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Thursday, August 30, 2007

seduce me one more time

Oh Paris, you've done it again.

You've taken me in your arms, even if only for a few days, and reminded me how to live passionately.

You are a city of beauty, charm, romance and sweet seduction.

Every boutique window in your city is a work of art, a still life waiting to be admired. At boulangeries, pastries sit perched on shelves like delicious figurines.

On your small sidewalks immaculately dressed men and women sit at cafes and take in each moment of their cafe crème or kir before dinner.

Every day is filled with precious moments.

In Pierre Herme a vanilla macaron melted in my mouth, the texture smooth and moist, the rich vanilla cream making my senses scream with pleasure. I could have begged for more, but it was so perfect that one was enough.

Under the dim lights of a Moroccan restaurant one evening, I travelled to an exotic country. I was charmed by the dark haired waiters, thirsty for the owner's mint infused mojitos, taken away by the herb stuffed fish and vegetable tanjine, and left drunk, happy, and wandering the streets for hours.

Oh Paris, it was hard to leave you once more, my mind, body and taste buds enriched by your presence.

But I had to leave, and I dragged my worn ballet slippers to the train station, my suitcase heavy with gourmet food, rolling awkwardly through your small streets.

I know you will miss me too. Because you know that I take pleasure in you, that I visit your patisseries with childish pleasure, that I charm your waiters, compliment your chefs, and admire every haute couture creation.

But don't worry mon amour, I will return, this love affair is far too good to be over just yet.

cafe de flore
russian dolls
pastry shopping
la duree
tour eiffel
reach the sky
shakespeare & co
morrocon dinner
meet me for dinner
les delices
du fromage?
morning coffee
home for lunch
wearing colour
back in Paris

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

train tracks

I've left the country roads of the South behind.

Already I miss the farmhouses, unpretentious clothing hanging on clotheslines under the sun, strolling through the town square full of daydreams and sleeping under the slanted ceiling of the attic in my house.

The last week was full of visitors. Our ancient home was filled with women, friends of my mothers and a friend of mine. We ate like queens, drank like kings, laughed like fools and praised every breath of country air.

We had lunch in an old chateau to celebrate our friend's 80th birthday, where we feasted on country food and local wine, toasting our glasses to one of the most youthful 80-year-olds on this planet.

My friend Nettika took her camera everywhere, and earned all of our admiration for her talent in photography. But she impressed me with more than her photos. She is a lush for life, a lover of beauty, and is able to eat an astounding amount of chocolate for such a tiny person. Every time she groaned over a decadent dessert I loved her a little bit more.

This morning we packed up our house, said goodbye to our guests, and climbed aboard the train to Paris.

As the train whipped its way through the countryside, we ate hard boiled eggs, unctuous cheese, peaches and crackers. The five hour train ride was a good way to say goodbye to the soft landscape before arriving in the city.

The train pulled into Paris Montparnasse when day turned to night. Back in the city that stole my heart a year ago, I feel at home, anxious to spend more time in its glow. Even when my mother and I dragged our suitcases up five flights of stairs to my friend's apartment, I sighed contently, because that's just Paris.

In a few days we fly home, full of wine, croissants and stories. For now, the adventure continues.

plum eater
the photographer
vineyard stroll
gill and natty
tough stuff
birthday girl
louise and yvonne
bedding and her grandson
natty loves France

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Monday, August 20, 2007

you said you wanted adventure

After dropping jam off at the neighbors houses and stopping at the patisserie for a croissant, we gathered our things and got in the car.

We drove past the vineyards and weeping sunflowers (not enough sun this summer), and got on the main highway that would take us to the Mediterranean.

I've had this image of me all year, lying on the Mediterranean, a cigarette in hand, feeling very French and very happy. So we decided to escape our sleepy village for a night and two days, and visit the seaside.

We made one stop for lunch at a gash station on the way. Lunch at a gas station? Cherie, we are in France, so this meant a lovely two course meal with fresh bread and sparkling water. I love the attention paid to food in this country.

Our stomachs satisfied, we continued en route, and arrived at a seaside town around two in the afternoon. After walking around to a couple of hotels, everything was booked.

My mother is very proud of the fact that she never makes reservations and that we always find something perfect. So we continued to the next town. We stopped at the tourist bureau to see what was available.

"Most things are full," sneered an unhappy looking woman behind the counter.

"Could you call a few places for us?" I asked in my best, kindest, French.

The woman did not want to call, but luckily, her younger associate said she would call a few places. She did, and, surprise surprise, everything was full.

"What about outside the town?" We asked, lovely Canadian smiles on our face.

"You'll have to call yourself," she answered.

We tried a few hotels in town anyway, and yes, everything was full. We were told we would have luck in Narbonne, the city nearby.

It was now three in the afternoon and we needed a little beach time. So we parked our car, found some cushy lounge chairs to rent, and I shimmied into my bathing suit under my dress.

For the few hours that we sat on the beach, I felt truly on vacation. Sun caressing my body, topless women all around me, men in speedos, people ordering wine from a small bar hut, and not a care in the world. This is the Mediterranean.

Eventually we had to move on and find a hotel. So we drove to Narbonne, spent a good amount of time trying to find the city center, and went hunting.

But, hotel after hotel, everything was full. From the nicest hotels to the dingiest holes, everything had reached full capacity.

With a tinge of hope left, we got in our car and headed to the next big city. We even stopped in a small town along the way, where a little hotel looked promising.

Seeing no sign to say they were full, I headed up to the front desk beaming. The place was charming, they had a restaurant, and luck could have come our way. The woman behind the counter was on the phone, so I waited.

Once off the phone, she smiled at me, and said "We're full," but she didn't leave it at that, "and people book here six months in advance," she continued, "and you can never expect to find something at this time at night. You might, if you're very lucky, get a room in the morning if someone had canceled, but even that is unlikely, you need to reserve."

We walked out of the hotel, looked at each other, and I said "I don't need a lecture, I need a bed."

The sky was getting dark and I was still in my beach clothes, sand all over my skin. With a twinkle of hope, we headed to the next city.

But when we arrived in Bezier, everything we checked was full. News was, the entire region was full. Rather than complain or cry, we laughed. We found a nice restaurant in a square lit up romantically with lights strung through trees, had a leisurely meal with wine, fish and steak, and decided we would drive home that night.

But the roads were dark and my mother was sleepy. We could not drive that night. We found a roadside hotel on the highway and crossed our fingers. Full. Then we did what any good traveler would do, we pulled back our seats, grabbed a towel and a shawl as blankets, and went to sleep. It seemed a good twenty or thirty cars around us were doing the same thing.

At three-thirty in the morning we woke up simultaneously. Already insomniacs, this was unusual for neither of us. The sky still dark, we headed into the open cafeteria at the rest stop and ordered a petit dejeuner complet. And even at this road side cafe, we were served fresh bread, fresh croissants, mini pots of jam, coffee and tea.

We laughed sleepily at the situation, and got back on the road. We drove in a dark grey sky until the sun came up. We stopped once to pee, where we had to use the squat toilets, nothing but a hole in the ground.

We arrived in our village groggy, the sun coming out, most villagers still sleeping, and our beds beckoning us.

Needless to say, we wanted adventure and we got it. With the right traveling companion, even the worst things thrown your way are manageable. Fun even.

What's even better? Next time, we're still not reserving, we're just throwing some big pillows and a sleeping bag in the trunk.

femme en noir
family at the beach
nap time
afternoon sun
j'adore la mer

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

let them eat confiture

I've always wanted to make jam.

With hundreds of sweet yellow plums falling to the ground daily in our friend's garden, I knew something had to be done.

So I decided to face my fear of making anything that involves measuring and timing (I am not a baker, chemist or mathematician by any means) and make use of our plum bounty.

After dinner one night, I set about making jam at around midnight and finished at two in the morning.

The result was two horribly burnt pans, a sticky stove and floor, and five jars of delicious jam. After some hardcore scrubbing, I'd say it was an overall success.

Early the next mourning I spooned mounds of sweet jam over fresh baguette, and over the next couple of days gifted jars to friends around the village. Although I could probably make my way through give jars over time, it was too good not to share.

plums from the garden
making jam
sweet plum jam
morning baguette

Plum Jam

(I made two batches of this at a time to fill five jars, it is better to make in separate batches so that there isn't too much in one pot)

1. Sterilize jars by boiling them in hot water.

2. Remove pits from plums, mash them up, and measure 4 cups worth.

3. Put plums in a large pot and add one cup of water.

4. Cook over medium heat until plums are soft, then add 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar, and cook on highest heat for 45 minutes.

5. Pour jam (if the texture seems right) into hot jars (I boiled mine 10 minutes before) and seal immediately.

6. Wake up early the next morning, buy fresh bread, and enjoy your jam with virtuous content.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

join me at the table

With dark clouds forming over the village we make our way down the steep hill.

Down below groups of people surround the town hall and smoke rises from a bonfire. Our market bag filled with plates, cutlery and glasses clink against my black dress.

Once we're down young men give us plastic white cups filled with Pastis, a liquorice flavored alcohol served with water before dinner. Our tongues growing numb from the strong aperitif, we make our way inside to find seats at one of the long tables with paper tablecloths. Families have marked their names on where they're eating, and we find a place in the middle of two families.

Soon we're talking with all of those around us. The man beside my mother has five children from three mothers. His friend leans over when he talks to me, boasting about his visit to Montreal and something to do with working in films. Wine in old water bottles start to arrive at our tables, and two men with acordians work their way around everyone chanting and clapping.

Villagers dressed in red t-shirts move quickly around the tables to feed the crowd of around 500 that have gathered for the feast. The first course is melon, nothing fancy, but the melon is fresh, aromatic, and the perfect way to start a meal. The stranger next to my mother has no knife, so he borrows her, and it seems we're all comfortable with each other within moments. Even the man with a mustache a few seats down starts to amuse himself by flinging bits of bread with his knife up and down the table. I shake my finger at him and laugh.

The main course is sausage, which has been roasted over the open fire, and large pots of aligot, the famous potato cheese concoction of the area. The aligot itself is a presentation, with a man making a point of showing how high up he can pull the stringy substance in the air with his paddle. The crowds cheer, and photos are taken all around.

I have no stomach for red meat, but the man beside my mother happily takes my sausage, as I stare in amazement as the locals dig into seconds and thirds of sausage and aligot, passionate about eating, drinking, and celebrating summer. I watch them dreamily, elated to be in a country where food is so deeply appreciated.

I fill up happily on bread, melon, fresh salad, local wine and eventually a perfect apple tart. When we leave we say goodnight to all of those around us, the strangers who have smiled and spoken with us all night.

It was a perfect evening, a feast with all the right ingredients.

Back at home, as my mother falls asleep in the next room, I brew pots of plum jam and fall deeper in love country life.

yvonne and claire
town feast

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

sunday for the senses

The day started with smells of sweet melon, pungent cheeses and salty saucisson at one of the region's best markets.

I picked spices from a woman offering three kinds of curry, two kinds of massala, Cajun spices, Mexican spices, and plenty of other spices in bright, fiery colors.

It continued with lunch, and the flavor of fresh tender fish soaked in a lemon cream sauce, finished with a rich blackcurrant sorbet.

With the sun still strong we soaked our hands in a friends garden, fetching water from a well and taking care of his land. We picked sweet yellow plums, crispy apples and zucchini from the ground.

At dinner we feasted simply on local flavors, curried beans, cajun eggs, and a big green salad.

As the sky grew dark we danced under the stars, moving our bodies with the locals to the sounds of acordian music.

I fell asleep late, content, pleased with having a day for my senses.

chat de saint-antoinin
medieval musician
french shoes