuge of our small town.  Frankly, my first trip there made me think about making it my last trip there – at least for a while.

In order reinvigorate my desire to return to Paris, I knew it would take some sort of big draw.  Would it be an art opening?  Or a music festival?  I wish I could say that it was something somewhat cultural, but if I said that I would be fibbing – actually, outright lying.  My desire to give Paris another chance could be boiled down to one factor:  the need for some good ethnic food.

Coming from Vermont, it might be easy to assume that I’m not used to getting good ethnic food.  Mais, non!  Vermont has great mix of ethnic food.  Ok, so do the burritos from Vermont make you think you’re in Mexico?  Maybe not, but a least you can buy them and they’re always tasty.

Need Thai, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Indian or Chinese? Vermont’s got most of what you’re looking for. Fontainebleau on the other hand, has many cool things, but ethnic food (of any sort) is not one of them.  It’s like a curry black hole here.  I realized that to bust out of my ethnic food void, I would need to hop the train back to Paris.

I was planning to go by myself (while the kids were otherwise occupied), but at the last-minute Tim decided to join me.  I warned him that the purpose of this expedition was not cultural in any other way than the involvement of cultural food.

In preparation for the trip, I googled around on some of my favorite Paris blogs to get a sense of what was out there and where it was located.  After my googling, I had two things on my mind, a falafel and a burrito.  We jumped off the train, went the other way from the Eiffel Tower to a funky neighborhood where we sat in bliss with the best falafel in Paris.

By the time dinner rolled around I wasn’t even hungry, but since I had been in such an ethnic food void I couldn’t stop myself from completing my mission.  A long walk across town to another neighborhood and one burrito later, I was over filled and fulfilled.

And as always, an after dinner shot.  Not tequila – only espresso.

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For those of you planning to visit us, get your burrito fix at home. It’s easier than going to Paris.

le super americaine

20110716-110629.jpgIn a little coastal town on our way around Normandy, we stopped for dinner at an outdoor crepe/kebab/stake hache stand.  As we were standing in line looking at the menu, Tim spied his desired meal.  It was called “Le Super Americaine.”  I am not joking.  Tim actually said very loudly, “I need to order le super americaine because I am a super American!”  At that point, I put a little bit more distance between us and started to act like I didn’t know him.

He did, in fact, order it and you can see it pictured above.  Not sure if the owner of the stand has ever been to America, but I thinking that I might need to let her know that in America we don’t eat our french fries on top of our burger and we don’t eat our burgers on a baguette.  Just thought I’d mention that.  See that pile of ketchup on top of the fries?  It’s masking the pile of mayo underneath.  Not sure if this sandwich makes us seem super or just really scary.

pepsi v. coke v. bread

20110716-110944.jpgAs far as I can tell, there is no debate in France of Pepsi v. Coke.  Not sure if anyone really cares about the brands of soda – they’re more concerned about the quality of the wine.  And now that I think about it, I’m not certain that the Pepsi brand even exists in France.  Good thing I’m a Coke girl.

But what you may see in the countryside is not a random soda vending machine, but rather, a random bread vending machine.  This baby (above) was just sitting on the side of the road in Normandy, just screaming to have its picture taken.  We drove by it about 10 times and each time I told Tim that I needed to stop and take a picture of it, but we kept passing by it on our way to somewhere else.

Then, on the last day, when Owen and I went out on a cider buying mission (I’m talking hard, French cider here), I pulled the car over and told Owen to get out and take a picture.  He said, “But what if someone is watching me take a picture of a bread machine on the side of the road?  Won’t they think it’s strange?”

That’s when I gave him a piece of advice that sums up our experience in France.  I said, “If you feel bad every time someone thinks you’re strange, you’ll never leave your house.  Act like you know what you’re doing and take the picture.”

The end.