Showing posts with label France. Show all posts
Showing posts with label France. Show all posts

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A trip to Provence, accompanied by Julia Child

What is the greatest expat book of all time? So far, for me, it has to be "My Life in France" by Julia Child. These days it is easy for expats to get a book in an instant on Kindle. I still love the experience of paper copies though. I bought Julia Child's memoir of a life in France in Little Rock, Arkansas, hand carried it to Istanbul, and then to Provence, to read while when I went to visit my college girlfriend Robin and her family in July.

Last year, I delighted in documenting the pleasures of the Provence in ten different posts about my visit to Robin's house. This year was as wonderful and we did much the same things. First, there were the market pleasures in Loumartin to experience:
Perfect cherry tomatoes
Beautiful berries
more exquisite
by the small size of their boxes
French rabbits who gave their lives
in service to their country's cuisine
There were also the pleasures of food and conversation at the table. My friend Robin is a wonderful cook who knows how to make her family and guests feel loved by the smell, taste, and look of her exquisite home-cooked food.

Knowing I was coming from Istanbul, where access to pork in daily cuisine is practically non-existent, she indulged my cravings for all things pig while I was there. I think we had eight pork meals in a row!
My first breakfast in Provence.
Scrambled eggs and bacon!
Like manna from heaven.
A leek and bacon tart
Steak, mashed potatos and gravy,
grilled mushrooms and roasted fennel
Roast chicken, potatoes, and carrots.
Notice the French market preference
for keeping almost the entirety
of the chicken's feet on the chicken.
Warm leek and bacon soup
Fresh melon and prosciutto
Fresh berry tart
An English summer pudding
Oh, so delicious!
Serena, Robin and Jim's daughter, was visiting from Australia where she is working on her Masters degree in philosophy. It was so wonderful for me to see and listen to her. I had last seen Serena when she was in eighth grade. I enjoyed hearing her discuss her intellectual interests. Experiencing the children of our friends can be so delightful, don't you agree? It's a chance to appreciate our friend's life work in parenting.
Serena has grown up
to be as fine a cook
as both of her parents
Serena's apricot upside-down cake
inspired by famous food blogger
 David Lebovitz
Last year, I had told Robin and Jim about my favorite soup, Russian Cabbage Borscht, out of Mollie Katzen's "Moosewood Cookbook." Neither of them had tried borscht, so I promised to make it this year. I must need new glasses though, because in buying the tomato puree for the soup, I failed to notice two bright red chilies on the French-language label.

My soup may look like it is supposed to look, but borscht is not supposed to burn your tongue with chili heat! Oh well...our memories are always enhanced by the things that go wrong in a humorous way. I hope Robin, Jim, and Serena will give borscht a second chance after my Russian cabbage soup got a cross-cultural Latin American dose of extra heat! It's not supposed to taste like that.
Beet, cabbage, carrot, and potato goodness
Russian Cabbage Borscht
topped with yogurt and dill -
normally, healthy and satisfying comfort food.
I relished reading Julia Child's memoir of cooking and cookbook creation at the exact same time I was experiencing such interesting French food markets and food. Julia's joy in discovering the best in a culture new to her, and personalizing that knowledge with the creation of a cookbook celebrating France's cuisine was such rich reading. Provencal surroundings of French landscape and cuisine and dear friends who celebrated both enhanced my reading pleasure.

It was fascinating to me that Julia Child saw America in the polarized way of red and blue that we know today, even if she didn't use those familiar descriptive terms that were invented long after her book was published. She expressed such wonder in cross-cultural discovery and couldn't understand why her own family did not want to experience that same wonder.

Julia Child hit the sweet spot of publishing with her book when American women were cooking for themselves and wanted to make their meals as gracious and as beautiful as possible. I personally have tried cooking out of her cookbook and always find it too laborious and complicated. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate her achievement though.

I could not help but weep at the end of the memoir, such was Julia Child's fervor for the act of living and discovery and creation. What an incredibly well-lived life. Were she still alive, she would have turned 100 years old this week.

Robin and I traded books, and I started the book she was reading: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Author Gretchen Rubin fretted that time was short and she asked herself, "am I focusing on the things that really made me happy?"
The book was an account of one woman's drive to do all the things that could contribute to a net increase in her happiness over the course of the year.

How fun it was to read two books in one week and discuss the ideas in each title with my friend. I haven't read two books in one week in years! In the afternoon, Robin and I would have a late afternoon swim and discuss what we had read. The week was a retreat in every sense of the word.

I love this woman!

Thank you Robin,
for a wonderful week with you and your family.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Last Meal in the Lubéron

After a week of getting to enjoy my best friend from college, Robin, and her husband Jim, it was time to go home to Istanbul.  I have never been around someone recovering from chronic illness. Jim amazed me with his ability to withstand the everyday discomforts of his recovery with good humor.

I kept asking myself, "would I be able to be as pleasant to be around, as he is, if I was in his shoes?" Because Jim's lack of balance, post brain-surgery, makes it hard for him to leave the house or even walk from room to room, Robin puts lots of thought and effort into how to bring the world to him. I hope I helped in some small way.

I asked her, "how would you take care of him physically if you didn't have access to your resources?" She said, with emphasis, "I have no idea." We were silent for a moment in complete acknowledgement of how hard it must be for those struggling with brain-tumor recovery in their family but no ability to hire someone to come in and help.

Life can be pretty easy when nothing is going wrong.  When everything is going ok, it's easy not to think about what would be needed when catastrophe strikes.  Robin is my second friend from the same Women's College we went to who has had a husband with a brain tumor.  Luckily, my other friend's husband was French, and he received outstanding care that his wife, an American, raved about. But what about those Americans at home coping with something so completely over-the-top health-wise as a brain tumor? What about those Americans with inadequate health insurance coverage or no coverage? How do they do it?

I can't help but think Europeans have the answer and show an incredible REAL sense of community with their willingness to extend significant resources toward each other when their health needs help. Everything I have learned as an expat has made me believe in the European version of health care rather than the American version.  The Europeans have it figured out. It's not just an anecdote, the data about who lives the longest backs them up.  

  Lunch al fresco
amidst life-long friends,
with amazing comfort food,
and wonderful French wine.
the fact that the chicken's feet
are still there.
Yikes, there they are.
all the lemons that were used
to stuff him inside.
There are the lemons: peeking out.
Thank you, my dear, dear friends
for a wonderful week
in your beloved Provence.
Until we meet again,
most probably,
 in Singapore.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taking in the Provencal Village Charm of Cadenet, France

Who can resist the charm
of the plantain tree in the South of France?
I loved the idea of their legacy.
Everyone can plant a single tree
for future generations.
But do we?
Some can even plant more
and exponentially increase beauty.
I could not get enough of these trees.
They had such a peaceful quality
and their aging mottled skin inspired me.
Outside the village post office.
Notice the Liberte stamp representation
near the entrance.
A typical charming Cadenet exterior.
Shutters and windows of a certain size
are used everywhere.
In all colors.
 The inviting flowered fence (above) and 
exterior (below) of the Mayor's Office.
I believe this sign says that
Napoleon's drummer boy
was born in this home.

 I knew this famous name from history:
Victor Hugo, the author of
The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  The hardware store merchants
were neighborly.
 Sometimes it was just fun to decipher a
French sign like this one:
Maison des Anciens
Or chat up the locals.
I loved the beans hanging down
from this French vine.
The French insistence on continuing
a unified Provencal "look"
did create charm.
The cherished their Provencal history
 and prioritized it higher
than an individual homeowner's desire
to make grand changes to their houses.
The French, who prize individual liberty
as much as any American,
know that sometimes agreeing
to the common good
(in this case, strict controls on the look of housing)
creates something greater than we can do so individually.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Best View in Cadenet, France is Now Free to All

On the road to La Mourrade
there is a turn-off for the ruins
of an old chateau with the best view
of the Lubéron.
 The ruins of the old chateau include a pool.
We got a kick out the fact that it continued
to exist uncovered
when citizens have to cover
their swimming pools nightly
per EU safety regulations.
 As we walked to the chateau
we looked back toward the town of Cadenet
to take in the beautiful village steeple.
  This walk was the ultimate playground
for European children.
What child could not grow their imagination
in these surroundings?
Do you think there might be trolls down there?
  To get to the chateau when it was active
required crossing the moat.
A nice bridge helps today.
  The view of the moat and the bridge from below.
Maybe trolls lives here?
Looking down at the scenic village of Cadenet
and the nearby sunflower fields.
The view of the Luberon valley went on for miles.
It was magnificent.
Robin told me the reason this chateau
was now a ruin was the people of France
attacked it with pick axes during the Revolution.
That gave me pause.
The American people are pretty politically angry right now
but not THAT angry.
Wow, imagine what it would take for folks
to be THAT angry
they are inspired to
bring down a chateau with pickaxes.
It kind of keeps things in perspective, no?
How far do you think that is?
10-15 miles?
 Looking down at the village bells.
Jim had told me the village experimented with
eliminating them
for three months but
everyone wanted them to ring again.
When men are out in the olive groves,
they hear it ring on the hour once
but they don't catch the exact number of rings.
They then listen for the bells to ring a second time
to actually learn the exact hour.
  If it is time to go home,
they go wait
by the side of the road
for their wives to pick them up.
Even laundry is pretty in France!
We started to encounter houses as
we walked down toward the village.
 We descended into Cadenet to continue
walking around the village and to enjoy a local cafe.
May American liability lawyers never discover this place.
Ssshhh, don't tell them.
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