Thursday, January 31, 2013

Not dead, just...

I feel kind of like this.

I took this last week in Arles at the Hôtel de Ville.  Mme P and I went there for the morning and roamed around.  It was lovely to be back.
I will find some time to blog soon.  C'est promis.

Bon appétit to all lions out there!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Back in Provence!

Paris was lovely in the snow.  I braved the cold to trek down to see her up close on Sunday.  I am very happy to report that I did not slip and fall at all-- not while roaming around nor while dragging (literally) my two way too heavy suitcases through the snow and slush from the Novotel on Quai de Grenelle to Bir Hakeim metro stop to the Gare de Lyon train station. (I think that is why I have a backache today...) There ended up being about 4 inches of snow (pictures when I get home and have my own computer again). ACIS had planned a trip to the chateau of Chantilly on Sunday but that didn't happen due to the snow.  We were treated to a dinner cruise of the Seine instead.  Tragic, n'est-ce pas?  Foie gras and kir royale and dessert from Le Notre.
Now I am back in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, pecking away at this French keyboard while Mme P is at a staff meeting.  Last night we had moules-frites for dinner, at the suggestion of one of her daughters.  Today I am at school, yes, actually working, and tonight we are hosting M et Mme A for dinner (cassoulet is on the menu).  It is so wonderful to be back here.  The Provence sun is shining, the skies are blue, and Mme P has a surprise planned for me for tomorrow.  She hinted that is a place that I know well, where there is a Wednesday market.  And a girls' night at Mme Boop's house in Tavel.  I have heard champagne and foie gras mentioned... oh, and fondant du chocolat. 
More updates from the road as I have internet or time.  I am most definitely collecting material for future blogs!  I met some wonderful people in Paris and look forward to keeping in touch with them-- even if they are Georgia Bulldogs.  Go Vols!

The Ex-Ex cuts the ribbon for our new gym at school today.  Congratulations from afar.  I know that it is fabulous!

A plus, mes amis!

Bon appetit!
( I have no idea how to find accents of this keyboard...)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Packed and ready to go

Like good little soldiers, they are standing at attention and awaiting my command.  The Ex-Ex should be here in just a few minutes to whisk me away to the airport.  Yes, I am taking two suitcases for a nine day stay.  I have a very good reason, too.  In addition to three glorious (but cold) days in Paris, I am heading down south to visit Mme P, her family, and her classes.  I will, I hope, see other Frenchie friends while I am there.  Mme P and I have twinned our classes (her 8th and my 7th) and they are pen pals.  The larger suitcase is packed full of letters and little gifts from my students to hers, as well as things from the students who are traveling with me in March for their hosts.  I feel like Mme Claus with her bag full of goodies on Christmas Eve.   I will drag these suitcases to the Gare de Lyon on Monday to catch the TGV for Nîmes and then head over to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon to meet up with Mme P when she gets out of class for the day.  I will be there until early Saturday morning when I will haul the suitcases to the Avignon TGV station for the train ride to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport for my return flight.  I hope those Samsonite suitcases are well-rested and ready for what's ahead.  I am!!
I have the iPad tucked away in my purse and hope to blog from the road.  On verra.

Bon appétit et bon voyage, Sabbatical Chef!

Monday, January 14, 2013


Are you a list maker?  I currently have three going for my upcoming trip... personal stuff to take, gifts and school stuff to take, and things I am supposed to bring back.  Wouldn't it be great if I could actually find the lists?  Or if they were in the same notebook, whether in the little notebook I carry around in my purse or on my iPad?  Oh non, that would be way too easy and organized for moi.
Before you go somewhere, do you read up?  Google museums?  Read guidebooks?  These are my three current bedtime reading books.  Clothilde's book was a Christmas gift from the BFF.  And she didn't even know that I follow Clothilde on Chocolate & Zucchini.  Clothilde recommends restaurants in every arrondissement of Paris, as well as markets and food shops.  She says that Pierre Hermé's macarons are her favorite.  That is definitely on my Paris to-do list.  Oh, that brings the lists up to four.  I've actually eaten at four of the restaurants in her book, too.  Maybe I can add another this go-around.
Forever Paris was also a BFF gift. It is filled with 25 walks in the footsteps of the likes of Chanel, Hemingway, and Picasso.  It seems that Julia Child haunted some of my favorite spots--in particular Rue Cler, with a lunch stop at Café du Marché.  I am going to follow this one and see where she and Paul lived.  She loved Au Pied de Cochon.  I've seen it but have never eaten there.  Their soupe à l'oignon is supposed to be délicieuse and that will be just what is in order because it is going to be a cold weekend in Paris (as opposed to 70˚F here in Durham, NC-- icky weather for January, in my humble opinion...)  Julia is quoted as saying "I am half-French and that's all there is to it."  I am adopting that one.  There is also a Hemingway walk that includes the Luxembourg Gardens , Shakespeare & Company, Brasserie Lipp and Deux Magots.  A chocolat chaud or un verre de rouge, perhaps?  Hemingway's quote-- "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
Wandering Paris was a gift from Arles Lucy last year.  Its author, Jill Butler, is an artist, as is Arles Lucy.  I used it last year to find the Marché d'Aligre, a wonderful open air market in the 12th arrondissement.  She also recommended the Monoprix on Rue de Rennes, but I wasn't very taken with it.  I have plans to visit the one on Avenue des Ternes.  I was in there very briefly last March with the students.  It needs to be explored further.  I love Monoprix.  The French equivalent of Target only French!
So, I'd best see if I can find the lists and get to packing.
I leave you with my favorite Looney Tunes character, that lovable French-speaking skunk, Pepé le Pew.

One of my work buddies, GB, came in my room this morning to tell me that he saw a building on his way to work, engulfed in fog with a blinking light on top that made him think of the blinking Eiffel Tower in my classroom which made him think of this cartoon character.  He wanted to know if Pepé had anything to do with my passion for French.  And, as a matter of fact, the answer is Oui, mon chéri. His French was certainly the only French I heard spoken until I signed up for Mme Buchanan's class my sophomore year.  And to be initiated into the Cercle Français, we had to dress up like Pepé.  Ah, high school memories.  Pepé was first introduced in 1945.  He thinks that he is irresistible but actually smells bad and never takes no for an answer.  He was created by Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese and voiced by Mel Blanc from 1945-1988.

I made this soup last week when it was actually chilly outside.  A big thumbs up from the Ex-Ex.  Would Pepé like it?  Mais oui, mon amour!
 I started with a recipe from Taste of Home as my guide and improvised a bit.

Potato Cheese Soup
6 servings

4 russet baking potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
1 small onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil or a mixture of both)
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
3 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Bacon, fried crisp and crumbled  (if desired)

In a large pot, melt 2 tablespoons of butter on medium heat.  Sauté the onion and celery until soft.  Add the garlic for the last minute.  Add the potatoes, cover with water, cover the pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.  Do not drain.  Add milk.  Stir.  Keep on low heat.
In a small bowl, blend the melted butter, flour, parsley, and pepper.  Stir into potato mixture.  Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.  Remove from heat; adjust seasonings; add cheese and gently stir until almost melted.
Ladle into bowls, top with bacon and a bit more cheese, if desired.

Bon appétit, Pepé!  Paris, here I come!
Next installment-- le Provence list...

Saturday, January 12, 2013


If you read my recent blog post about Comfort Zones, then hopefully you watched the new Brad Paisley video, Southern Comfort Zone, at the end.  In the background, you can hear an old recording of a song that goes something like "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Par-ee?"  I didn't know that song so I turned to my pal Google for help.  I found the lyrics, written in 1919, by Joe Young and Sam. M. Lewis, with music by William Donaldson, and several recordings of it.  The gist of the song is that after WWI, life on the family farm changed.  The boys had gone to Europe and seen the world.
I didn't grow up on a farm, but I get the message.
The recording below is by Nora Bayes, a vaudeville star from back in the day.


Reuben, Reuben, I've been thinking
Said his wifey dear
Now that all is peaceful and calm
The boys will soon be back on the farm
Mister Reuben started winking and slowly rubbed his chin
He pulled his chair up close to mother
And he asked her with a grin

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree'
How ya gonna keep 'em away from Broadway
Jazzin around and paintin' the town
How ya gonna keep 'em away from harm, that's a mystery
They'll never want to see a rake or plow
And who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?
How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree'?

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree'
How ya gonna keep 'em away from Broadway
Jazzin around and paintin' the town
How ya gonna keep 'em away from harm, that's a mystery
Imagine Reuben when he meets his Pa
He'll kiss his cheek and holler "OO-LA-LA!
How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree'?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Macaron Dreams 2013

Just how in this world am I supposed to concentrate or get any work at all done when this is what I look at on my desk right next to my computer?  AND when visions of Paris are dancing in my head?  And when I have a blinking 6ft. tall Tour Eiffel in the corner of my salle de classe?

One of the girlies today even asked me how I am not just busting at the seams since I leave for Paris next week.  I must hide the excitement really well.  That's all I have to say.  I have lists on paper and lists in my head.  I lie awake at night thinking of things I want to see and do.  I have not made out an itinerary for myself.  I usually jot down a few notes about places I want to see and the metro stops.  I need to drag out my new Paris for Dummies and green Michelin guide and get to work.  Things on my mental list...

1)  Pierre Hermé's macaron shop-- after all, I have an autographed picture of M. Le Pâtissier and Laura Florand has made me hungry for his Ispahan combination of rose, letchis, et framboises featured in The Chocolate Kiss.  (If you want to read about macarons, handsome macaron-making pastry chefs, chocolate-brewing witches, and the area around Ile Saint Louis, grab this book as fast as you can.  Beware, though, it is what we used to call "racy."  I gave a copy of it to my belle-mère...  I hope she survives it.)

There are seven of M. Hermé's shops in Paris, if you count the ones inside Galeries Lafayette and the Publicis Drugstore.  I've been to the one in Galeries Lafayette a couple of times.  It's more like a kiosk-- a fancy one, mind you, but a kiosk nonetheless.  I am ready for the store.  I am thinking the one on Rue Bonaparte in the 6th arrondissement, métro Saint Sulpice, in the Saint Germain neighborhood, open at 10h00 both Saturday and Sunday.  (I've done my homework, grâce à Google.)

2)  Arizona Tammy has sent money for more Nestlé Dessert chocolate so that she can make la mousse au chocolat à la Fanny.  As good an excuse as any to hit Monoprix or ask Mme P to take me to the supermarché.   (Oui, not only am I going to Paris for three days, I am also going down south to spend five days at my favorite B&B, Chez Fanny.  It's not really a B&B, of course, just Mme P's lovely home.  When she does indeed open her B&B, I will be her muffin-maker and cleaning lady.  I thank Mlle Audrey in advance for the use of her room!)  Arizona Tammy would also like for me to look for some of the little figurines that are baked into la Galette des Rois.  January is the month of King's Cakes in France.  I look forward to photographing them in bakery windows and trying one or two.  There are two types, one made with puff pastry and filled with an almond paste-

and one that is more brioche/sweet bread style with pearl sugar and candied fruit.

(I took these pictures at the bakery in Pujaut.)

These are the figurines that Mme P's son collected last year-

And this is the fève I found in one of my pieces, marked with the bakery's name.

I hope to find the figurines at a brocanterie or flea market.  I have a few that I picked up for a euro each last year.  (I should have offered to buy the whole basket for 20 euros!)

3)  The Paris portion of the trip is courtesy of ACIS, the student travel company I now use for my spring break trips.  The grand highlight this year is a trip a bit north of Paris to the lovely town of Chantilly.  I am well-acquainted with this town.  I visited it for the first time with my college roommate and traveling buddy, Melody Scott, in the winter of 1978.  It is also where I met Mme M for the first time, in the summer of 1991. There is a beautiful château there.  It was featured in the James Bond movie A View To A Kill.  This was back in the Roger Moore era.  We will go to the château for a tour and dinner, no less.  I hope that I will get to see Mme M-- it's been far too long since I've seen her.  Four years to be exact.  This is a photo she sent me recently.

3)  Have dinner/lunch/a drink/whatever with the Best Guide in Paris.  I've emailed him, but he hasn't responded.  I have not given up hope.  He is a busy guy.   He is a travel guide, works as a translator for Air France, and volunteers in Israel.  I did see him in July, but hey, that's already seven months ago.  I am nothing if not patient.

4)  Play American Star with Mme P's classes.  I will deliver gifts, pen pal letters, and whatever else I need to do to generate enthusiasm and excitement for the spring exchange trips.  Ours is in March, theirs is in April.  Oui, I get to spend over three weeks with Mme P between now and mid-April.  I hope to see Mme Boop also.

How lucky am I that I have these two belles Françaises as my friends?

So, yes, I am very excited.  I am busting at the seams.  I am making lists and packing my bags.  I've ordered euros, made a photocopy of my passport, met with my substitute teacher, collected various gifts, bookmarked spots in my guidebooks that I want to see, dreamed of strolling along the Seine and the Rhône, bought travel-sized toiletries, asked Son 1 and Son 2 what they would like for me to bring them back (other than beautiful French girls), and on and on and on.  The Ex-Ex will have a nice, quiet, neat house all to himself for a few days.  The cats will survive without me and probably not even miss me.  (The Ex-Ex will feed them.)  And before I know it, the January trip will be a memory and I will be moving on to the very hectic March trip.  The one where I will count to 17 at least one hundred times and not get much sleep at all.  Life moves quickly.  Carpe diem and always have your passport handy.

Bon appétit, Paris et la Provence!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Comfort Zones

If you want to listen to Brad Paisley sing about leaving his Southern Comfort Zone, click on the link below.  You are in for a treat... beautiful scenery.  And a great message.  Being a Southern girl, I know everyone he references, from Billy Graham to Martha White.  I was 20 years old before I boarded my first airplane and that was to head to France for the first time!  Talk about leaving my comfort zone.  Mon dieu.  When I look back on it, I wonder how I ever worked up the nerve to do it in the first place.  But you can believe that I am very proud of myself for taking that first giant step towards my future.

I talk to my students constantly about taking chances and getting out of their comfort zones.  That's the way to grow and develop a sense of self and independence.  Teaching a second language to middle schoolers gives me the chance to spread the gospel.  Many of my students have traveled extensively already-- with their parents.  But our spring break trip to France is a whole other kettle of fish.  I give them a certain amount of independence that they have basically been earning since they set foot in my classroom two or three years ago.  For some of them, it is two weeks of firsts--the first time they've been responsible for setting an alarm and waking themselves up.  The first time they've been totally in charge of what they have for lunch.  The first time they've budgeted their money and bought souvenirs for their family and friends all on their own.  The first time they've been immersed in a language other than English.  The first time taking public transportation and/or a train.  The first time they are completely in charge of their own belongings.  I watch them grow up.

Since the trip is only two months away, we have started talking about what to expect.  I get so tired of hearing or reading about rude Parisians.  How about rude travelers?  Or maybe not even rude, just not aware of how to read the French.  Or treat them.  Or what to expect.  Here is a crash course--

  • Always greet the sales clerk, waiter, shop owner, front desk person, etc. with Bonjour/Bonsoir, madame/monsieur/mademoiselle.  My students know how to say that.  We practice it every day. It isn't hard to learn.  It's basic politesse.   Comment allez-vous?  (How are you?)  also works wonders.
  • Most everyone in the tourist business speaks English and they love to practice on Americans.  I strongly encourage my students to speak French, of course, and not feel intimidated if the waiter speaks English to them.  This happens to me, too.  I do not look French.  The best I can do is Canadian.  But I speak French with them and they seem to appreciate it. (And if they ask to have their photo taken with you, indulge them if you wish!)

  • Speaking English loudly will not help a French person who doesn't speak English magically understand you.  Americans tend to be loud enough as it is.

  • Use vous with adults, not tu.  The French have two ways to say you-- vous is polite and plural.  It is used with adults you call by Mr. or Mrs.  Tu is reserved for family and friends.
  • Do not assume that French people are staring at you and talking about you.  This one is difficult for middle schoolers since they still think that the world revolves around them.  Yes, they are looking at you.  This is culture of cafe-sitters and watch-the-world-go-byers.  It's a national past time.  And trust me, I spend my fair share of time looking at how Frenchies dress and carry themselves.  It's fascinating.

  • On subways and trains, do not assume that just because you are speaking English in a French-speaking country that no one will understand your English.  You could really get into big trouble that way.  If you don't believe me, get a copy of David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day and read the chapter entitled Picka Pocketoni.  This book is hi-lar-i-ous.  I mean laugh-out-loud funny.  I read this chapter out loud to my students before we leave.  As a matter of fact, I recommend you get a copy of the book and read the whole thing regardless of whether you are going to France or not.
  • If you like washcloths, take one with you.  Most French hotels don't supply them.
  • Sometimes you have to use your room key to turn the lights on.
  • In small boutique hotels you are expected to leave your key at the front desk when you go out.  Please, please, please don't lock it in your room.  (That costs my students a 5 euro tip to the person who has to go up all those stairs and let them in.)
  • It can be difficult to find a public restroom.  And they can be totally different from what you are used to.  Always have tissues in your pocket.

  • In supermarkets, you are expected to bag your own stuff.  And you will probably be charged a few centimes for the plastic bag.  They really like for shoppers to bring their own re-usable bags.
  • There are no free refills of coffee, soda or mineral water.  A pitcher of tap water, un carafe d'eau, is free and will be refilled upon request.  Iced tea doesn't really exist except in a Lipton can.
  • Most Parisians are just going about their every day life, getting home to their families, eating lunch, going to work, shopping for basic necessities, running marathons, etc. We are invading their territory.  They just happen to live in the most beautiful city in the world.  

  • Slow down and look at the architecture.  Window shop.  They call it faire du lèche-vitrine.  Literally, window-licking.  

  • Try new foods.  Don't say something is weird.  Only after you've tasted snails can you tell me that you don't care for them.  And don't comment on other people's food choices.

I am sure that I will think of other words of wisdom to pass on.  And I promise to practice all the above very soon.  I leave in ten days.  Three glorious days in Paris and five in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon with Mme P, her family, and her students.  Window-licking is high on my list of priorities.

Bon appétit to new adventures and leaving your comfort zone from time to time!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


So, I promised myself, on this last day of vacation before school starts again, that I would get up early, make the coffee, feed the cats (oops! forgot to do that), and get to work.  I still have a few 8th grade exams to grade.  But here I am.  I checked my gmail and found an email from the BFF with a link to a very, very funny blog, I Miss You When I Blink (written by one of her blood relatives, no less). I had to spend 45 minutes reading her posts and stifling my giggles so I don't wake anyone up and can continue to have a few minutes to myself.  Next on my list was to read my horoscope.  I get two of them every day.  One from here's today's lowdown for Leo the Lion--

Feel free to do almost anything without fear of consequence, Leo. Your
style is so superb right now that few are likely to question you. Friends
and lovers can depend on you for a good time, and colleagues know they can
count on you to get the job done. Just remember to leave work behind at
quitting time.

I am truly relieved to know that about my superb sense of style and the fact that not much of anyone is going to question me when I go to lunch at Bull City Burger and Brewery with Best Sister-In-Law-In The-World and Ms. Sunshine (the BFF will be waiting on us there because she is working today) in my jeans and black sweater.  And clogs, of course.  Can't very well go barefooted.

Then I also check out the horoscope that is delivered to my dashboard here on the MacBook Pro that I so generously call my own even though it is technically owned by my employers.  It is called Zodiac Widget and I found it here.  Here is today's forecast (other than the rain and 48˚ for a high that is predicted here... I also have weather widgets showing Durham, Paris, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, and Arles; I would take a screenshot of my dashboard but that would take me at least an hour to figure out, so I will wait for another day when I feel like wasting more time)--

When someone reaches out to you today, stifle your shy, introverted side and reach back at them.  Smile, flirt, and try to be open about how you feel.  Even if you are caught off guard by all the friendliness, just try to relax and go with it.  It's fun!  People find you very approachable and you should get used to the unexpected.  Start making small efforts to react more warmly and receptively... these moves will be recognized and appreciated.

Okay, I will try to be friendly and receptive.  And smile.  That won't be difficult since I am having lunch with the girls at the best burger joint in the whole wide world.

Can't resist a picture of one of our Paris lunches from this summer...

I don't really believe the horoscope stuff (unless it's good, of course) and I probably only remember to read it four out of seven days of the week.  Sometimes I read the one in our local paper if I can get my hands on it before the Ex-Ex takes that section of the paper to work the crossword and I never see it again.  I would quote that one for today but that would mean putting on the aforementioned clogs and going on in the rain in my non-too-stylish pajamas.  Not going to happen.  Sorry.  (But I am smiling as I say that to you.  See horoscope.)

Bon appétit to all Leos and the rest of you inferior other signs!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bonne Année 2013

I didn't stay up late enough to watch the ball drop in New York City, but I did hear someone in my neighborhood lighting firecrackers.  I received a couple of midnight text messages to let me know that 2012 had ended and 2013 had begun.
I hope that the New Year brings happiness and peace.  I hope that my family and friends stay healthy.  I hope that our elected officials decide to work together, regardless of party affiliation, for the good of the American people.  I hope that there are no more senseless murders of innocent people, young or old.  I hope that our president stays safe during his second term and is able to accomplish what he has set out to do.  I hope that the world laughs more and cries less.  I hope that we take the time each day to do something nice for someone else without recognition or reward.  I hope that no children go to bed hungry or afraid.  I promise myself that I will get in better shape, eat healthier, work on my book, and be a better mom, wife, daughter, teacher, and friend.  I will take more deep breaths and have more patience.  I look forward to a new beginning.

Bon appétit and Bonne Année 2013!