Monday, January 12, 2015

to my knowledge hell has not frozen over....

When I was a little girl, in the early 70s, we lived for 3 years in Columbus Mississippi. At that time {and especially} place the double dutch jump rope was the bomb diggaty on the playground. I memorized all the songs and chants and I watched for hours on end the girls who nonchalantly hopped into the middle and gracefully jumped as the rope thumped the ground. I finally worked up the nerve to ask for my turn, they obliged and 2 "turners"  started twirling the ropes. At a safe distance I rocked back n forth with my hands extended in front of me to "feel' the was the custom...before stepping into the fray. Trouble was it seemed so over whelming that I spent so long rocking back and forth "fixin" to jump in that the bell rang...the rope was dropped and everyone ran inside. Well that my friends is what has happened to this blog I got behind n then more behind n then more behind n then I knew what I wanted to say and I certainly have great subject matter I just couldn't get the rhythm and it seemed too big a task. So here's what I plan on doing...starting where I am and adding interesting "yesterdays" at the end of each post. And before you my knowledge hell has not frozen over. :) Thank you thank you thank you for those who have kept checking or asking about the blog. I hope you will not be disappointed. Oh and make sure you click to click the button to follow me by email...if you'd like to get post updates.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

doin the hippo

 Today we took a little trip right outside Toulouse and because IKEA is closed on Sunday in France (to me a disappointment equal to Disney World being closed forever) we decided to dine at a place called Hippopotamus. Here is what I learned from eating there: Except for our one stumble into McDonalds we have only experienced local French places. This was a chain no doubt about it. It had a Ruby Tuesday/Applebeeish feel to it the second you walk in. While the food wasn't wasn't anything to write home about either. It cost almost €18 ($27) for a burger and frites (fries) That's more than we have paid for gourmet burgers in the local French restaurants. And you could tell it was pre made "chain" fare. The best part was the menu. It was written in English and was a nice reprieve from all the work it is for me to read and order in, what my French/American friend calls Franglish.
    There is something about French food done the French way...or American food done the French way. No matter what it is you can tell it's been done with care. Everything is done with expectations of perfection. As soon as you try French food done the American way or American food done the American way (by a French chef) something gets lost in the translation. I had ribs (which of course I ate with a fork and a knife) and they tasted like something that would happen if a McRib sandwich and a can of spam got married and had a baby.

But He had violet mashed potatoes (made with purple potatoes) that were creamier than white potatoes and they were the bomb.

And the café and desserts were typically French and thus delish.

Friday, April 25, 2014

yes I'll have a slice of cold quiche and a hot slice of pride please and thank you

 So last week I ate cold quiche. I have done this before with my own that I have made but while I was eating this one I cried. Thank God for my big 80's sunglasses.

 He and I had eaten there the day's where I had the most delicious thing I have ever had on my tongue.

Him: How is the citron meringue tart?
Me: I can't talk about it right now.
Have you ever tasted anything so magnificent that it made you too emotional to speak?


 I planned my strategy...I looked at the map. I walked there. I passed the church where I had met Him the the day before. There were 100s of people gathered round the church...pouring out into the street even. A line down the street of mourners waiting to get thru the long receiving line of soldiers decked out in their dress feathers sticking up from their tall hats...swords drawn. Streets all a round were closed off and police were everywhere. I found out later it was the previous la maire. He dies w/in weeks of being voted out of office. :(

Anyway because it was a lovely day right around lunch hour...13:00...the cafe was packed inside and out. So I walked across the street to a park and watched the cafe and the police in the streets giving people direction to detour as to not pass the church. I checked my to say "dining here" [sur place]...practice it. Finally it looked like à l'extérieur dining was clearing out. I walk in...the very pleasant girl greets me. I say hello...I ask for 1 slice of this quiche {pointing to it} ask for it to dine here..."oui" she says. She cuts a slice and places it in a paper bag and I move down to the cash register with my Orangina...she is busy {putting it on a plate and warming it I hope} Another sweet Madame comes and says something in French. "This is all" I say by pointing to my soda and saying "formage quiche" while pointing to the girl at the other end of the case...who is still busy doing something. She quotes the total. I pay..."merci"...point outside..."oui" she says. I sit with my soda at a table that is still covered with dishes from some earlier diner. I move the dirty stuff to another table and get a clean glass and flatware from the clean table. She brings my quiche...cold...still in the  brown bag.

 I tear open the bag and begin to eat my cold cheese quiche. It is soft and gooey...not in a good way...more like a mouthful of cold lard. The crust is greasy and bland. I keep eating as my pride and disappointment create such a knot in my throat that I can barely swallow. I get out my postcards and address book (what I planned to do as I savored my lunch) and just let it lay there until I could eat no more. As I walked as fast as I could back to the hotel to hide and lick my wounds til my He got home, I realized a few things about myself in that moment. My pride kept me from seeing naive by asking in my best Franglish to please put it on a plate and warm it. I could have pointed at the microwave on the shelf behind the counter. Who knows maybe they spoke English. It's ok to be naive when you are trying something new. That's what I used to tell my teenagers. You look more stupid if you try and "look" you know what your doing than if you ask how to something you have no experience in. 2nd thing I learned is that I should have been trying more ardently to learn French before I came.

 Oh well too late for any of that but I am following Edna Modes advice..."Never look back, darling! It distracts from the now!"

 It took me a coupla days before I got back on the horse and left the hotel by myself but I have did it everyday until Rachel got here on Saturday...oh did I tell you...RACHEL'S HERE! [that's different blog post]...and since Rachel got here I am even more courageous! Sometimes shop keepers and such don't speak any English and I speak so very very little French but we muttle though somehow. And I pledge never to eat cold quiche again!

Friday, April 18, 2014

lease signing + tapas + lost bag + 11pm nap = the perfect night........TAKE DEUX

Ok so a few minutes ago I got sidetracked and rabbit trailed on the wonders of Beatrice. Back to the main road...
He is wowing them with his ability to write HUGE numbers in French for the check.
 [our 1st French check btw]
[That is "The" Beatrice btw]
So as I stated in an earlier post Beatrice rode her bike to the real estate agents office [in a dress] [this can not be stated enough for my liking] And we signed 100's of least that's what it felt like. At one point David assured me were not buying the flat. Anyway after standing in the street with the map (after) with Beatrice telling us where to eat for the best supper close to the office. We headed off to the flat to meet with the current tenant, Madame Roche. She speaks a little English and He speaks a little French so we set off to discuss the purchase of the stove and several ceiling light fixtures and to talk about when and where to drop the trash which is called dechets [pronounce: day-shay] and such. When you rent an unfurnished flat in France [and other European countries I am told] the old tenants bring or purchase and then take with them ALL the appliances...range, dish washer, fridge, washing/drying machine and all ceiling light fixtures. Unless the previous tenet is like The Roche family and moving to a smaller flat with lower ceilings and already has a range. Its an odd system but never the less the system that has been working here since the dawn of time. After chatting with this very lovely sweet Madame Roche about where to shop and leave the trash and seeing the garage and cave [cellar] and meeting by chance one if the neighbors she walked us to the gate. I thanked her for her time and she told us that there are many times she wished she had someone help her with a new situation and she pointed out something that we are coming to realize, that the French are not big sharers of information...they are very private and play their cards close to the vest. We walked around the corner to our neighborhood restaurant...a Tapas place with, as is common here, lovely  outside dining. We worked our way thru 4 waiters trying to decipher the menu and ordered a sampling of their most popular tapas.
We got there at was almost completely empty...the kitchen didn't start serving until 8...the staff was still finishing up their supper inside. By the time we left there were people waiting in the street for a table.
a. calamari
b. Toulousian sausage
c. tomatoes
d. mushrooms with eggplant and garlic paste
e. fried cheese
f. fried chicken
g. the ever present duck [hearts i think]
h. bread with sauce and sardines
j. bread with sauce and ham
k. bread
l. fried  potatoes
m. garlic butter for the bread
n. sauce for the chicken [but I used it for everything]
oh yeah...and there was straight up octopus too
Anyway it was a lovely place with the best Sangria I have ever had [tho I haven't been to Spain as a legal adult so I'm leaving the vote open until we visit Spain] And we made friends with several of the staff especially the girl who spoke English very well. When we first got there the kitchen had not started serving yet so we just ordered drinks. When He went inside to use the toilet he said the whole staff was sitting at a long table together having supper. This is the custom here and we have walked in on this scene more than once. Since most places here have a "menu de jour" that changes daily, depending on what was available at the fresh market that day, it is important that the staff eat what is being served that day so they can tell you to the finest details what is in it and what it taste like. 
Anyway, because this is going to be a regular place and because we are this way anyway and because I am not sure enough of myself in this strange land to be anything but, we went out of our way to super friendly. And thank goodness we did....
We were exhausted when we got back to the room @ 11pm and flopped down on the bed and napped for 2 hours! When He got up to do some work that needed to be done He realized His bag [containing a very important little book with all sorts of personal sensitive info and his visa and Embassy badge and French work badge and phone charger and a bunch of other less important things] had been left on the patio of the tapas place!! He tried to call from the front desk with no answer. Now it is close to 2am! He ran, like really ran...with His feet across town with a dead phone and gets past the 2 big bouncers at the door to find a wild party going on...on a Thursday 2am. I digress... He tells them why he has come and they hand him his bag from behind the counter.
Them: "You are very lucky we found it first."
Him: "You are my new best friends!"
He runs back across town to me and our room and takes a long hot bath while I work on my French flash cards!

lease signing + tapas + lost bag + 11pm nap = the perfect night........SCRATCH THAT this ones aaaaallllll about Beatrice.

So we finally signed a lease last night!!
 We walked across town to the real estate agents office where our personal angel aka our relocation expert aka Beatrice met us.
She rode her bike there. In a dress.
I need to take a moment to tell you about Beatrice [pronounced: Bay-eh-trees]. We hired her from the states (sight unseen) because we were told landlords won't even talk to you without a middle manager. We had no idea what a blessing she would be!! She is beautiful in a   sturdy way. She is tall and strong with large hands and feet but flows thru the streets, with us jogging to keep up with her, like a silk ribbon. The 1st day I met her it was pouring down rain and she came rushing into our hotel lobby in a trench coat and a floppy rain hat jammed down on her head. When she gripped my hand firmly with her right hand and introduced herself she used her left hand to sweep the rain hat off her head. Her shortish hair was pulled in a tight knot on the back of her head with unruly wisps framing her beautiful fierce brown eyes. I loved her instantly! She has made it possible for us to get our cell phones hooked up...find a flat that works with our American safety regs...our bank accounts set up and has made arrangements for our cable and Internet to be hooked up the day we get the keys. After looking at 6 flats on that rainy afternoon, walking miles thru the city streets my head was spinning. I was so lost and thought even if we found an apartment I would never be able to find my way back there. She must have noticed the lost look in my eyes because she kept smilimg at me from across the room as we waited for the English speaking banker, a friend of hers of course, to help us set up our new French account. The banker comes in to get us, Beatrice rises to say aurevoir...she shakes hands with Him, then comes to me, kiss's me on both cheeks and looks into my eyes and says in her thick French accent "Don't worry. Everything will be alright." She has reached hero status for me!

  Before she left us at our bank appointment she took us to a bakery that was filled with beautiful little cakes and candies and cookies and big lovely decorated wedding and birthday cakes. She knew just what to order because she had been coming there since she was a little girl with her grand mother. She ordered 3 little pastries and cafe for 3.

This was her favorite little cake when she was a little girl
and we of course had to order a violet Macaron since Toulouse is famous for it's violets.
I don't take sugar in my cafe but you better believe I dropped that little piece of chocolate in it!

 Until you are an American expat in a European country on Uncle Sams dime you can't understand how difficult it is to do such everyday things. You can't get a phone account set up without a bank account and you can't get a bank account until you have an address and you can't get an address without a bank account and you can't make any calls for these chores if you don't have a phone account. When needed she gave her own address. She called in favors and wooed her friends to give us deals or set up appointments in a timely manner. Beatrice is a dream and a tangible proof that God loves us and was already here making a way for us before we even got our visas!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

it's funny the things that snag me...

So it's funny and very irritating the things that snag me up so badly that my progress on this blog comes to one of those eardrum piercing s l o w screechy halts like a train on 100 year old tracks! Uggg I have been trying for 2 hours to down load dozens n dozens of picks (10 @ a time) 0n a computer that won't except the memory card out of my phone, I was gonna bombard and most likely swamp this boat with afore mentioned dozens n dozens of pic or our almost 3 full weeks here...starting with our 1st day in Paris. But noooooo it has only down loaded about 5, seemingly random pics of every 10 I have sent. So I stopped and almost closed up shop. But I quickly came to my senses...and decided to do the best I can with what I got. Once again renewing my vow to start where I am and not keep getting further and further behind just because I can not do things in the order I know start from  the beginning. Life lesson of the day: Sometimes you gotta start where you are!

I have to say this because I have been dying to tell you this since I put the 1st mouthful of French yogurt in my mouth....THE FRENCH KNOW HOW TO DO CREAM!!  I don't like milk or really anything creamy in the US but here I can not get enough! Maybe because they take such great time to do everything revolving around food...from fattening the animals up without GMOs or hormones to separating and whisking every ingredient into submission. I have had tiramisu 50 times at home but I can honestly say I had tiramisu for the first time at the restaurant above the Victor Hugo market. I let Him pick the dessert because I was full. Since I don't like tiramisu He probably thought He'd have the whole thing to Himself. Poor thing  He insisted I taste it and ended up fighting me for the rest!

 This was our view and our food from L'imperiale above the Victor Hugo Market.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

yesterday...le walmart français

There are 2 huge "open air" type of markets in downtown Toulouse that remind me of our beloved Seattle Pike Place market or Reading Terminal Market in Philly and of course there is the farmers market at Place du Capitole and a little "fresh market" every few blocks or so. But I know there will be items (household and grocery types) that I will not be able to get at any of those yesterday after we scoured the local flea market here in downtown Toulouse, DQ and I took the metro (the one he takes everyday to work) to a suburb called Balma, outside the city. This is where he works so he was helping me get comfortable with the trip so I can meet him after work once a week to do big time grocery shopping. The first thing we did after getting off the metro was eat at KFC. There was no coleslaw or biscuits or ice for drinks or lids for cups (because as I have mentioned before no one walks around with drinks to or cold) but it was still finger licking good! Better even than the states.

Then we walked across the highway to a big mall that had a super store ( that ran the whole length of the mall! Imagine super Walmart meets Costco. It was very Walmartish...people pushing and shoving (I got run over twice by other peoples carts) ...not an excusez-moi or merci or s'il vous plaît in the place (except by DQ and I)...screaming children...frazzled offerings etc. But right in the center of the mayhem is a long aisle of fresh, raw, stinky seafood and a long stinkier formage aisle and a HUGE wine selection.
I believe this white pile is dried fish.
There is also 2 aisles of yogurt! We have tried so many!! It is the best I have ever had!!

While this is the place I will be buying appliances and food and household goods I have never been so happy to leave a place. Altho, I need to add, the cashier was VERY kind and helpful and when she saw the deer in the headlights look on our faces as we were frantically trying to decide which H U G E line to get in to check out with our 8 items she came and got us and checked us out saving us about 40 minutes in line!

Anyway it was a side of France and French I have yet to have seen so it was a great learning experience. And after I get some more French under my belt I am sure I will be able to navigate these waters with more ease. Also there seemed to be some kind of system where you scan your items as you put them in the cart and give the cashier the scanner when you are ready to check out and it seemed to cut down on time and unloading and reloading the cart. That will take a lot more French to understand how that works. I have assigned DQ with the job of finding out about this system rom his French work gang. I'll keep ya posted.