Saturday, February 27, 2010

4 days in Provence

Mmm... Just thinking about waking up in Provence makes me feel relaxed. The birds were singing and when I opened my blue shutters in the morning the sun was shining. When the Chauchats first brought us to their house in La Cadière on Monday I felt as if I had known that place my whole life. It really demonstrated that "home is where the heart is." We were cut off from technology for the week and time stood still. In this darling town, nestled in the cliffs, you can see vineyards for miles around and everyone smiles and says, "Bonjour!" It was so lovely!

As they always do, the Chauchats had planned all manner of things for us to do. And I can't say it enough: it's just so nice to have people take care of you! On Tuesday we got a walking tour of the village, which has incredible views of all the surrounding countryside, before walking around a medieval village nearby. We were really lucky that we had sunny and relatively warm weather the whole time we were there. So that day we had a light lunch, accompanied by a local rosé wine La Cadierenne (I'd be interested to see if any of you can find it back home), on the back terrace, soaking up the sunlight. Afterwards they took us to walk around two local vineyards. My favorite was Domaine de Souviou, which also makes olive oil. They have thousand-year-old olive trees on the property, which are lined by rows of lavender. Lavender is supposed to be in bloom in June and July, so that would probably be the ideal time to visit this vineyard. I want to go back! It was beautiful.

Wednesday morning we woke up bright and early to go to the biggest market in Provence. According to the Chauchats, if you're not there by 8 am in the summertime, you'll never find a parking spot. And it's no secret why. Even in the winter their was a huge crowd bustling through the endless rows of vendors. Fish were coming fresh off the fishermen's boats, still wriggling at the stands. It was really overwhelming! And here's a little tidbit: we were talking to a honey vendor and he told us that the darker the honey, the less sugar it has. I never knew this. But then again, I don't come from a land where there are typically at least 30 different kinds of honey to choose from. On the way back, we stopped to see the oldest chapel in Europe. It's pre-Roman and absolutely stunning. In the afternoon we made chocolate chip cookies for visitors. One of Mme Chauchat's oldest and closest friends came over with her sister and brother-in-law and we all went for a walk down to the Roman fountain in town.

On Thursday we went to the seaside (about a 15 minute drive from their house) where I remembered just how much I love the sound of the waves. And then the rest of the day was devoted to baking. Mme Chauchat taught me how to make a "melted chocolate cake" and Sarah made the English cream for it. All I will say about this sinful concoction is that I have the recipe and my family better watch out for me in this year's dessert competition! We took it to a dinner party at some friends of the Chauchats where we feasted on Moroccan food and played with their kids. They were a riot! It really made me think that I'd like to work with younger children in the future. So cute!

Our four days in Provence were the highlight of my vacation. I'm sure I will be dreaming about it forever, especially all the home-cooked meals! Oh the joys of a fully functioning kitchen!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Words fail me... I'll leave you with pictures...

13, rue de la Bourse
31000 Toulouse

la ville en rose

Otherwise known as “the pink city” thanks to its staple pink to red brick buildings, Toulouse is where they say you should go when all French cities start to look the same. Truer words were never spoken. This city is absolutely brimming over with energy and quirkiness. And from the constant honking we hear from our hotel room across the street from the train station, the city never sleeps.

If you ever plan on visiting France’s fourth largest city- and I highly recommend that you do- I suggest that you book a hotel by Le Capitole. It’s a huge plaza in the center of town and everything worth doing seems to shoot off of it. Plus, that's the nice area of town. The closer you are to the train station, unfortunately for us, the sketchier it is. After we take the long walk down to the plaza, Toulouse is our oyster.

We’ve done more touristy things here than we did in Dijon and Montpellier combined. This can most easily be tacked to the warmer weather and how far away our hotel is from everything else. We’ve been to museums, churches, poked our heads in zany shops, been to the movies (we found Valentine’s Day and Bright Star playing in English), and… we found… the best scones I have ever tasted in my entire life. I had a scone au nature (aka basic) at BAPZ, a bakery and tea room that we stumbled upon our first day of getting lost. I meant to take a picture of it for you, but somehow it disappeared in my mouth before I could pull out my camera. Today we have a reservation for what is supposed to be an enormous brunch and it will be our third time there in four days. Sarah and I are obsessed! Heaven has found its way into my mouth in the form of their chocolat chaud à l'ancienne (hot chocolate- you get to choose whether its thick or more liquidy), zucchini tart, and lemon and blueberry cake. Did I mention their scone au nature? I think I’m going to be leaving with five of those to go today…

Weird and impressive and endearing Toulouse, je t’aime!

Monday, February 15, 2010

f-f-freezing in France

Hello from Montpellier! We left a very frigid Dijon this morning and couldn't be happier about being in the (if only slightly) warmer South. What we're not happy about? The fact that every time we jokingly point out a beautiful building and say, "I bet you anything that's a lycée (high school)!" And then it actually is! Boy did we get the shaft! Case in point:

Ah well. At least we're not at our schools now! This break it's chilly just about everywhere, which makes the motivation to go outside and explore almost non-existant. I'll blame it on today being a "travel day." Train delays galore. Although we have no real excuse for Dijon... In my defense I'll say I was sick and we at least went and had some mustard... granted, it was a sauce on mussels, but it still counts! Better luck tomorrow! We don't even know what's in this town. But we're about to find out!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

counting down

2 days till winter break. 22 days left of work. 77 days to go.

Perhaps all this counting is a bit excessive, but I've got to say that since I've gotten back to France this has felt like the longest stretch to a break. It doesn't help that last week was the worst work week I could seemingly (hopefully) ever experience. Yours truly was one sob away from packing up and escaping the Bomb Shelter for good. Suffice it to say that some people are not very professional. And that's all I will say about that! Looking at the numbers, and the paper chain for that matter (we've almost made it around the corner of the room!), really helps keep things in perspective. That and two mottos that I've started saying to myself... 1. Keep calm and carry on. 2. Don't let the bastards get you down.

Thankfully this week has been pretty low key. I've been talking to my students about Valentine's Day in the United States. You should see the eyes roll or look around the room suspiciously whenever I announce the topic. Valentine's Day is exclusively "for lovers" over here. They've all been shocked to find out that friends and family give each other valentines in the states. Over Christmas I was able to find some valentines to bring back to them and they've really enjoyed picking them out. My technical students today insisted that I fill out the to and from for each of them and then they did the same for them. They all tried to be more unique than the other in what they wrote on them. The results are kind of amusing i.e. lots of verys and ;) And the candy sweethearts! They don't really like how they taste, but they love the little sayings on them. I had to teach this group of sophomore boys what xoxo was and they were all saying, "Oh! I need to remember to say that to my girlfriend!" Too cute!

On Friday I'm meeting up with Sarah and we'll start our winter break! It cannot come fast enough! We're traveling to places we've never been to before and are crazy excited to be getting out of our small towns for a whole two weeks. So here's the schedule (just for you, Mom):
12th-14th: Dijon
15th-17th: Montpellier
18th-21st: Toulouse
22nd-25th: La Cadière
With the exception of Dijon, we're spending our time in the southwest of France. I, for one, am itching for some warmer weather. Granted, it's not going to be summery, but anything is better than this constant snow! La Cadière is a small town between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. We'll be staying with the Chauchat's in their second home down there! Splendid times ahead. I've got a ticket to ride and I don't care!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nobody here but us servantless American cooks

Sitting in the lounge at Le Cordon Bleu it was strange to be surrounded, once again, by a sea of cooks and chefs in white. So many memories from a summer spent serving at the Ritz came flooding into my mind. It was a jolly sort of atmosphere and Sarah and I kept pinching ourselves. Could we really be on the brink of taking a class here?

My heart, for one, was racing when we were led upstairs to the kitchen. It was a long room with an island down the middle and a border of stoves, ovens, refrigerators, and sinks. There were eight work stations for us that were set up around one end of the island. And as soon as the chef walked in it was go, go, go. We were given a list of ingredients for what we would be making that day: madeleines, financiers, and hot chocolate. For each of these the chef would start with a demonstration, giving us the directions in French. There was a translator in the room as half the class were English speakers, but Sarah and I were surprised as to how much we didn't need her. That was a confidence booster! As soon as the chef was done we had to race to whip up the same concoction. I felt like a chicken running around with my head cut off. I am no quadruple tasker!

Needless to say, we were both mortified at the thought of burning the butter etc etc, so we must have had permanent looks of sheer panic on our faces. But with the chef coming by and lying to us about how our batter was the most beautiful he had ever seen, we began to relax more and just had fun with it. Sarah and I were the youngest people there by at least 15 years. This seemed to make us Chef's immediate favorites. He loved that we spoke both French and English and seemed eager to swing by and say funny things to us in English like, "WHY ARE YOU SCARED OF ME?!?!"

Did you know that potato starch has no flavor and can be used to thicken your hot chocolate? Did you know that when you want to add flavors like cinnamon, orange, and/or vanilla (we used actual vanilla beans) to it that you're supposed to leave the whole stick, peel, bean or what have you in there the entire time from boil to finish? This allows the flavors to infuse the entire time. My milk took ages to boil- once again I found myself being the last person to finish- but it was very flavorful in the end. I am no expert in the kitchen and learning these little tidbits was a delight. I thought it was lofty before, but my opinion of chefs sky rocketed after this experience. I soaked up everything they had to say like the eagerest of sponges.

The experience was so lovely! It was a wonder to do something creative and challenging in Paris instead of the usual shopping and Starbucksing I have on my agenda. When all was said and done, I went to shake the chef's hand and say thank you. But he smiled and pointed to his cheek for the bises, the typical French greeting/farewell of a kiss on both cheeks. C'était adorable aka it was adorable. He is insistent that we come back and we would both love to after this. The rest of the night, and weekend for that matter, Sarah and I kept saying things like, "Hey Sarah! We took a class at Le Cordon Bleu!" TA!

And what better way to spend the rest of the weekend than at the Chauchat's? I tell you, there is none! Le Cordon Bleu, M and Mme Chauchat, Mr. Mumble, snowy mornings, buying cookbooks in French at FNAC, Pakito's cassoulet and sangria, a free tour of the Château de Versailles... It was the most delicious weekend I think I've ever spent.

the merde hitting the fan

Sorry for the delay in posting! This past weekend and the mad mess that immediately followed have left me completely zapped of energy. I know you want to hear all about Le Cordon Bleu and I want to tell you all about it. But first, I'm going to start with a mini rant.

I just have to laugh when I think about how I used to miss using public transportation. When I moved to France I was actually looking forward to using it. Then, as you well remember, I was immediately greeted with a transportation strike in Lyon. Create a crazy scenario concerning planes, trains, and automobiles and, I promise you, I've experienced it during this program. Buses will say they make certain stops when they don't. The first time I was at the halfway point between Lyon and Trévoux I had to talk to four people before I found out that the bus I wanted no longer stopped where it said it was. Oh no, I had to cross the bridge and catch it on the other side. In another town. I can't tell you the number of times I ran full speed across that bridge, caught the bus by flailing my arms frantically on the bridge, or lost my shoe Cinderella style en-route to said bridge. Or in Bourg-en-Bresse you just "have to know" to stand in this certain unmarked spot in hopes that your bus will show up. The French transportation system... it's not pretty! And I got a full dose of just how dysfunctional it is last Friday on my to Paris.

I woke up around 5:30 am to catch the very first bus out of Trévoux. I waited... and waited... and waited... It just didn't show up! So I had to run up the hill to the Bomb Shelter to exchange my ticket online because it was absolutely impossible for me to catch my train from Lyon to Paris. I give myself some time and book the 9:46, thinking when I get to Lyon on time at 8:15 I'll just exchange my ticket again for the one at 8:46. Bus #2 comes around and I take it to a different halfway point where I can take a fast regional train into Lyon. And as luck would have it... there was a strike. The next train to Lyon wasn't coming until 8:45, which would put me in at 9:15. Good thing I booked the later ticket! Well, at 9:10 the train finally arrives and I spent the entire half hour ride giving myself a motivational speech that I could get my ticket out of the machine and board the train with only 6 minutes. Not three minutes outside of my station, our train gets stopped in a tunnel. Great. At this point I'm thinking I won't even be able to exchange my ticket because it will have already left by the time I got there...

I got off at the station with two minutes to go till my train left for Paris. I race upstairs and print off my ticket with one minute to go. Then I look up at the timetable. My train was still there... But where is there? It didn't say what platform it was on! In a total panic, I scoured out which train was the longest and went racing down the escalator, my bags flying everywhere, practically running into the conductors, and frantically asked, "Is this the train to Paris?!?!" It was! They told me to get on immediately! And then... we had a ten minute delay. That would have been nice to know!

I met Sarah in Paris and a minute later we had made it on the next train to Versailles. We dropped our bags off at the Chauchat's and then turned around to go back... to Le Cordon Bleu.