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Archive for December, 2010

I think Monday night sufficiently put an end to my vegetarian diet of late. In fact, last week I was practically a vegan as I had run out of all butter (quelle horreur!), yoghurt, milk, egg, anything vaguely diary or animal related and in my attempt to conserve my money I didn’t buy anymore. A week is my limit for living the Vegan life… I need butter.

Anyway, back to Monday night. I arrived in St. Etienne Monday afternoon to meet Sophie and her sister Julie. We had a brief look around a Christmas market, sat in Subway to warm up and then went to meet the rest of their family and friends at a restaurant not far from their town of Yssingeaux in Haute-Loire. We ate at this restaurant last time I stayed with Sophie and it was amazing! A little sort of back-country bar plus restaurant. The owner and chef loves collecting caps (the kind you wear on your head) and has a pretty significant collection hanging from the ceiling of the restaurant. The last time I was here for an entrée I had a salad with confit des oignons, foie gras, corn, magret de canard and of course plenty of bread! For a main I had braised veal with veges and for dessert pear and almond tart. So french and so delicious.

Monday night was no different. I unfortunately left my camera in the car so will do my best to describe this amazing meal for you…. Update: One of my fellow diners sent me a few photos!

the bar (complete with foosball table!). No idea what this drink was but it was delicious!

First Course: the same salad as my first visit. I could never turn down an opportunity to eat foie gras! The magret de canard has a fine slice of fat around the edge which I noticed no one else seemed to eat… I probably should have followed suit, when in Rome do as the Romans do, but I couldn’t resist, duck fat… Mmmm

Second Course: The second course arrived and the first things I noticed were steamy, baked cheesey goodness- this I was looking forward to! Sophie told me it was shrimp lasagne. I had never had seafood lasagne before and let’s just say it is nothing short of amazing! Very rich though and as I thought this was the main course I ate every last morsel. And wiped my plate clean with bread. Again, when in Rome, do as Romans do… It soon dawned on me when my knife and fork were replaced that another course was about to follow. I took another sip of Côte du Rhone and braced myself.

My French Table: shrimp lasagne, côte du rhone and baguette

Third Course: More duck! How could I possibly refuse?? Our third course was a tender duck leg with a mushroom crepe and steamed veges. The duck was beautiful and clean tasting and went perfectly with the crepe. The crepe batter was light and thin which I was thankful for once I tasted the incredibly rich sauce. Mushrooms slippery and musky in a rich creamy sauce, absolutely delicious but I admit, I did not have the courage or stomach capacity to finish it. The veges also warrant a mention. In light of my recent vegetarian diet I think I have the authority to say that the cauliflower was potentially the best cauliflower I have ever tasted. Lightly herbed and cooked to perfect tenderness, I could have eaten a plate full. The spoon glinting at the top of my place seating was a reminder of what was to come…

Fourth Course: Dessert is probably my favourite part of any menu, though if duck is involved in the main meal it is truly a tough contest. After the duck and crepe course we were granted une petite pause. Then the table was tidied, lights were dimmed and a stool brought to the head of the table. The chef brought out from the kitchen a giant white, fluffy, lightly crisped log; poured on hot cointreau and lit a match! I so wish I had had my camera. The cake disappeared and reappeared only moments later thickly sliced and accompanied by a fresh raspberry coulis. The log was made up of a hard biscuit base, vanilla ice cream and fluffy, whipped egg whites lightly spiked with orange liqueur.

sauce art, fresh raspberries and beautiful refreshing vanilla dessert

A refreshing tea to finish off along with cries of “I will never eat again!” Hmmph, who am I kidding? Praline brioche is calling my name…

A wonderful evening, maybe not so conversationally for me-a group of 12 makes a french conversation very difficult to follow. The food, on the other hand, was truly spectacular.

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The wonderful thing about only working for a grand total of 45 minutes on Friday morning is that not only do I get a little sleep in, but I can make my walk home a round trip via the market.

Every Tuesday and Friday is market day here in Bonneville. The size of the market has seriously diminished from when I first arrived as the last of the summer produce was still available then and now it is just too freezing to stand around for 6hrs selling veges.

I thought French markets were a bit like other French stereotypes-exaggerated romance found only in the sunny South and in corny American/French movies. I did not realise the importance and abundance of markets; in small towns like Bonneville and also in big cities like Paris and Lyon. However, stereotypes are always based on truths, and when I see an elderly man on a bicycle with pumpkins and cauliflower in his basket or a woman wheeling a market trolley with leek tops popping out the top, I do smile to myself.

Friday at the market was particularly lovely-a french provincial market in the snow. What could be better? It was a brief trip to the market-the below zero temperatures at 11 in the morning do not make for outrageously comfortable shopping! I trudged through the snow feeling slightly sorry for all the sellers but enjoying their eclectic mix and match of outfits. Russian fur hats, bum gloves and colourful eighties ski gear, yes please!

I think the chilly temperatures may have affected my decision making skills. I came home with a rather interesting mélange of produce:

onions, dried apricots, a persimmon, bananas and cooked beetroot

I bought the persimmon because I love the french word for it: kaki. Je prends un kaki s’il vous plaît.
I bought the beetroot because I was intrigued by the idea of being able to buy ready cooked beetroot from a market amidst all the other raw produce. Saves me on time too..

The persimmon and the dried apricots were little extravagances but 3 onions, 3 bananas and 2 giant cooked beetroot cost me €2.55. That is also why I love my market.

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Paris, je t’aime…

Have I mentioned before that I love Paris? I love the Mary Poppin-like skyline dotted with chimneys. I love the lights. I love the symmetry and balance of the buildings. I love the river stalls in the green boxes. I love the immensely crazy traffic. But most of all I love the food.

During my first trip to Paris a few years ago it became my personal mission to eat as much confit du canard and tarte tatin as physically possible. Days were filled with new pastries, crêpes and rotisserie cooked chicken. Nights we tried new wine varietals, succeeded in stomaching outrageously smelly cheeses and compared restaurant menus. We enjoyed the sights of Paris through beautiful food.

This latest weekend in Paris was not exactly a showcase of the finest culinary delights of Paris. I admit, I may have wandered the Latin Quarter with a McFlurry in hand and stood in line at the Eiffel Tower nibbling fries and sausages from a street stall. But it was a fantastic trip none the less. And Paris wouldn’t be Paris with out at least one meal of Confit du Canard…. Oh, it was beyond good.

Sophie and I made our way to the hostel in the 19th arrondissement. This hostel has received very mixed reviews and we immediately understood why. Tiny room, probably about 20-25m², with 14 beds/bunks-not a pleasant smell in the morning I assure you! After a couple of hours here it became clear that the people are what makes the hostel experience, not the facilities on offer. We felt safe the entire time and our things remained secure during the day. We met Angelo from Italy, Annie from Sydney, Anna from San Francisco, Oliver from California, a guy from South Africa and another guy from Sao Paulo in Brazil. All lovely people, great for a multi-lingual chat over a demi-pêche.

Saturday morning we headed out to roam the tourist beat. Galeries La Fayette, Printemps, L’Opèra, Angelina, Jardin des Tuileries, La Pyramide, Ile de la Cité, Notre Dame, Ile de Saint Louis and that was all before lunch time! Lunch was a strange mix of chocolat chaud, macaroons and tarte citron from Angelina’s and later, two slices of white American sandwich bread with pâté. Place de la Concorde, Champs Elysées, Trocadéro, La Tour Eiffel before dinner. Dinner: more white sandwich bread and pâté, fries and sausages…

Moulin Rouge by night for a two minute glance before we rushed over the road to Starbucks (I did warn you that this wasn’t a culinary journey…) to meet our pub crawl crew… If I am being honest I would prefer to have a lovely meal out with one really good glass of wine than a night of cheap drinks but I feel this was almost a necessary part of our hostel experience. However, we could have at least crawled towards french drinking houses. Instead, an Aussie pub and 3 Irish pubs. Walking down the foot path outside the Moulin Rouge in tow with a raucous bunch of Aussies chanting “Aussie! Aussie! Aussi! Oi! Oi! Oi!” was not a moment I was proud to be a part of. Nor did I particularly enjoy being asked to say “six” and “sex”. I thought we had moved on from that. Coming across two lovely guys from South Auckland (complete with Swannies) and a girl from Lower Hutt in the corner of an Irish pub in Paris was a truly surreal moment.

We woke up bleary eyed and feeling sorry for ourselves Sunday morning but determined to press on and knock a few more things off our sight seeing list. Montmarte, Sacre Cœur and then off to Rue des Rosiers in the Marais for delicious L’As du Fallafal. Sophie and I ate in silence, except for Sophie’s occasional mutterings of “Oh my God, this is amazing, I have no words…” Rue des Rosiers is my all time favourite street in Paris. An incredible eclectic collection of shops interspersed with beautiful old Jewish bakeries.

Sunday afternoon we made our way over to St. Germain des Prés for a nice cup of tea (nice expensive cup of tea) at Les Deux Magots. This is a rather iconic cafe in Paris, right across the road from Cafe de Flore. But I didn’t feel the atmosphere was very pleasant. All the waiters were quite polite but they had that worn out, slightly harried look and there was a lot of tension in the room I felt. We continued on around this area in search of the Pantheon. This is an incredible building but by this stage my tolerance for sight seeing was waning ever so slightly. We took a very complicated metro trip back to Peace and Love for our luggage, said au revoir and hopped on our separate trains home.

Paris, I do love you, but I must say I was very glad to crawl into my own bed at midnight on Sunday.

Hope you are well 🙂

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As of yesterday I officially, legally and healthily exist in France.

It has taken nearly 3 months to reach this stage of existence but, now, it is done. After 1 early morning frantic run through Bonneville for forgotten wallet, 2 train trips, several power walks/runs through Annecy, a lung x-ray, a medical examination (where I got told “vous avez un cheval dans son coeur” plus a weird rib) and a meeting with an immigration officer I have a swanky new addition to my passport and can come and go from France as I please…until June 15th next year.

I rewarded myself with a healthy sized bag of macaroons and a trip to the movies. Pieds Nus sur les Limaces. This could be knocking Blue Crush, A Good Year and other such cinematic masterpieces out of my favourite movie spot. The film photography was incredible, the setting looked rather heavenly (or maybe that was just the long, hot summer that I am ever so slightly missing…), and it was just overall a beautiful film. Plus I love the title: bare feet on slugs…

Today I am moving my French adventuring to Paris for the weekend; it’s a hard life I lead…

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So I believe I was off to indulge in fondu last time I wrote. I am ashamed to admit that the only “meal” out I have had in Bonneville has been from Pizza Plus. It was delicious pizza but considering Bonneville has apparently 17 restaurants, it’s a pretty poor effort. So Sarah and I ventured out into the snow once more to Hotel de l’Arve for our first proper meal out! (Arve is the river running through Bonneville.)

Our budgets didn’t quite extend to an entire meal each so we shared an entree and a main which worked perfectly. For starters we had foie gras au canard with sliced baguette and a citrus foie gras au canard sorbet. The dish was beautifully presented, not entirely convinced it was worth the €22 but how often do you eat foie gras?? When our waitress described the dish to us I wasn’t too sure I had understand accurately; foie gras sorbet…? Pretty much duck pâté ice cream…? My skepticism was soon shown where to go after I spread some on top of the regular foie gras with the bread-sooo good. The cold temperature of the sorbet, its slightly more creamy texture and hint of citrus complimented the foie gras perfectly.

The fondu was the big highlight of the night. Yes, I had melted cheese as my main course. But this wasn’t just any melted cheese, it was special Savoie melted cheese. The Savoie regions (where I live) are particularly well known for their cheeses. The fondu was very tasty, though it is definitely something to be shared. After a while all that cheese gets a bit heavy going. Our waitress’s suggestion: keep drinking wine! I didn’t have to be told twice. A 330ml “pichet” of Côte du Rhône for €4.50 or something like that, definitely the best valued item on the menu.

For dessert I had a plum tart. When I ordered I forgot that the french word prune means plum and not prune, pruneaux are prunes… I was expecting a lovely creamy prune tart made with marscapone and slightly flavoured with brandy, just how Mum makes. Instead, the tart was just plums cooked on a thin puff pastry base, I was a bit disappointed but you could not fault the presentation. Sarah had speculoos biscuit creme brulee with 3 different ice cream flavours which were delicious, all served on a black board-like tile.

Friday evening, just as the snow began to set in again, I went to St. Julien en Genevois to meet Elle. St. Ju, as we call it, is about a 10 minute bus ride from the Swiss border. Here is a map to help you get your bearings… Pippa and Barbara came from Annemasse to meet us. Pizza for dinner, what else?? And then we attempted to get a good nights sleep with 4 girls in a room about the size of your average hostel dorm… The next day we took a bus into Geneva intending to go to the Christmas markets. Turned out we were a day early for the markets but we made use of our trip by seeing Harry Potter, in English! I really should be watching, listening, reading and just generally absorbing as much French as possible but for Harry Potter I had to make an exception. Ham and Cheese crepe for lunch which was just scrummy; cheese perfectly melted and oozy. The rather large charismatic man who stood outside the stall and cried “madamoiselles, les filles” to lure you in added a certain je ne sais quoi.

Sunday was an early start, 6.15am to be precise, on a bus and off to the slopes. This time we stayed a little closer to home, Le Grand Bornand. I drove through this town in October with Pippa and her family and thought it was lovely but with the snow it was beautiful! We had such a great day skiing despite getting a wee bit lost on the mountain. What we thought was the beginning of a piste was actually just a track made from a snow basher. We persevered, had to take our skis off and walk for a bit and then realised the only way out was a bit of off-road powder skiing. The reward was our snow basher track turned downhill, finally, and became our very own freshly raked piste… The rest of the day we stuck to the slopes until the snow set in and we could no longer tell left from right and up from down. Mulled wine or vin chaud was waiting for me at the bar at the bottom of the slopes, nothing is more warming than sweet vin chaud.

Off to make my soup for the week now. This week it is Cauliflower and White Bean, yum.

Hope you are well 🙂

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A quick re-cap

So I have been living my French Adventure for over two months now and so much has happened! Where to start??

Daily Life: I live in a school building about 30 seconds from the town centre which is great, even if I do spend slightly more money on baguettes than I would like. The apartment came as part of my teaching job which I am so grateful for-it can be quite a struggle to find affordable accommodation in France-even more so from the other side of the world and in a different language! I am also the envy of all other teaching assistants as my apartment is outrageously cheap, €52.10 per month, utilities included, to be exact. I have heard horror stories of assistants in Paris who are paying around €1500 per month for prison cell sized studios-this figure is nearly double our monthly salary!

I teach every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and one lesson on Friday mornings. My students are aged between 7 and 11 and for the most part are quite delightful. I much prefer the littlies as colouring, counting games and songs will never cease to amuse. The older kids are unfortunately a bit “too cool” to learn English and are concerned about appearing “know it alls”. I only teach 11/12 hours a week so I have a lot of free time for cooking, walking, facebooking (guilty…) and hand drawing activities and worksheets for my kids.

Traveling: My first week in France I spent in the tiny village of Fougères, Yssingeaux with Sophie and her family. I am so lucky to have this family reasonably nearby in France-they were definitely a life-saver during my first week. Sophie’s family runs an Auberge- it is such a beautiful place with incredible food-I can definitely recommend the frogs’ legs! Sophie, if you ever read this, thank you so much!

My first weekend of “officially” working was spent near Grenoble with all the other assistants from the entire Grenoble department-about 275 in total. We were overloaded with social security information, immigration information and bread… Huge laundry baskets placed in the dining hall of our youth-camp accommodation that were always full of freshly sliced baguette! It was great to meet other assistants from all over the world and definitely a new experience for French to be the common language! Elle, Pippa, Rachel and Sarah (also my flatmate) are all other assistants in the Haute-Savoie area and we have become good friends-in spite of the communication difficulties our different English accents present at times!

A few weeks later we had only just begun, but holidays already! During the 2 weeks leading up to the holidays we had all experienced the absolute grid lock France becomes in strike season-I’m sure you all saw it on the news-a very frustrating time. I would have another story about Corsica to add to this traveling chapter but, alas, the entire weekend had to be canceled and I was literally stranded in Bonneville!

The first weekend of the holidays I made a slow trip down to Marseille to visit fellow NZer and teaching assistant, Ivan. Marseille is an amazing city! It has an incredible atmosphere and lots to see and do! My highlight was visiting Les Calanques-tiny little port towns located in a national park just out of Marseille. The national park has amazing geography and really great walking trails. This was such a fun weekend and it was very refreshing to be in a big city again. I like Bonneville but I think I am a city girl at heart…

The second week of the holidays I spent a few days in Mulhouse with Brett, also a NZer and an assistant. Mulhouse is a city in Alsace of about 200 000 people. It is rather industrial and not very pretty like Bonneville but it does, however, boast a shopping mall! I have never been a great mall-goer, I much prefer shopping streets, but here after so long without shops I totally embraced the experience and…bought cooking scales, a cook book and socks, not the most indulgent of purchases but I am now the proud owner of a real french cook book!

Last weekend was my most recent and possibly most exciting traveling experience! Elle, Pippa and another German assistant, Barbara and I hired a car and drove to Zermatt in Switzerland for the opening weekend of the ski slopes. Zermatt is in the German speaking part of Switzerland, just under the Matterhorn. The drive alone was quite amazing-all along the edge of the lake, through mountains and it even started snowing on the way. Elle, our driver, was less than enthusiastic about this part of the journey! We had hired an apartment/Chalet in the nearby town of Tasch and so Saturday morning began with a rather fresh walk to the Zermatt train shuttle with skis, boots and poles slung over our shoulders.

I am a “real beginner beginner” (as quoted from the boss of Stoked Ski and Snowboard School when discussing my skiing level) but unfortunately weather prevented my first lesson going ahead so Elle bravely volunteered her skills. No nursery slopes for me; my first “taste” of skiing was off the gondola and down to the ski lift! It took me an hour to do my first run, after which hot chocolate and toe warmers were definitely required! I think I got the hang of it pretty quickly but not after several impressive wipe outs-I think Elle was seriously worried for my life at one point…

Sunday the weather was a better, not so that we could see the Matterhorn but we at least could find its general direction. I had a very good lesson with my lovely instructor Hannah-snow on nursery slopes was touched this time! I even did several really good runs but after 2 and a quarter hours of solid skiing I was knackered. Zermatt is a beautiful town, though seriously expensive!

Food: I find it slightly ironic that I have come to France, one of the most renowned culinary capitals of the world, where meat is a staple on every menu and I have pretty much become a vegetarian. Fruit and vegetables are the easiest thing to buy. Market day is every Tuesday and Friday and while the supermarket is only 500 or so metres from my apartment by the time I get through the fruit and vege part of the supermarket I find my basket is full. I am going to be champion vege soup maker when I return to NZ.

My favourite shop in Bonneville is called “Maison du Fromage”, yes people, House of Cheese! It is a truly amazing place-deli meets bakery meets cheese maker meets gift shop meets wine cellar meets butchery. And all locally produced, I could spend hours in here tasting everything! It is my goal over the next few weeks to try le boudin noir or blood sausage. I hear it is an acquired taste and I am determined to acquire it…

One thing I really love about the food in France is the “bio” trend. The French are so succinct; the word “bio” can pretty much be used to describe all food products that are organic or gluten free or vegan or locally produced or just generally outrageously healthy or all of the above. There are whole supermarkets of “bio” yet everyone smokes and thinks absolutely nothing of sitting down to devour a millefeuille or pain au chocolat everyday. I don’t really understand…

That’s all for now, off to eat fondue!

I will try to write reasonably regularly and keep everyone up to date.

Hope you are well 🙂

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