Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Past and the Present: Normandie Life

I snapped a little shot on my phone of the main street of our downtown area. I think it actually gets more charming as you move in a little further towards the church ... but I have been so touched by all of the flag buntings that I see flying on houses and at the entry to this marketplace. Did you notice the nationalities? With the 70 year anniversary of World War II this last summer, there are tributes everywhere.

Our little town here was hit by bombs so severely that 90% of the town was destroyed as the Allied Forces were forced to attack the German occupation. The photos I've seen are so sobering. And certainly, I think of my own Grandfather Stone and his experience.

I had my first language exchange/chat yesterday with a French woman, as we both want to work on our language skills with a native speaker. (Incidentally, her English is far better than my French and she is very patient!) She was surprised to hear that often, Americans think the French don't like us.

Pourquoi? She asked, surprised. She proceeded to talk about Americans as the friends of the French and told me a few stories of her family during the war. This is Normandy. And these events were not that long ago.

Many of the buildings had to be rebuilt from the ground up, some restored expertly, and others have been fabulously patched and mortared back together. We love to drive around and point out buildings that show new and creative stonework that managed to salvage original structures.


But even though the events of the past are not at all forgotten, a resiliency and pride are notable. To see flowers blooming and a monument erected at the spot the tanks first rolled through ... Wow.

We have yet to get to the D-day beaches. Have any of you been? Any tips or things we should definitely do or see? If you have never been, like me, what would you be most curious about?

Friday, September 19, 2014

How to Buy a Corsage from a Treehouse Boutique

 We all know that quality and freshness go hand in hand. So first thing, when you need to buy a corsage from a 9 year-old treehouse entrepreneur, make sure that all blossoms have been picked within 24 hours and have been stored in a cool place, like her mother's refrigerator.

Next, you need to ask yourself, does the floral artist really take care in her craft? Does she have a vision? Does she keep a broom in her treehouse to signal an attention to detail and a tidy workspace? Does she look darling in her sundress and wear a contented smile?

If you find yourself answering yes to all these questions, proceed with confidence.

To begin, ring the bell at the establishment to let your florist know you are interested in her wares. She'll lean over from her ledge and give you a thumbs-up. You may now climb the ladder to begin the selection process.

As you are browsing, feel free to ask for recommendations in the assembling of your corsage. For instance, for a mere 20 centièmes more, you can add a sprig of greenery that will really make the whole bouquet come together.


 Once the assembly is complete, she'll wait patiently for you when you realize you forgot your money in all the excitement. When you are ready, just drop the fee in the bucket.


 
She'll haul up her cash to her boutique and lower back down the most beautiful corsage you ever could have hoped for.

And for free of charge, award you with a beaming smile to boot.

The corsage can be worn or placed any number of places. However, behind the ear is always a good choice and will even stay put during a rousing game of badminton.

Without a doubt, you will find that this is the best purchase you've made in ages.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Covert Photos From the Yogurt Aisle

When I have emailed, FaceTimed and Skyped with my dear ones, inevitably, the question will be asked: "What is different?" or "What do you love about being there?" Of course, there are many, many things to drone on about, but I always feel compelled to share about one very critical thing: The Yogurt Aisle. (Capitalization mandatory.)

So, the French are serious about their yogurt. It's called yaourt and it seems to rival the baguette in the importance of daily consumption. (Well, okay, nothing beats the baguette here, but it's close!) When you go to the marché, there is a full, double-sided aisle fully loaded with yogurt.

I've been wanting to take some photos (just with my phone) for weeks now, but the aisle is always so busy ... I just felt too creepy taking photos. So I came first thing this morning, right after they opened the store. (9:00am. Nothing is open before 9:00am except ... the boulangerie, where you can by bread. Of course.) And even still, I had to circle a bit until it was relatively empty and pretend to be looking at my phone for something very important. Click. Click-Click. (I don't know why I feel so embarrassed! I wouldn't care at all, back in the States...)

So let's break it down. On the left you have primarily the natural, unsweetened, and not-excessively-sweet-good-for-breakfast yogurts. Mixed in you'll find some crème and some yogurt-like cheeses. Judging by the amount of these yogurts I see it people's carts, I'm pretty sure they have it for breakfast just about everyday. And maybe lunch. And some of it goes in sauces. And baked goods. And as a topping. 

On the right it's all dessert yogurts. I don't even know how to describe it. As Pops said, "It's like a parade of every kind of dairy deliciousness you could imagine..."

And it's not just straight yogurt. It comes in multiple forms: mousse, crème brûlée, fruit compote, tiramisu, rice pudding, with meringue ... and in flavors that will make your brain explode just a little, every.single.time. (Fleur de sel caramel, chestnut mousse, apple tarte, caramel, dark chocolate pistachio, lemon zest ...)

And all kinds of yogurts come in the standard paper or plastic tubs, but often in darling glass jars or even petite terracotta pots (See above photo, middle and to the right). It's also worth noting that yogurts are typically smaller in size than American yogurts. A culinary French theme is definitely: Better to have a little bit of something exquisite than a ton of something subpar. I think this is an excellent philosophy that I will adopt as soon as I stop eating three at a time.

I'm told that everyone here eats a yogurt after dinner. And at school, the kids always have a yogurt as an option for dessert at lunchtime. So I pretty much take this as permission to eat yogurt all the time, anytime. (PS- Did I tell you I was off dairy and gluten for 10 months before we came to France? I think that might be against the law here. And I am very law abiding.)

So would you be as infatuated as me? Even if you aren't normally a yogurt fan, does this pique your interest? What would you go for first?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Let's Try to Eat French, Steamed Mussels

Have you ever cooked mussels before? I confess, before we went to Honfleur, I'd never really had a big bowlful much less prepared them. Somehow things in shells seem rather daunting. But les moules are a big thing here in Normandy. And when I was at the market the other day, I noticed all of the older women clucking about this giant pile of mussels. Curious, I held back and pretended I was looking at a jar of jam and watched how the scene played out.

On a giant platform, a massive amount of mussels were displayed on a bed of ice. The ladies would grab a plastic sack and with the provided metal scoop, fill up their bag with the amount they deemed appropriate. Tie off the sack, walk over to the fish man, and hand over the goods for him to weigh and determine the price.

It seemed easy enough. And turns out it was! I completely guessed on the amount needed and when the fish man asked me a follow-up question, I responded with c'est tout (meaning "that's all," my go to response when I have no clue) and he seemed content with that.


Back at home I did a little research on prep and simply spent about fifteen minutes at the sink rinsing, scrubbing off any bits or barnacles, and removing "beards." Sounds weird and gross but kind of like wet, briny corn-silk. No biggie. Grab, yank towards the hinge point, discard. And if any are chipped or don't close when you tap them, this means they aren't alive anymore and you should toss them. (I kind of forgot they were "live" and it was a little bananas to see them slowly open and shut!) Finally, I placed in a bowl of water, covered, and kept in the fridge 'til dinner.

When evening came and it was cookin' time, I loosely followed a recipe online. You can leave out the cream if you want, but I used Creme Crue Sineux (from our landlord's family farm!), and I used half wine and have (hard) cider, because that's another big thing here.

Honestly, it's about the easiest thing ever and it cooks in just under 10 minutes if they are small like these.

And when you take off the lid and they have all opened through some culinary magic, it's so exciting!

It's also exciting to eat with your fingers, pile up all the empty shells in an extra bowl, and eat lots of crusty bread to soak up the juices and make your belly extra happy.

So, have you cooked these before? Could you convince your kids that they aren't too creepy looking? What about oysters (I have no idea on this one!)? Do shellfish scare you? Do you have other kinds of recipes that are super simple, tasty, and fun to serve a family? 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lucette Claims Her Domain

For the first time, she has her own room. To read, to lounge, to just have some space of her own.

In general, I think privacy amongst family is overrated ... it's good to be in each other's business. But I can appreciate the luxury of having one's own domain. Particularly at eleven years-old.

 But if she's in there too long, we start to miss her and we come a tap-tappin' on her door. I think she likes that too.

And if you keep taking photos ... the fun really starts to begin.

Friday, September 12, 2014

La Porte, La Cressonnière

I have a feeling that someday we will look back on our stay here at La Cressonnière and marvel. It would be hard not to. With that in mind, I'd like to start posting on the maison itself. And where better to start? At the front door of course ...

 If I recall correctly, the door is near original to the house. It dates to about 350 years ago! That means this door is older than the founding of the country I was born in.

My landlord mentioned that a few of the front panels had to be replaced (note the difference in texture towards the bottom and right?), but that he was horrified at the suggestion that the whole door be replaced.
 
 I couldn't agree more. While heavy, and a bit awkward ... and truly drafty (when winter comes, we'll cease use of it, stuffing batting in the cracks and hanging a curtain over the doorway), it brings me great delight to wrench the porte about and traipse over its threshold.

I'm quite certain a brand new door wouldn't have the same effect ...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

To Love and Be Loved In Return

 Jane turned 9 years-old, yesterday. It was a lovely day. We had breakfast together, worked outside in the yard, tromped about in the creek and traveled to church for our very first service since we've arrived.

But most of all, we just celebrated Jane being Jane.

She has a remarkable gift in making other people feel special, even when she is the star attraction. 

She gasps with delight when you give her a calligraphy pen because she's always wanted one. She can't wait to get outside to use her new set of sandpaper or wood shaver on the branch she has been laboring over (it will make a good walking stick). And her eyes glitter over the hair ribbons that Peter picked out especially for her.


Her enthusiasm is so genuine, so gentle yet bright ... to be in her company is feels like a ray of sun just set up on your day.

Perhaps that is why Lucette was inspired to make a chocolate masterpiece in honor of Jane's day.

For Jane is a reminder that it is good to love and be loved in return.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Light Meal to End the Day

We have been continuing to acclimate to our new culture. Some of it has been hard (hello, language.) but some of it ... like the food ... has been oh, so delightful.

However, I have been wondering how on earth these French mothers manage to get a good dinner on the table considering how late we all get home from school. The day is rather shifted and while the start is a bit later and the school lunches are long (hello, 1.5-2 hours.), we don't tumble through the doors at home until about 5pm. 

It was recently explained to me that lunchtime is considered the biggest meal of the day (again, hello long lunch hours) and dinner is more of a light meal. Often times a salad and perhaps accompanied by ...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First Day, Les Grands Enfants

Today, Peter and Lucette had la rentré scolaire in collegè (middle school). First days are always big. This seemed behemoth. And to be honest ... it was. It was overwhelming and confusing, but they did it. I am really proud of them.

And. I am really glad they have each other.



To be honest, I am rather emotional today. Prayer has been my occupation and thoughts to share are escaping me.

Somedays, some events, some seasons ... sometimes it's just like that.


I love these two so dearly. Somedays I feel like my heart is on the outside of my body ...

In quietness and confidence shall be your strength. Isaiah 30:15

Monday, September 1, 2014

A First Day, En Française

Today was Jane's first day! Oh my, we were both so excited and filled with nervous energy we could hardly sleep last night. (It felt like my first day too!)

But the morning came and we were ready. The hairstyle had been planned and practiced, clothes laid out, school supplies and backpack ready, French language cheat sheet in pocket.


She's in third grade this year! In France it's called CEII or 9eme (they start at 12th grade/eme and count down rather than up, like we do in the States.) We were told we could come up to the classroom early to meet Monsieur Laurent, Jane's teacher. He was kind, soft-spoken, and ... spoke excellent English. Hurrah! Oh, such an answer to prayer.

I stayed with Jane for the first half-hour, whilst the other parents were in and out dropping their kids off, looking excited and nervous just like us. After a bit, Jane told me that she was ready to do the day on her own and gave me a kiss on each cheek, just like a proper French girl. She amazes me.

All day I would find myself remembering her and what a big day she was having and begin praying feverishly. And when I saw her exit the building at the end of the school day, my heart near skipped a beat. Up she came running to me with both relief to have made it through the day and excitement at all she had done.


We all quizzed her over dinner (Peter and Lucette don't begin until Wednesday), peppering her with questions. We learned a lot about her day, but her most favorite thing? Lunch. They ate on proper dishware and enjoyed a first course of fruit or savory crêpes, a main course of roast beef with a sauce/gravy (that was apparently a-mazing), roasted carrots, and "the best crispy, salty fries I've ever tasted" and for dessert, a cheese sampler, yogurt and dark chocolate squares.

As I tucked her in this evening she sighed, proud of her accomplishments today ... and was wondering what will be the next lunch served.

My kind of gal.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Daytrip to Honfleur


One of the things we have been most looking forward to living in France is the access to to so many sights and treasures ... many just within a hour or two reach. With school starting up this next week, we thought we would take advantage of some time on Saturday to head out for a day-trip to the utterly enchanting village of Honfleur. Have you heard of it? It almost reminds me of a French version of Venice, with all the candy colors, shops, and tiny walkways. Like a grown-up playland.

It was breezy and a little drizzly out, but perhaps that made it a little less busy and touristy. (Even though we are tourists 100%, we like to pretend we are not.)



Honfleur was miraculously spared during the bombings of WWII and the port, half-timbered buildings, and even some of the moored boats look much like they would have in the 16th-18th century. It feels like a time-capsule.

The kids have been really open to seeing and trying new things (they all ate mussels today!).  I'm super proud of their perspectives on this adventure and marvel at the gift of being able to do this together. I know these child-rearing days will be gone in a blink and I am just trying to soak it all up. 

And did you notice? It's official. Peter is taller than me.

We began chatting with a German family at lunch today, after they apologized for some restless behavior from their toddler and preschooler. Naturally, we didn't mind a bit, but I realized ... we are now the family with "big kids." 

(Incidentally, French lunches are notoriously long. By the time we were done with our meal, we had all sorts of conversations with our lunch companions. We even had an invitation for a tour of Frankfurt, should we happen to make it to their home town. Maybe we will!)


Honfleur, being an ancient coastal village, has some wonderfully quirky character traits. For instance, the church was built out of wood by the local seamen and the interior naves look like upside down hulls of ships ... and if they were to turn upside down, they would float!


Everywhere one walks there is someone with their camera or even an easel and paintbrush. The lighting is beautiful and it's no wonder it was home to some of the original impressionist artists.

It can be a rather inspiring city!

*Is Honfleur your style, or are you more of a big city person? Do you approach one kind of city differently than another?