Sunday, January 15, 2012

Compote de Poires.

Was very pleased to see the little seckel pears at market again with the new year.

The last of last week's batch before hitting la casserole.

Every year at about this time, these little beauties are packed into plastic bags and sold at ridiculous prices*.  Last week, they were going for two kg for four euro (that's roughly a dollar a pound).  I bought four kg with the intention of turning 1/2 of that into a gingery pear butter.  That never happened, as we found we loved the 'compote' or sauce as is (no sugar, no nothing added).  Was great as a side with ham, over our yogurt, snuck out of the bowl in the fridge by the spoonful.

This week, I saw that they were down to three euro for five kg.  Bought a huge bag of pears along with some tiny, toothsome sweet/tart apples with the intention of freezing a bit of the compote for later use.**  On one hand, would really like to make more fruit butter.  On the other, the fruit's already so sweet and full of flavor that the addition of sugar/spices seems a bit like gilding the lily.  


* I asked the Frenchie if the cheap prices and the sale au marche had anything to do with these fruits not conforming to EU standards on size/shape.  He said that those regulations were retired a while back, but it wouldn't surprise him that people are now conditioned to not want "imperfect" or "normalized" fruits, thus forcing the vendors to sell so low.

** Wouldn't a granita or nectar be lovely on a triple-digit hot Summer day?  A girl can dream.

Monday, January 09, 2012


It's interesting to see how much space in the French women's magazines is devoted to horoscopes, this being the land of Enlightenment and all. To be fair, in some (but certainly not the majority) of the American ones I've looked through, you'll have a little blurb on your sign from month to month. This is nothing compared to the French editors' fascination with the stars and their predictive abilities, though.  I can normally count on two supplemental booklets (one for the New Year, one for Summer vacation) plus other exposes on things like Numerology, I Ching...everything short of augury and necromancy, actually*.

New Year this year was a little different as I think the government is really pushing homeopathy right now.  As a result, the little supplement booklets I normally get with my detailed (and often contradictory) profiles were replaced with something telling me to consider alternative treatments for things like diabetes and depression. Was a little disappointed at first, but that feeling soon gave way to marvel when I looked over the cover articles of one publication:

 Right side, four down from the top:  Astro Mode.  Ce soir, je m'habille Lion ou Belier?  That is - Fashion by the Stars.  Tonight do I dress like a Leo or an Aries?

"For heaven's sakes," I thought, crossing myself.  "This is what I've been waiting for!  Here is my secret to losing some of that native frumpiness."

Wasted no time this time mulling over crafts or "recettes bluffantes," went straight to the money article, the pertinent to me parts of which are roughly as follows**:
Fashion by the Stars.

"It's a proven fact:  the Signs of the Zodiac influence our Fashion Sense.  But...for when the clock strikes Twelve...will I be feeling Aries or a Leo?
Air Signs:  You are a Gemini, Libra or Aquarius.  The element Air evokes a Breath of Fresh Air, Light, Communication, Joie de Vivre.

Aquarius:  Originality in the form of a woman!  Ahead of her time, she's a style-maven nonpareil, a source of inspiration for others.  Her colors:  Black, White, Parme (Lavender,) Sky Blue."
- Modes et Travaux, January 2012.
 Following were pictures of three-inch stilettoes and lots of accessories in patent leather or vinyl.  Even if they did get it right about me horoscope-wise (yes, I am indeed an Inspirational Original, a Creative Force of Nature, Lightness, A Breath of Fresh Air), am not really sure about the dominatrix-wear as am more given to earth tones and sensible shoes.


* The latter two would be a great tie-in to a feature on cuisines du terroir, come to think of it.

** If you're interested in your astrological fashion profile, drop a line. Would be glad to share; just didn't feel like putting it all out here.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Did I mention previously how much I learn not only culture-wise, but vocabulary-wise from these magazines?  They're a treasure-trove of pop imagery, current argot, etc. 

Case in point:  the other day, I brought home a favorite weekly (which I get mainly for the recipes; they're really good.  I should just get their magazine devoted to cooking; can't resist the more general one, though.) called appropriately enough "Modern Woman."

 As you can see, I'm not making this up.

Mentioned to the Frenchie that one of my Beauty resolutions for 2012 would be to find 'le bon make-up pour booster mon look trendy.'

"Huh?"  He looked up at me.  "I think I misheard you.  What did you say?"

"Pour 2012, je dois choisir le bon make-up pour booster mon look trendy."

"What did you say?  Forget it.  What the hell does that even mean?

I sighed at his vieux schnookitude* for not understanding modern French.  "Okay, Pepe:  Pour 2012, je dois choisir le bon maquillage pour renforcer une allure tendance."

"That's better.  Thanks." (Could just hear the "Kids today" tacked on to the end of that sentence.)


* being an old geezer.

**  The correct French translation of "pour 2012, je dois choisir le bon make-up pour booster mon look trendy" which is Frenglish jive talk for "I've got to choose the right make up to ratchet up my trendiness quotient."
La Presse Feminine.

Will admit to a guilty pleasure here:  women's magazines.  Though I don't subscribe to any, I do like to pick a little something up at the press kiosk from time to time to see how underachieving/unfashionable/unhealthy I am according these publications.  I also like to keep up with what I guess is Popular Feminism around the world*.

What's interesting about a lot of the French ones I look at is that they tend to mix the sex and fashion right in with the family counseling stuff, the recipes and whatever cute little decorating hints they might have.  A couple of the ones I really like have a knitting pattern** plus an offer for a free sewing pattern***.  I guess one could say that they're a hybrid between Cosmopolitan and Martha Stewart****.

Aside from that, the fashion/diet/relations with men stuff is pretty similar between the French and American magazines.  Briefly put, it's always assumed that you're looking to lose weight to fit into the otherwise unwearable (not to mention overpriced) fashion they're pushing that month.  You're also probably having a tough time navigating your relationship, so need whatever advice you can get - good, bad or otherwise.

Of course, since we're talking about a couple countries facing one another but with an ocean separating them, there will be other minor differences*****. To wit:

In the average American magazine, you're an young, independent, intelligent, gifted (insert whatever other positive adjectives you can think of here) woman on the go.  You don't need a man, but you might want one around anyway to pay for drinks and lift heavy stuff, so here's 25 sizzling contortion acts you can do in bed (all vetted by the magazine's team of sex/emotional/physical therapists) to keep him interested.

In the average French one, you're a sophisticated, intelligent, gifted (etc) young woman whose been married for a bit and you've found out that your partner's had three kids by a succession of girlfriends on the side.  Since you're the one with the ring and the piece of paper, not to mention the honor of doing his laundry, you'd like for him to lay off the other women.  In confronting him, you get told you're "not much fun" or "a bore."  What do you do?  Well, you write to the magazine's team of philosophers/sexologists who will take time out from their busy lecture circuits and second careers as psychoanalysts to ask you just what the hell you want out of your relationship.

Refreshing, isn't it? to see that we're all more or less in the same boat?


* Then there's the vocabulary boost I get from the French and German editions.  See?  It all isn't a waste.
** No matter how easy the project, I like to see that promoted.

*** Really nice, as those can be expensive.

**** Try wrapping your mind around that one.

***** The German stuff I read is actually for the 'mature woman' (that is, for women over 40), so happily we're spared the fashion and sex advice.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


Though yesterday was technically the Feast of the Magi, weak stomachs kept us from digging in to the traditional Epiphany Cake or 'galette des rois.' Instead, saved them for today's breakfast.

There's a lot to be said for delayed gratification.

Traditionally, these are either just straight puff pastry or pastry filled with apples or almond paste. Nowadays, you'll find filled with chocolate, other fruit fillings, even Grand Marnier-infused spice cake. We like to stick to the frangipani, or almond, as that's our favorite. Also, since these cakes can be very heavy, we bought small individual-serving ones rather than a regular-sized one (which serves 6-10 depending on how you cut it.)

Was very pleased, too, to add to my 'feve' collection.

King Louis XIII was the first feve I ever got.  Then came the Citroen fire truck.  After that came the 'Lapin Cretin' - or 'Special Needs Rabbit,' as I like to call him.  This year, we got the two little girls:  the Indian was in the Frenchie's galette and the African was in mine.

Back in the Old Days, a small feve, or bean would be baked into the pastry and whoever found it would be crowned King for the day.  Nowadays, a little porcelain toy is substituted.  Like lots of folks am sure, I actually get the treat for the toy.

Happy Belated 12th Day of Christmas!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The weather's been very odd lately. Temperatures have been averaging about 12-15 degrees celsius (that'd be about 55-60ish f). The winds, though not as rough around the Channel, are still a bit wild. Black, black, really black storm clouds are quickly rolling in and out, bringing with them rainbows, cloudbursts and sometimes even hail.

We were treated to a double rainbow the other day while errand-running in Lower Suresnes.  Two minutes later, serious cloudburst.

Storm clouds gathering again over the Bois du Boulogne.

Naturally, with conditions like this, there're a lot of nasty bugs going around that would normally be killed by a good cold snap.  I unfortunately got waylaid by one (more on that later - I promise/threaten...) and ended up watching today's show from the sidelines.  Hopefully things'll be better tomorrow, as it's supposed to be glorious out.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Resolutions and Resolve.

I just don't see the point of New Year's resolutions. Why the arbitrary first of January for making all sorts of drastic changes? Doesn't do much except crowd others out of the local pool or gym until the end of the month when impetus and interest peter out. If I want to try something new that requires a bit of discipline, am more likely to have this new interest take if I *don't* start it at around the darkest/coldest time of the year up here.

This was certainly the case with the low-carbohydrate diet I decided to put myself on last Summer: the first two weeks were kind of hellish not from the lack of caffeine or sugar or alcohol or what have you, but more from my body getting used to deriving its energy from proteins or fat rather than the other sources. After that, things were more or less smooth sailing*. Now that I've changed continents, latitudes and cultural attitudes about food, it's been a bit more of a challenge. Started eating a bit of bread and jam in the morning (Jam's homemade. I know because I made it). Dairy products are de rigeur.

Exercise-wise it's tough, as my being so far north here means that the days are noticeably shorter than even those in the northern part of the other continent I come from. There's also the feeling of being cloistered by the seven foot high, locked gates that separate all properties. Sometimes I just don't want to leave the house because of all the locks on the doors. Don't think that there's the same exercise culture here as where I come from either, meaning that I'm often the only non-buff-warrior-athlete type out jogging (when my body can take it)/speed walking on the local paths.

Anyway, resolutions to me seem like false bravado. This time of the year, I'd just like a Second Wind to blow through - helping me to combat inertia and clearing the cobwebs out that have accumulated during the shortening of the days.


* All my life I've struggled with my weight. What can I say? Some of us have problems that the mere "eat less, exercise more" that we're told to do just doesn't work so well on. Like the folks mentioned here, I have to be *constantly* on my toes - logging everything I eat, all the water I drink, every step I take in a day. It's damn tiring and, if I'm under stress as I have been for the past two or three years, it ain't happening. Sorry.

I really like the low-carbohydrate approach as I do seem to have more physical energy. Noted this when I was on Weight Watchers when younger: cut out the bread and you don't feel so logey. It can, however, be a bit high-maintenance (though maybe not so much as the more à la mode practice of veganism. Been there, done that. Ain't gonna happen again.). Following a pastiche of different and sometimes disparate approaches, have managed to lose 20 lbs (going from my second-highest weight ever of 195 to a more manageable 175). Still would like to lose another 15. Am really worried, though, that I'm either not going to be able to do that while here or am even going to backslide.

Monday, January 02, 2012

I'm willing to bet that this would hold its own quite nicely against a 10€ offering in most of the places featured in the Figaroscope.

Just a bit of really good fromage blanc* that I drizzled with Mistral's home-harvested honey, then sprinkled with ginger and fresh-grated nutmeg.  It looked kind of naked, so added the fig for a bit of a flourish.


* Our favorite is from the experimental farm for INRA, or the National Institute for Agronomic Research, in Grignon and is about as good as it gets.  The stuff I've found in the States is okay but it's very expensive (not worth the price).  Better to either use a good Greek yogurt or to make your own and drain it.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

First Day.

It dawned warm, damp and gray; not too bad, though, if you're accustomed to frigid Januaries. Enjoyed a bit more truffles and eggs, then decided to take a wander about the neighborhood.  Wanted to see the old sights with new eyes for the New Year.

A view of the American Cemetery from La Terrasse.  The trees in the foreground are planes, historic staples in French landscape architecture.  (If you've ever driven down a departmental route - the US equivalent would be a state or maybe county route - or wandered alongside a canal here,  these would most likely be the trees you'd see lining them.)

The Frenchie calls Paris a very 'mineral' city.  He's right about that, both for the living and the dead.  It was a little strange to see the well-kept lawns of this American (or garden-style) cemetery at first, to hear the carillon play the "Star Spangled-Banner" Sundays at noon and five p.m.  Now, it's become a comfort.  Often, when I'm finding myself a bit out of sorts, I'll go and walk around the soldiers' graves like what I used to do when I was child with my dad on Memorial Day.

A January Rose in the gardens along the Terrasse.   Have seen cherry trees and mimosas in bloom as well.

Some Suresnois red roofs.  As always, the skyscrapers of La Défense are looming almost sinister-like in the background.