Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cockroach Chronicles: Part One

The paralyzing fear began in the summer of '87. There was an incident in my bedroom. This is when I found out....they can fly.

It was a hot, humid Oregon summer. There was a somewhat smallish roach on my bedroom ceiling. I had a friend over to spend the night. We stared at it, planning its execution. As if it could read my mind, it decided to show me who owned the ceiling. It did not jump. It did not fall. It flew right at me. Screaming, I ran the direction I was facing...which required an Olympic hurdle over my foot board. I didn't quit make it. I landed on the floor, and the roach thought it best to land in my dark hair...eerily a perfect camo for the nasty little beast. Had I been blond, they could have gotten it out sooner. They could have seen it right away and flicked it off. But I am not blond (even though that was the summer of Sun-In), and that night commenced my fear, loathing and paranoia of these nasty, repulsive little monsters.

I generally only had to worry about them in the summer and eventually my parents pulled the juniper bushes from the front of the house, which were rumored to be attractive to roaches. These particular roaches were small, didn't invade cupboards, and just basically liked to fly around terrifying everyone. They liked to live outside. But things were about to take a turn for the worse.

I got married (no, that wasn't the turn for the worse), and we moved into a very cute, "retro" if you will, apartment complex. They were vintage 1940, in an older part of town. Moving day went fine...but then the sun went down. We turned on a movie, watched for a bit, and then I decided to go into the kitchen to get some ice cream. I flipped on the light and there were about 30 roaches, frozen-mid-scurry, all over the floor. In point two seconds, they were just gone. I screamed.
The next morning, as new brides do, I got up at the butt-crack of dawn to make Hubby his lunch to take to work. As we weren't yet unpacked, I had to go into the living room and dig through a big box to find the sandwich baggies. I was pre-Lasik, so I was blind as a bat. As I was diggin through the boxes, I felt something cold on the underside of my poor, poor bare foot. I said to myself, "Gross! I hate when I drop lunch meat and step on it. Ewwww!" So I started kicking my foot to get the meat off, because who wants to touch cold lunch meat on a foot? What fell off my naked foot wasn't turkey-colored. It was black. And the size of a date. But dates aren't allowed in my house (nas-tay). I didn't know what that black thing was because I didn't have my glasses on. I bent down within 3 inches of "It" so my nearly blind eyes could tell me what it was. As it started to come into focus, I saw that it was a big, black, fat roach! Not the little flying kind, the robust-crawled-up-from-the-sewer type. Big, slow and shiny. (How do I type a retching noise?)

I screamed bloody murder, and started running in a manner quite reminiscent of Ferris Bueller's sister when she saw the principal at her doorstep. I ran straight into the bathroom, screaming and crying all the way, turned the water on to "scalding" and scalded my foot. After sufficiently sterilizing my flesh, I ran (screaming and crying still) into my room, jumped on my bed and curled up into a ball, and told my husband to call the landlord, we were moving!

Stay tuned for Part 2 ....

Friday, November 18, 2011

To Welcome You (or Welcome Back) to Cassoulet Cafe

Below was my very first story about France on Cassoulet Cafe Blog, a few years ago already!  I'm going to recommence my blog with this post for those who are new here...Enjoy!

I have so many things to write about, analyze and discuss when it comes to France but I feel that I can't begin unless I get a relate our first days in France as expats.

I still can't believe I had convinced my husband to move to France, without him ever having been there even for a visit. Dreaming of something is one thing, but when it actually comes to fruition, worry plagues the fairytale in your mind and then gets replaced by nightmare scenarios. Mine was that Hubby would hate France and then hate me. So naturally, I wanted everything to be parfait when we arrived.

We decided to fly into Paris and then take a train a couple days later to our new home. We had two nights booked on Rue Cler in the 7ième arrondissement. For those not familiar with it because they haven't seen the PBS program that has made it famous, it is the stereotypical image we Americans have of Paris. A cobblestone street near the Eiffel Tower, lined with cafés, crêpe stands, flower and cheese shops, boulangerie, ....you get the idea. Top it off with a violinist on the corner playing classic French-film scores just for you, it all seems to be saying, "You're dreams have come true! You've made it to paradise!" It would seem.....

...Until we actually got to Rue Cler, by way of Métro, pulling our 3 spring loaded suitcases containing all our possessions in the world (well, on this continent), two gigantic backpacks, and a small child. Lugging and tugging, over the cobblestones. After having pulled all of that up and down several flights of steps and platforms the previous hour. Using public transport is cheaper than a taxi ride from Charles De Gaulle airport, but leaning on the side of "nightmare scenarios".

When we entered our hotel lobby, just a few long, bumpy blocks from the beginning of Rue Cler, we were exhausted, moody and stinky. Suddenly, I realized just what I had brewed up and convinced my poor little family to do! I started to cry uncontrollably. What if this didn't work out? We were stuck anyway! It was a burden I didn't want anymore.

At that moment, an American family came into the lobby, exuberant from their morning of touring, and tried to befriend us. They told Hubby how wonderful Paris was and they were sad to be leaving the next day. I hated them. They got to leave! I was here stuck for the next who-knows-how-long not knowing how we would survive this situation. And this was only Hour One!

After I scared them off with my sobbing, my husband consoled me and said it would all be great, he loved it so far. Ok, tears dried up, our room was now ready, time to shower, sleep and get emotionally stable again.

But when I got into the tiny room, went to use the tiny bathroom and then saw the flushing mechanism on the foreign-looking toilet (for those who don't know, the flushers in France are usually buttons or pulling devices on the lid of the tank), I started to get hysterical again thinking about having to flush like this for the next year. Ok, if you don't get the picture by now, I was completely irrational from sleep-deprivation, not making any sense, because back in The States I had raved to everyone about how cool French toilets were, because of their flushers!

After passing out and sleeping the rest of the afternoon, I awoke to Hubby saying he was going to go across the street to get some juice and snacks. He was eager to use his French independently. I was amazed but terrified he'd come back ticked off because someone was rude to him. I watched from the window above as he crossed the street and made a successful friendly purchase! He came back jazzed and ready to explore.

Late that night after soaking up the dazzling lights of le Tour Eiffel, we chose a brasserie near our hotel to eat le diner and suck down some vin français. Things were looking up. Of course wine will do that to you.

And then, the people at the table next to us seemed to be staring at us and with judgemental looks. I've been know to be paranoid about this, but I swear they were making a scene. It was a middle-age group of French men who were staring at us like we had just destroyed their evening. (Line from Shrek coming to mind: "It's rude enough being alive when no one wants you...") Anyhow, I was really uncomfortable and infuriated at the same time that they were gawking at us like we were barbarians. My anxiety peaked when I thought I heard the word "américains" in their conversation. Ok, now I had the proof! Turning to listen closer, I heard (in French), "Oh, look at me, I am American, I need my ketchup!" one said, and they all laughed hysterically in response. WHAT?! I didn't order ketchup. I hate ketchup. I kept listening, hearing stereotypical-American one-liners. It went on for several minutes. When they saw my expression, they laughed even harder. I wanted to leave, to check out of our hotel and hop the next flight back home. I HATE FRANCE, I screamed inside, French people are so rude!

act French!) and placed our order. The waiter, astonished that he was receiving the order in his tongue, smiled very lovingly as if to say "You showed them!" I'll never forget the shocked, open-mouth expressions of the men at the table next to us when they heard their language roll off my tongue, understanding now they I had heard it all. Sweet victory!

It taught me a lesson as well. Don't be an Ugly American, even if someone is being an Ugly Frenchman.

Tomorrow I go on to Part Deux: The TGV Tragedy! Vomiting, tractors, accidents and more Frenchiness. Sure to appeal to all sorts.

PS. All photos on this post have been taken personally by moi, except the Rue Cler photo, because I did not have time to find mine today :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I'm Baaaaack!

Bonjour! I am baaaaaaaaaaaaack .....from a two year hiatus...wow, the blogging world has changed so much, and yet, is still the comfortably the same.

I see many of my old blogger friends are now published authors! I'm talking selling books on Amazon.com! (ie: Anna Lefler of LJKGW) Her hilarious book is called "The Chicktionary"...I rediscovered her in the middle of a sleepless night and as I read her preview, I actually had to wake Hubby (wait, my bucksnorting had already awoken him) to read out words and definitions from her book but I was laughing to hard to spit them out. When I finally did, Hubby was laughing even harder than me.

La Belette Rouge has since come out of hiding and can now be known by her real name Tracey, and is published in big-time things like Huffington Post and actual magazines that you buy in the store! :) I'm so amazed and proud of them and happy to say that I "knew" them when they just started out!

As for me, I've been holding myself up in that little restaurant in the Caribbean (pictured above). No really, I just took a much needed break from writing to take care of some family obligations. My family and I have gone through many changes over these two years of non-bloggin...I know, seriously, how can life go on when the blog is stopped somewhere in 2009? I've had some ups and downs, tears of joy and of sorrow, and some fabulous travels that made me think even beyond France. I have fresh perspective and am ready to blog some more funny, as well as more travel related posts!

I hope you'll rejoin me!

A bientot...

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cassoulet's First Homemade Macarons!

I'm in French Nostalgia mode, so I reopened my blog, and succeeded at my very first attempt to make La Duree style macarons today!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Messed Up

You told me, because they told you
You warned me, like they warned you.

You did your best, unlike the rest
You used your talent, to release your stress

You drew your freedom, you drew your soul
You drew your dreams, for all to hold...

Until you could take them back for good
You painted the world you knew you'd have

The one you left
The one you had.

You slowly made your tiny hole
Into a home, instead of hell.
You brought it to us with your eyes and hand

You drew the only things you could see,
which wasn't much, to eyes that are free.

And when they ripped you away from security,
They said there was reason, "you're soon to be free"

But instead of getting a reward
You were at the mercy of the new prison's "lord"
When he slammed his fist into your head,
you didn't know it was coming, you thought were dead

The blows kept coming from all around
The darkness and pain kept you down

When they were done, they told you to leave
Or they would finish you, and leave you to bleed

They took your brush, they took your pen,
they took your life, and hemmed you in.

And now all you want is to go home,
Where you belong, where you will be

Oil painting  by My Brother, 2008

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Coffee Talk...Revised

I’ve already discussed cassoulet, for the “cassoulet” component of Cassoulet Café. But we really haven’t discussed the café part of it, have we? Be it the drink or the place. I mean, I’ve touched upon it, put in plugs for French and Italian coffee brands, talked about going to cafes, but I think I’ve really hidden how much coffee rules my life. Oh, it started out innocent enough. Trying to drink coffee at home, as an adolescent trying to feel like an adult, ending up with a disproportionate amount of creamer to coffee, to disguise the coffee-ness so it would be acceptable to a youth’s palate. Then ditching it for a Dr. Pepper.

Then Coffee-Mate came out with Hazelnut creamer. That is when my true coffee addiction began. It camouflaged the Folgers oh-so-well!

Then, as I started getting weary of all that non-dairy sweetness, we started to drink it black and a bit stronger. We moved on up to a metal can of...Yuban! But soon, we declared a ban on Yuban in our house, because we were finding ourselves in the midst of the Starbucks revolution and we adjusted accordingly. We thought that if we slurped down the burnt-tasting brew (and bonus points if we actually liked it), then we were true coffee connoisseurs. And certainly buying the beans and grinding them ourselves confirmed it! No more canned grounds for us, we said.

But then when we moved to France we suddenly felt like Coffee Pre-Schoolers. The coffee there was so strong that it shocked our palates (and guts) the first few mornings and we soon realized we only needed one cup to get going, as opposed to our normal three. After moving back to the States, we continued to make strong puts-hair-on-your-chest java, much to the dismay of our occasional guests. And when friends or family came to visit from France, we’d make requests for loads of Lavazza and Carte Noire to be brought to us.

Then my coffee maker sizzled out. Being the Google Queen that I am (and really, who isn't nowadays?), I had to Google "coffeemakers" and read reviews on oodles of brands and models. As I pored over brewing devices, I came across a site about home roasting coffee beans. Roasting my own coffee? Why would I want to complicate my life more than it already is by adding another step to my coffee drinking regimen?

When FedEx came the next week to deliver my new coffee roaster, I was ecstatic but intimidated. Could someone like little ol’ me really take these green beans resembling lentils and actually come out with a product even close to Starbucks or Tully’s? I wasn’t so sure.

Fast-forward two years. We are officially coffee snobs. After taking that first sip of home roasted brew, Hubby and I looked at each other and could only say “WOW.” No after taste, no burnt flavor, and do we detect…chocolate notes? As home roasters often do, we now refer to that chain as Charbucks. Because, my dear friends, charred coffee water is not a sign of quality, nor does consuming it make one the ultimate coffee connoisseur.

I’ve also added a French Press (ok, I have three of them) to my coffeemaker collection. 

We serve up the best coffee in town, heck, in the state! and friends come from far and wide to enjoy a cuppa Chez Nous (at our house).

When my Best Expat Friend was packing to come visit from France, she called to tell me she received my shopping list, but said I forgot to include my normal order for the usual 10 bricks of Carte Noire coffee. “Oh no,” I told her. “We don’t drink that stuff anymore. From now on, you’ll be taking my coffee back to France!”

And she does.

Stay tuned, as I have some exciting things concerning coffee coming up!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Coffee, Please!

This is a rerun of an early Cassoulet Cafe post...enjoy!

Let's have a little coffee talk. So I'll wait right here while you go pour yourself a cup. If you're not into coffee, any other hot beverage of your choice will suffice. But as for me, I'll be drinking un cafe'.
When we think of coffee, we tend to think of it as the Starter Fluid of the day; a warm companion that we can snuggle up to in the mornings before we face our day. We even go to great lengths to get a paper cup of it later on, maybe placing a group order for a colleague to pick up on her way back from lunch. Each cup check marked in code only a barista (or experienced coffee go-fer) could decipher.

However, in France, things are different. Coffee isn't just the drink, it's the activity. It's the act of sitting down to relax and watch the world go by. Ordering a coffee in a cafe translates into renting your own little piece of La Belle France for as long as you wish to be there. What a bargain! Chairs are strategically placed facing the same direction, lookin' at you kid! If you ever got a complex while touring in France thinking people were staring at you, you were right, they are! But it's not considered ill-mannered. C'est normale, as the French say. It's what you do. People watch.
So in order to rent yourself a slice of France, you just need to know how to order a coffee the way you like it.
My husband was shocked the first time he got a coffee in Paris. He successfully utilized his French lessons to order his favorite hot beverage. But to his dismay the waiter set before him a saucer holding the smallest tea-party sized cup he ever saw, containing a shot of black tar, garnished with a paper-wrapped sugar cube and baby spoon to stir it with. So, as if it was a shot of tequila, he tipped his head back and took one small gulp and voila! It vanished!

Then, he asked me, "Honey, how do I say "refill" in French?"

Now, at this point, anyone who is familiar with France is probably laughing right now. Everyone else, listen up! Refills do not exist in France. Unless you just want to order a whole new coffee and call it a refill to make yourself feel better. But it'll set ya back another 2 bucks or so.

So on his next "refill" he decided to use the sugar cube. It was so cute, wrapped up in decorative paper as if it were the smallest present in the world. He unwrapped it, then carefully lowered it into the precious few ounces of black goo and stirred it with the tiny spoon. However, the amount of sugar was disproportionate to the amount of hot liquid (Cubes big, Coffee Small). So he was in a quandary. Does he order more coffee to dilute the sugar? Or suck down the sickening sweet concoction and say goodbye to coffee in France forever?

Later, after learning there were indeed other ways to order coffee , he quickly honed his skills of ordering it with supplemental ingredients (milk or cream) to increase the volume, therefore extending his sipping pleasure. Café creme, cafe au lait, s'il vous plait.

Something you never see in France is coffee to go. Oh sure, you'll see American tourists in Paris lining up at that certain international chain to get their fix, but the French will be the ones using the tables and drinking from ceramic. Yes, the word "emporter" does mean "to take out", but just because it exists and is even advertised doesn't mean it's the right thing to do when it comes to coffee. I should know. I tried it, twice.

On a road trip from Paris to Brittany, we stopped at a little roadside cafe to counteract the drowsiness. When we walked in, we saw the sign "Café à emporter" behind the bar. I jabbed my husband and said, "Hey! Finally, a place that caters to American coffee drinkers!" So, in my best French I asked for 3 cups of coffee to emporter. The lady looked at me flatly and then said, "Je comprends pas, Madame." I pointed to the sign to explain, and she said, "Yes I understood, but why would you want it to go? Are you sure?"

Then, a few days later on our way back to Paris one morning very early, we stopped at truck stop (no, i didn't know they existed in France either). It looked exactly like a 50's diner you'd encounter on road trip in the States. A long bar with bar stools loaded with big burly truck drivers. Surely, they would do coffee to-go for me here. As I confidently sauntered up to the bar, asked for "Trois cafes à emporter" (3 coffees to go) I heard all 10 truckers whip their heads in my direction and dead silence filled the place. The waitress stared at me. The truckers stared at me, holding their itty-bitty cups of coffee between their fat sausage-like fingers. At that moment, I realized that even big burly truck drivers prefer to drink their coffee sur place and out of a real cup.

I got what I ordered, even if was handed to me in a thin plastic Dixie cup which burned all ten of my fingers.

So the moral of this coffee-flavored story is, when in France, drink coffee as the French. Relax, sit down, take in the sights and sounds around you. This is why you came to France. But under no circumstances, even if it is advertised, order "Un café à emporter".