It’s sweet. It’s refreshing. It aids digestion, especially if you eat the whole thing. All that was left of this poor specimen was this drawing and a throbbing belly ache. Nevertheless, here’s a step-by-step guide to enjoying my favorite fruit, pineapple. Moderation at your own risk.
One of biggest differences between La France and Les States is the drastic difference in space. In France, each metre carré, or square meter, has bragging rights. Things like fondue fountains and Easy Bake Ovens don’t exist because there’s never a garage or attic to stuff them away. But I must admit to being very lucky indeed. Along with the ultimate luxury of holding out both of my arms and twirling without touching the walls, we also have room in our new kitchen for a very narrow marble bistro table for 4. So dining chez nous is nothing less than a dinner and a pirouette. Although there is nothing more intimate than being seated to eat on the host’s bed in France, there is something a little more comfortable and convivial about crowding into the kitchen for a little carpaccio/frites.
Greetings from the French Riviera! We finally fled town and are enjoying a little overdue sunshine in Nice. The zucchini flowers are in full bloom! And my Snow White skin has come out to play. A lavish 4-day bar mitzvah in Monaco of mon mari’s second cousin’s cousin is on the books. So between trips to the coiffure and the synagogue, I am trying my best to ‘relax’ and unplug a bit. But if you are still in Paris and need a wifi fix, here is my latest piece on where to log on in the City of Lights.
Voila! An illustrated taste of our new souped-up kitchen! And just a glimpse into our new pseudo-Scandanavian love nest. Since this is my first time living in an all-new place of my own, I have taken an obsessive-compulsive reacquaintance with cleaning. And the thought of packing all of Paris into our crib for a housewarming has me reaching for the Ajax. Nevertheless, the past week has been a marathon of calm, mini-housewarming events. Much to my chagrin, a housewarming does not translate directly to chauffage de maison. Instead it translates to pendaison de crémaillère. After grilling my husband about its origins since we packed our first cardboard box, I finally got an answer this evening. But like a lot of things in France, it goes way, way back in time. From what I can understand, pendaison de crémaillère is the hanging of the chain which holds a pot of soup over a fire. Straight up Medieval double, double toil and trouble! That sounds like a big old mess. I’d rather turn up the heat and call it a chauffage de maison.
After graduation, my adventurous friends were on their merry ways to NYC. The others were moving back into their Midwestern childhood bedrooms to ‘save money and figure it out’. But something else was in store for me. I had always squaked on about moving to Paris to learn a new language and escape the inevitable recession. My mom wrapped up the big surprise in a hot pink cardstock card she had crafted the night before. There was a clip art pic of a girl walking a wiener dog leaping in front of the Eiffel Tower. Sure enough, the generous graduation present from my parents was a one-way ticket to Paris. It was as easy as that. A little clip art and a Bible verse sent me on my way. I carefully packed my giant red suitcase with all the Eiffel Tower-embellished giftshop trickets my friends and family overloaded me with in anticipation. As I waved my parents goodbye at O’Hare, I settled into Economy class, keeping my Tour Eiffel journal close to me as a witness to my adventures. It was time. And I had no plan other than a contractual agreement to watch a mysterious 4-year old for one year of my life. The mini bottles of wine could not come sooner; I was terrified.
When I landed, I quickly regretted not learning a word of French beforehand. Before I left the States, I purchased French for Dummies, which was not the most becoming read on the Metro. I impatiently tried memorizing “Quelle heure est-il?”», breaking it down both phonetically and musically, but nothing stuck in my untrained monolingual brain. I thought answering ‘oui’ to everything would give me a little more conversational momentum. But alas, the conversation quickly switched to English. And a full analysis of the Bush presidency was demanded of me.
But I was quickly thrown into a routine of my own. When I wasn’t blow-drying this small child’s hair, cutting chicken cordon bleu into bite-size pieces and learning to say « non! », I was out-and-about roaming the streets. I quickly learned that my ‘Midwest does Carmen Miranda’ wardrobe got scary tongue-wagging attention from strangers. So I muted my color palette. I replaced my polyester ruffles with knits. Unlike America, where a little eye contact could get a friendly ‘howdy-do’ from a passing stranger, that quickly backfired. Every guy I made eye contact with all of sudden had something extremely important to tell me. I thought not speaking French would be a free pass out of these situations, but they all went down a laundry list of languages they spoke until finding the right one. Nevertheless, I learned to sink my head low and keep my smile to myself. I also grasped that pointing out someone’s baseball hat from my hometown sports team ignited more hassle than it was worth. So I quickly felt that Paris was not the kind of place where I could make friends just anywhere. But I became fast friends with other au pairs for much-needed happy hour cocktails and a little childcare catharsis. In retrospect, we didn’t have much in common other than the English language and controlling host mothers, but at the time we really needed each other.
In my solitude, I quickly connected the streets I knew with all of the tiny, winding rues in between. Unlike what some expats say, I didn’t find Paris’ cobblestone streets to have the power to rejuvinate my soul. I can’t say, « I was neither feeling life nor death. I was just feeling » or whatever Margo Martindale utters at the end of Paris, Je T’aime. Although I felt like the city was still permanently closed to me, as I walked the streets more and more, the more I discovered the beauty in the fine details and the history. I crashed vernissages, evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of the pain au chocolats of the 12e, and took note of places I would return to when I was making more than 300 euros a month.
My time in Paris has almost passed its 4-year mark. Although I have only set foot in France for a little over half of it, I am still surprised that I am permanently and legally here. It would be too easy to classify my relationship with Paris as love-hate. It’s a bit more like one among siblings. Through the powers of fate, I am connected to this person although it has been irritating me endlessly since the very beginning. But as time goes by, I can look at our shared experiences with clearer eyes. Although there are still tremulous ups and downs, this person (or place) is still a defining part of my personal history. Come to think of it, my relationship with my own brother is far easier than a certain Paris, France.
Although being bilingual has theoretically done wonders for my brain, I can’t help but notice that it has slowed down my English. When three second pauses pepper my conversation, in search of the words I once said, I overcompensate using cool, crazy, and nice. And door has permanently become porte. Am I turning into one of those pretentious Americans who lives in FrAHHHnce?
Routine completely flips itself on the head when starting over in France. Peanut butter, the humblest of American pastimes, gets an upgrade from domestic to imported. And a sandwich eaten on-the-go can get anything from a sincere “bon appetit” from a stranger to a snarl of disapproval on the street. But discovering new, French comfort food is like an expatriate embrace. And it is a welcome addition to the dinner table of anyone looking for a little mealtime inspiration. Legumes farcis, or stuffed vegetables, are a specialty of the sun-baked Cote D’Azur. And as the summer harvest abundantly overloads the farmer’s market, why not put a Niçoise spin on the season’s best?
Instead of a proper honeymoon, my cash-strapped husband and I took a roadtrip down South to visit my new in-laws in Nice. I am still trying to justify the reasoning behind this one. Nevertheless, we managed to sneek out of the house during the day to walk on the beach, dream big at the impeccible Cours Saleya flea market, and test out all the Niçoise specialties. Along with the hearty chickpea crepe socca and pissaladière, the caramelized onion and anchovy pizza gone French, I was instantly enamored by legumes farcis. Essentially the makings of a meatball, a fine mixture of ground meat, breadcrumbs, and aromatics is baked in local, sun-ripened Provençal vegetables until impossibly juicy. Charmingly coined legumes de soleil, or sun vegetables, these can include anything from tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, red peppers, and onions. Served hot out of the oven or direct from the refrigerator, they are deliciously easy and satisfying post-beach, post-swimming pool, or post-in-laws.
Although legumes farcis are rarely found on restaurant menus outside of the Cote D’azur, French butchers always have chair à saucisse on display. Basically a sausage without its casing, it is a porky mystery meat destined for legumes farcis. However, one part ground beef to one part ground pork or one part ground veal to one part chopped ham are suitable alternatives, minus the mystery. Be creative! With fruits et legumes at their height of diversity, why not experiement with a couple of round zucchini, Japanese eggplants, or a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes ? Served with white rice, another local staple of the South, that 7 euro jar of Skippy will become completely unjustifiable.
Legumes Farcis Niçois, Serves 6
Note: Choose vegetables of a similar size so they bake evenly.
6 small, round tomatoes
6 small onions
6 small zucchinis
6 small eggplants
¼ lb. ground beef
¼ lb ground pork
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon herbes de provence
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or basil
Salt & pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350° f/180° c
2. Slice the vegetables ¾ of the way lengthwise to create a reservoir for the filling and its hat. Scoop out the flesh of the zucchini and eggplant, chop and reserve. Scoop out the seeds and the ribs of the pepper. Use a paring knife to carve out the center of the onions and tomatoes.
3. In a bowl, mix the beef, pork, reserved zucchini and eggplant, chopped garlic, parmesan cheese, and herbs.
4. Drizzle a baking dish with olive oil. Stuff the vegetables with the meat mixture and place in the baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and olive oil.
5. Bake for 45 minutes. Add a hat to each vegetable and bake for another 45 minutes. Serve with white rice.
In celebration of the 14th of July, we attended an apero on the 6th floor of an architect friend’s place in Belleville. It was younger crowd than usual. And every single one of them was an architect. But I was feeling confident. My outfit was banging and I brought fleur de sel brownies which always gives me a leg up on friend making. In America at least.
It went on like any other apero. I bought myself some time at the buffet and put out my feelers, scanning the crowd for a little eye contact and resulting chitchat. No luck. Luckily, I became well-acquainted with a friendly couple named Tarama and Blini. But it was only a matter of time before the fireworks erupted far in the horizon. In the nick of time, “Firework”, Katy Perry’s fist-pumping anthem of self-esteem came on. Her Swedish songwriters sure tugged on my cold heartstrings as I watched the Eiffel Tower blowup in the distance. Come on Jessie, just “ignite the light and let it shine!” “Boom boom boom!” You too can be brighter than the “moon moon moon!” I said to myself as I mussed up a little courage to confront the second half of the soiree. I refilled my drink.
Seconds later, as the last firework fogged up the Parisian sky, Dionysis and the little-g party gods were with us as the whole flat erupted into a collective, full-throttle dance party. Damn, these architects could flail. They could even dance to Celine Dion. Somewhere between “No Diggity” and “Wannabe”, I became fast friends with a 20-year old Danish Erasmus student. She pulled me close as we were jumping around to House of Pain, “I have a question. How old are you?” “I’m 26.” ” You seem like you are finished with partying. Why aren’t you drinking?” At this point, I already drank a whole bottle of wine and dug deep into my 1990s subconscious to recite every word of Shaggy’s “Mr. Boombastic” by heart. How dare you tell me I’m not fun! Yes, Joni Mitchell and collecting digestive teas can lead to an equally interesting evening. But those things are reserved strictly for Sunday nights. Defeated, my husband and I returned home. As my hangover carries onto its second day, I accept the fact that my idea of fun™ is not exactly the same as it was when I first arrived in Paris 4 years ago. But Shaggy will be with me for life.
I am integrating quite well into French society. My social security number should arrive any day now. I can almost pass as French until I open my mouth. And when I do, I’ve superficially mastered the art of French conversation come cocktail hour. I can go on about square meters, summer vacations, and Balzac like the best of them.
But I still haven’t been able to brush off my American modesty. I am still a bit self-conscious in public flipping through a bare-breasted Vogue Paris. And to this day, I still blush hearing the French anthem “Je T’aime….Moi Non Plus.” “Geez, maybe I should turn this down”, I think to myself every time. And I am still bugging my husband to put a curtain in the bathroom window, which overlooks the shared garden out back. Mr. Design prefers an unobstructed view of the garden to a neighborly view of my tatas. In the meantime, I’ve adapted a crouching shower hidden lady parts technique in the bath. I’m one shower away from taping Gisele in the bathroom window.
Just as I was watercoloring the finishing touches on Gisele’s derrière , Mr. Design himself walked by and scrunched up his nose. “What’s wrong? Gisele’s booty is pas mal, eh? Eh?” “No, it’s just not the best Vogue cover ever,” he remarked while walking away. Go figure.
Shortly after I wrote my last post, I was rudely awakened by a girl on the Metro wearing American flag knee-highs and a stars & stripes bandana. My stomach turned; I knew something was terribly wrong. I completely forgot it was the 4th of July. With all the unpacking and deeply pondering how to organize my spices, it completely slipped my mind. Since I already supported my nation’s economy with my McCappuccino, that’s as patriotic as I could be.
So America, I tardily toast you today with this hot dog illustration and my 0.5 liter Coke Zero on ice. Tchin-tchin!