Gone country

Sunday, August 31, 2008

La Rentrée is in full swing and Parisians are abandoning the sand, sun and holiday homes and flocking back to their 20-meters-squared flats in the city. Gui's mom returned Sunday from her few weeks spent on the beaches of Deauville and Normandy, and since we weren't able to meet her at the beach, we decided to spend a day together at her late father's home in the village of Marcq.

Marcq has less than 600 inhabitants and is considered "the country" by city folk, yet it's literally a 20-25 minute car ride from our apartment in the south of Paris. Gui and I spent Christmas day there, and it's where I learned just how much food my stomach could handle in one sitting (I stopped after eating my 6th course). The property that Gui's family owns there is currently for sale, as they're looking to buy property in a more popular place closer to the beach. It's a shame because Les Trois Granges, as the property is called, is really spectacular, especially in the summer. It's comprised of three separate buildings - one main house, a guest house and another completely gutted guest house that once served as Gui's grandfather's workshop. There's also a fairly large garage and enormous carport on the property, but the most striking asset, in my opinion, is the land itself. It's full of gorgeous flower gardens, brilliant green grass, charming stone arches, and a variety of fruit trees. Guillaume and his cousin Ben even have their own trees that they used to hang out in when they'd visit their grandpa as young, nature-loving boys. In one part of the land, there's a scarcely-tended garden that once boasted hearty tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, raspberries, and fresh herbs like lavender, rosemary and sage. There's something very nostalgic about the place. It's rustic, but not in a trendy way; it's grand, but not grandiose; it's mystical, not unlike The Secret Garden.

Being there during Summer was totally different from my first visit in December when we mostly stayed indoors, keeping warm by the chimney and staying drunk on fois gras and champagne. The garden really beckons in the summer sun, tantalizing the nature-loving spirit in even the most stubborn, city-loving folk. It was both a sentimental and exhilarating endeavor uncovering the treasures in the garden and behind the cobwebs of the lifeless buildings. I felt like Guillaume must have felt when he was a kid stumbling upon the tools in his grandfather's workshop imagining himself one day old enough to have his own workshop and tools - except my imagination was envisioning a massive garden and a small farm.

While we were there, a family stopped by unannounced to take a peak at the estate, but were asked to arrange a proper rendezvous before visiting. We were all relaxing after a late summer lunch, and apparently, impromptu visits are less than welcome, especially during August. I felt a twinge of guilty relief that they weren't allowed past the gates to be enchanted by its picturesque beauty, wishing that the place could stay "ours" just a little while longer.

When we finally made our way back to reality, I shared with Gui my newfound interest in living outside of a big city, in a more rural setting someday. I've always been a city girl, but more recently he's heard me gab about owning a garden and living off of our own, seasonally-grown fruits and vegetables, and he understands my appreciation for horticulture. But, the moment I mentioned owning a small hen house, he made it clear that that was where he drew the line. He has no desire to be a farmer, to own any more animals than a cat or dog, or to labor on a farm under a beating sun. I suppose my ideas for a home on the range are going a bit too far, but I guess the part of me that misses the green grass and wide-open spaces of living in Texas is longing for my own piece of earth to harvest and tend. As electrifying as Paris may be, it pales in comparison to the dazzling scape of the countryside and all the possibilities that it brings. Although we don't have set plans on how long we intend to stay in Paris, the Texan in me is optimistic that we'll find ourselves a little closer to my roots wherever we land next - even if that means an apartment with a simple garden.

Pictures from our visit in Marcq. Enjoy!

à table

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Food is pretty much my favorite, non-human thing in the world. I've posted about a few meals here before, and I've been wanting to start a regular post about my cooking/baking/eating adventures/disasters for a while now, but always thought it was a little weird to post about. I don't know why. Maybe because nowadays more than my mom and sister are reading my blog (thank God because then I wouldn't have any friends), and although it might intrigue them to know what we're serving for dinner chez nous (my love for food is a genetic thing, I suspect) some unknowing person might not be so interested.

But, then I remembered that the whole point of my blog is to archive events and topics that are important to me and to communicate to my loved ones (and a few random peeps here and there) the daily happenings in my life, however mundane they may seem. Not to mention that I live in FRANCE now and let's face it, who doesn't associate this country with something food-related (escargot, frog legs or cheese, anyone)? So, voila, the first of what I anticipate to be a fairly regular, and mostly visual post about food.

I've discovered my new favorite fruits. Thanks to my preferred local celebrity food-blogger I've discovered so much about my new city - things that I'd never know to see, do or visit, and these Reine Claudes and mirabelles are a favorite among my discoveries. They are filled with the sweetest flesh that's seriously like candy - I ate nearly this entire bowl in one sitting. Love 'em!

Ahhh, iced tea. There really is no better summer drink.

Lentil and red bean soup that I've made twice already. I really am in love with this soup and expect it to make a weekly appearance at our dinner table as winter approaches.

I was dying to make stuffed peppers for some reason but nearly died when I was asked to fork up 6 euros (read: nearly 8 bucks) for four of these babies at the marché!

In the end, they were worth their price. We had two delicious stuffed peppers one night and I simply grilled the others with shallots in olive oil another night.

Martha's mac 'n cheese. I took the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and tweaked it a bit, changing the pasta and adding parmesan to the mix of yellow cheddar we found at Auchan (it was really good and really cheap, too) and soft gruyère. I made entirely too much, but it went really well with a leafy salad and was perfect Sunday food.

It was so cheesy and insanely good.

Barbecue chicken, Ranch-style beans and salad. Texas night chez nous!

I even made my own barbecue sauce, and it was super easy, too! After a Google search, I found this basic recipe and now I'm going to make it more often. After this meal, Gui told me he was really lucky that I was his wife. He quickly clarified that it wasn't just because of the food but for all the other stuff, too (I was flattered enough with the initial compliment, but I won't tell him that).

Les sportifs

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Summertime in France is all about the sports. Nearly every week, Gui's received a call from someone inviting us to play soccer, Frisbee or rugby...or something. I love that my husband is so athletic and always down to play a good game of sweaty something or another. I've never been all that interested in exercising, but if it counts as a sport, I'm almost always in the mood for a game of tag (and golf, but not real golf, just swinging a club at the driving range - I love the workout my arms get). Besides a game of ultimate Frisbee, I've been pretty content hanging on the sidelines, watching everyone sweat.

I think it's really funny how some of the guys wear real soccer jerseys to play a random game of soccer. During this particular game, Gui scored four goals and remarked after each goal, "that was for you, baby." Dork. With Summer winding down, I think people are in a frenzy to get out and soak the sun up while they can. Next weekend we're playing Frisbee again and this time I plan on stretching beforehand to avoid two days of utter discomfort when walking. Wish me luck.

Changing seasons

Monday, August 25, 2008

The days in Paris are changing. Darkness comes sooner and the sun less often these days, and everything from my eating and cooking habits to my wardrobe is slowly changing in preparation for the cooler Autumn weather. This has been my first summer in Paris, and although I've heard it hasn't been a particularly usual one, I found even the few days of heat were enough to make this Texas girl welcome these current changes with open arms.

It's really strange not to have a set schedule or routine everyday, but I somehow feel like I have things to do that fill up my day. Really, besides grocery shopping, cleaning and cooking (omg, I've really become a desperate housewife - someone save me!) my days are pretty much up to me to spend as I choose. Last week, I applied to a handful of jobs for English-speaking positions, but it's just a start. I also sent off an application for volunteer work, but shouldn't expect to hear anything until mid-September. It's still not the best time to be on the hunt for a job in Paris; people are just now returning to work from vacances as Summer comes to an end.

Thanks to my blog, I've been really glad to have made a few friends that have a little time on their hands, too. It's so great to know and talk to people who've gone through and are still going through all the same things I'm going through. Plus, it's always more fun to bounce around Paris on a rainy day indulging in Mexican food, free ice cream and witnessing the occasional apartment fire with others.

Chicken burrito at El Sol y La Luna (too bad it wasn't related to the restaurant on S. Congress of the same name...migas, por favor)

A fire in the 6eme.

Emily seems to be enjoying the spectacle, but rest assured she's really just in awe at seeing her first apartment fire in Paris. We were all kinda weirded out.

Gelato in the rain with Sam & Emily. Thanks to Monsieur Lebovitz, we scored free gelato at this new gelateria.

The nougat flavor (I think called toroncino or something) was TO DIE FOR.

I'm really looking forward to what changes Fall and Winter will bring me. I'm excited about working here for the first time, meeting more great people and seeing some familiar faces in my neck of the woods. A dear friend of mine who I'd lost touch with over the years is planning to make her way over in the new year and I'm hoping by then my life will be sorted out a bit more, or at least aiming in some sort of direction. I know I've got to be patient and determined during my job search, so I've been taking it seriously without putting too much pressure on myself. I am, however, considering taking the advice of others who've been in my shoes and am keeping myself open to the idea of teaching English either as an assistant, private tutor or babysitter. There really are more opportunities for that type of work with my native-English skills, and working a part-time schedule will allow me to continue French classes, even give me time to volunteer. But as eager as I am to work, for now I'm not complaining about my free time that I know I'll miss when the reality of a true work day finally slaps me in the face.

Good news and a bullet list

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm simply overjoyed at the news that a friend from home is going to be moving to the Paris area in less than three weeks! We had just started getting to know each other before I made my way over at the end of last year and again in June when Gui and I visited, but we've kept in touch through blogs and emails as she's continued working towards getting her visa to be an au pair in Paris. She got news a couple of days ago that she'll be arriving on September 7th, which is just insanely soon! Unlike the first time I packed my bags and headed to France, this will be her first time travelling outside of the US - ever!

Walking to the marché this morning, I started thinking of how I felt the first time I traveled across the world and what thoughts and emotions were running through my mind. My first trip outside of the States was to Trinidad and Tobago (yeah, that was awesome), and then I took a trip to England before making the big move to Nottingham for a few months. I was young, so carefree, so wide-eyed. My summer in Rome was the first time I'd been in a non-English-speaking country, and being in a school setting, having friends and knowing people in the same situation as myself was, I think, what made communication so easy and kept me distracted from my nerves or self-inflicting complexes about speaking another language.

Having lived in and around Paris for a total of about seven months, I can say that many of my initial ideas about this city have changed, but not all for the worse. Reading blog, after blog, after blog of people who've been here and done everything I've done has undoubtedly made the transition so much easier. I thank the blog gods for giving people a place to rant and rave about their woes and joys so that we might all learn from them and feel just a little more normal when our lives begin to unfold like a comic book.

So, in an effort to offer my Paris-bound friend some advice about what to bring, what to leave behind and what to expect, here are a few odd things that cross my mind about my move here.
  • I desperately wish I would have bought more shave gel on our last trip to TX. I seriously can't bring myself to pay 5 euros for a can of Gillette shave gel when I know I can get the same for less than half the price on the other side of the world. Some things are just too hard to let go of.
  • I'm cursing myself for thinking that I'd somehow expect my mom to go through the bags and boxes of clothes that I've left behind in order to pick out what I might need for the winter time so that she could send it to me. I should have been more organized and made more of an effort to gather and label my things for easy reference and shipment to France instead of pawning it all off on my poor mom. Now, I'm left with a very boring and monochromatic wardrobe that's getting old really quickly and will no way last me through the crazy winter we're bound to have. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I find a job so I can do some guilt-free shopping at the winter soldes.)
  • Flats are my best friends here. I wish I had the insight to buy more flats before coming (even those cheapy Target ones) because one really can't have enough with these crazy cobblestone sidewalks popping up all over the place. If I could, I'd buy a new pair everyday, but we all know that's not possible!
  • And, by flats, I don't mean tennis shoes. I brought four pairs of "trainers" or "tennis shoes" with me here, - and I don't mean the New Balance track & field kind, but the cute brown and gold Coach tennis, sporty Pumas, and stylish Diesels - and I've found nothing says not à la mode more than a girl in sport shoes. So, my tennis shoes only come out when I'm moving stuff or actually running (uh, that's pretty much never). Comfy flats are where it's at!
  • Resisting the urge to pass a friendly smile to strangers hasn't been as difficult as I imagined, but the guilt I feel after flashing a blank face out of habit to someone trying to be friendly is mortifying. For me, it's harder to revert back to being smiley after I've already conformed to my newfound survival tactics.
  • All the friendly peeps in Paris make up for those unfriendly ones. I've learned to take the bad with the good here - it's usually not always one or the other. One friendly smile, or short conversation about the weather from a complete stranger (especially an older one) is enough to keep my spirits up for the rest of the day.
  • I don't mind walking around the city or through the marchés and shopping centers, but I really hate walking to my metro station. It's only a 6-8 minute walk from our apartment, but it's the walk I despise the most. I don't know why. I'm thinking it's a subconscious reflection that comes from my years of car-dependency, and walking any further than the garage makes the part of my brain that deals with laziness start going crazy with fury. Hmmm.
  • As much as I gorged on Tex-Mex on our last trip, I wish I would have eaten more.

Six things that make me happy

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Maybe it doesn't take a lot to make me happy, but for the past few days I've been finding myself quite content with a lot of things. We had dinner with Gui's dad the evening we got into town from La Rochelle. We were pretty pooped from the long drive and eventful weekend, but his dad insisted that we stop by for a quick dinner. We knew he had something up his sleeve, and shortly after we arrived, he handed us a box in a bag that contained these gorgeous knives.

He even had them engraved with our names on the blade, so we wouldn't have to share. Thank goodness, because you wouldn't believe how much dirtier Gui's knife is after eating than mine! They're absolutely beautiful and so sophisticated. We won't be eating with them daily - you're not supposed to wash the handle and they're just too fancy for the regular ol' meals we have around here. But, we'll be bringing them out for special occasions, for sure.

The Sunday chili I made had me all in smiles, too. We ended up eating it all throughout the day, polishing it off with a crisp cider while watching the Olympic games. I love chili, and this time I made it extra spicy which was so comforting on a gloomy Sunday.

I also finally whipped up some coleslaw, which I've been craving for weeks now. I couldn't believe how easy it was, nor how great it tasted!! Gui fell in love with coleslaw while living a summer in Texas and even he raved about it. I was happy to indulge, but much happier that I found another go-to recipe (I nixed the vegetable oil and added a little milk) to add to my personal repertoire.

I both smiled and grunted when I got this in the mailbox.

98% of our apartment is Ikea furniture, and our kitchen would be completely dysfunctional without the genius that is behind Ikea. We can never leave the store without a full basket of goodies for the house. Still, it makes me cringe that I didn't come up with the whole "build your own furniture" idea first.

My happy streak continued at the grocery store today, first when I spotted these:

And, then when I spotted this:

I've seen these corn tortillas before somewhere, but they must have been outrageously priced for me to have passed them up. Not this time! Now, enchiladas are on the menu for this week, so stay tuned!

And that strange cylindrical box is sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as baking soda, which has been pretty hard to come by around these parts. I randomly walked by the salt section and saw this bright yellow thing reflected by the fluorescent lights and realized it was the golden ticket to the oatmeal cookies I've been wanting to try my hand at. I really hope it's the right stuff because I can't really understand any of the writing, which is in half Dutch, half French. If it is, it'll be more cause to keep smiling.

Lovely La Rochelle

La Rochelle was great! The forecast called for rain and clouds for the wedding day, so we were all genuinely surprised that the weather was picture perfect all day. It wasn't until evening that we finally got rain, but by that time we were all too schnockered and full of lovey-doveyness to even care. Plus, we were indoors - dancing like 8th-graders at a homecoming dance (or maybe that was just me and Gui).

Being the first full-on French wedding for me, the classy guests didn't let me down and everyone showed up looking glamorous as ever. Hats were in full-force and it was chignon galore for the rest of the ladies. Thanks to my lovelies back home, I fit right in with the chic femmes as I donned the head-turning feather hat they made me for my bachelorette party. The bride's mom even gave me a compliment on my hair accessory! Gui and I also got a little more wear out of our pricey wedding shoes, which I can't believe I managed to wear again for nearly 12 hours without pain! It felt empowering to strut around in a pair of 4-inchers again - something I miss doing, but will likely never be brave enough to do in Paris.

The food, champagne, cake, wedding gown, views, beach, guests, entertainment and FOOD were just superb. I ate every bite of my five-course meal and drank every glass of wine and champagne I was given - except for that one that the waiter took away while I was in the bathroom. Grrrrr. And we gorged on moules-frites, nutella crepes and Schtroumpf (Smurf) ice cream as our hangover food the next day, after a long day of lounging in the garden and at the beach. I wish we could've stayed longer, but the weather turned gloomy just as we left on Saturday, so we figured it was a sign.

I took pictures of everything - it was all so beautiful!! But, I'll spare you the 25o-picture slide show and just show you a few highlights of our trip. Enjoy!

Making it official at la Mairie.

The "best men" with the newly-married couple.

The wedding party. (Check out that gorgeous hat!)

Proud parents.

Gui forgot to pack his belt, so he had to go buy one. But, he kept missing belt loops!

Exchanging rings at the church.


Champagne toast on the gorgeous, oceanfront terrace.

Grandma's buttery cone-cake (man, it was good) and flutes waiting for champagne.

A table.


Speech time!

And the guys give a funny performance...

...complete with dancing.

The family gives their own performance - complete with hand-gestures.

The first dance.

And the dancing continues!

The morning after.

Gorgeous houses in La Rochelle.

Ahhh, the beach.

Such a beautiful city!

On the road again.
TEXAS SARAH. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.