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Archive for January, 2011

A Good Weekend…

I’m going to tell you a secret. I love Bonneville.

I do complain about the sporadic opening hours of Petit Casino, cry in mock amazement when a shop advertises themselves as being open on Mondays and wonder why only pizzas and kebabs are available for dinner on a Saturday night when there is apparently 17 restaurants here. But then, I can go skiing every Sunday. Mont Blanc is sitting in my backyard. For the most part, the skies are blue, the days are still and I am sheltered by dramatic, rugged hills and mountains. I have had some wonderful travel opportunities here: Paris, Marseille, Yssingeaux, Mulhouse, Le Puy en Velay, Zermatt, Geneva, Barcelona, Wales. But it’s always nice to come home to little ol’ Bona Villa.

However, when someone else comes to visit my little corner of the world I am somewhat stumped as to what to do. Maison de Fromage. Point out the medieval castle that’s being renovated. Show the Môle-our local mountain with much historical and geographical significance, none of which I can repeat with any conviction. Lean out my kitchen window to see the Arve river and Bonneville’s famous bridge with all its flags… Most of this “tour” can be completed on the 10 minute walk from the train station to my house.

My latest guest, Ivan, came all the way from Marseille so this visit had to prove that there is more to Bonneville than a wooden building full of cheese… So we decided to leave Bonneville altogether! Ivan arrived Friday evening-obligatory tour completed, via Pizza Plus for dinner. Saturday morning we walked down the road to the Maison de Fromage-ticked that off the list! Then we took the train to Annecy, the Capital of Haute-Savoie. It was an absolutely stunning day so we headed to the lake but got distracted by a flea market selling everything from newspapers for the last 50 years to China dolls missing an eye. Lake was found, lunch was eaten and pathetically small French dogs were laughed at.

Lake Annecy

mountains on one side, old city on the other....

After our walk around the Lake we headed into the town centre. The January sales are still continuing here and I tried not to be tempted by shoes and bags. Instead I bought a cook book… Another cook book. But, in my defense this one was only €5, nearly pocket sized and containing over 200 recipes and photographs of just desserts!! Going to start working my way through this toute de suite! Would anyone care for a crème brûlée aux framboises et au champagne? How about tarte aux poires et aux amandes? I may not have all the kitchen utensils to create such delights but we can sit around my former school desk kitchen table and ohh and ahh over the photography…

Despite the beautiful weather, it was freezing so Ivan and I continued our chocolate crusade of the weekend and went to a Crêperie to warm up! These were some of the best crêpes I have had in France, though incredibly rich. I had a crêpe topped with a grilled banana, hot chocolate sauce and chantilly cream. It really doesn’t get more indulgent than that!

afternoon snack of no mean feat

We returned home for an early night ready for our big trip to Lyon the next day. At about 2-3hours away, Lyon is probably the maximum distance that can be done in a day trip but it was definitely worth it. After living so close to Lyon for 4 months, I confess I have only seen the train station, the airport and the tram between the two!

We headed across the Rhône and the Saône, through Place Bellecoeur to Le Vieux Ville where we found life on a Sunday! Who would have thought? We ambled through this part of town for a while, popping into a couple of churches and then we stumbled upon le Musée des Miniatures et Décors de Cinéma. The strangest museum I have ever seen: five floors of cinema costumes, scenes and miniature everything! The first floor showed scenes from the film Perfume-the rooms were even scented with perfume! The next few floors showed costumes, masks and weapons from sci-fi/alien films. My favourite floors were the last few where there were cabinets full of daily life scenes, buildings and shops-everything in miniature. And I mean miniature-some cabinets provided a magnifying glass to better see the incredible detail:

some of these are no bigger than my thumb nail...

Next stop: candy store! Again, something else we just happened across: an old school (pirate themed??) candy store where you could fill a pink and white stripped paper bag with coke bottles, snakes, licorice, gummy cherries, all from huge ship barrels. Armed with giant snakes and coke bottles we began to trudge up a pretty significant hill (even by Wellington standards) to see the view over a very foggy Lyon. At the top is Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, a replica of the first stage of the Eiffel Tower and some Gallic-Roman ruins. The Basilica was pretty impressive but nothing compared to what I imagine the view would be like on a beautiful day!

Upon our arrival in Lyon, Ivan suddenly remembered that there was a NZ Bar somewhere along the right (or maybe the left..?) side of one of the two rivers. So after our descent from the Fourvière we began our search “of biblical proportions” for the Maori Café. We asked a few people, including the tourism office, and they could really only point us in the direction of the Aussie bar, typical… But we decided that if anyone would know where the elusive Kiwi bar was it would be the Aussies, or maybe we were just flattering ourselves. We continued to traipse across Lyon and probably saw more of this city than we would have had we been doing something slightly more rational than searching for an Aussie Bar (Ayers Rock…) in the middle of France… We found Ayers Rock, only to discover it closed on Sundays but an internet space conveniently next door. A quick €0.50c Google search later and we had the address. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete our mission due to a train back to Bonneville but Ivan marched on and found…. a Chinese grocery store. A Koru printed sign was still hanging miserably outside just to remind him what he had missed.

Hopefully “Lyon in a Day” will be a repeating occurrence but maybe if I want to be physically and mentally present while teaching wild animal flash cards on Monday morning it would be best not to go on a Sunday…

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I like to ease myself into my hectic 12 hour working week. After an exhausting 3 and a bit hours on Monday nothing says relaxation like a trip to the supermarket for my weekly shop. I’m sure one day the novelty of doing my own grocery shopping will wear off, but for now, I can cruise the aisles at leisure, enjoying feeling so domestic.

Monday lunchtime I make my shopping list but now that I have this wonderful new book, narrowing a list down to what one person can feasibly eat in one week is immensely more difficult. I flicked open the book and let my fingers do the walking… to le canard. I have never cooked with duck before and vary rarely eaten it in New Zealand-only when dinner is a choice of cold smoked duck slivers or soggy honey comb cones with whipped goats cheese and sprinkled with caramelised hazelnuts. (Sorry, inside joke.)

Le canard section of my 2000 Recettes de la Cuisine Française is very comprehensive but recipes where I didn’t need to buy a whole bottle of rum or armagnac or chanterelle mushrooms were few and far between. I settled on magrets de canard sauce orange with a very short ingredient list of duck breast, oranges, butter, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper. I went to the Maison de Fromage for my magret de canard, discovered it cost half my weekly grocery bill, bought it anyway and still managed to get distracted by the wine section. I met two teachers on the way back into my building who wanted to discuss timetable changes as I stood their clutching a duck breast wrapped in clear plastic and a bottle of wine. Hopefully, they thought I was having a Monday night soirée and not just rushing up to cook my duck and drink my Pinot toute seule…

drinking in moderation this time!

I started off by blanching orange peel, something I have never done before, and then cooked my duck in lots of butter! President Demi-Sel; life is better when this is in my fridge. It smelled strangely like a cake baking which threw me for a second until I saw this:

Once the duck was cooked I used the same pot with all the delicious duck butter juices to make an orange sauce-the mustard really is the clincher here. Otherwise it probably would have tasted like I’d just poured hot, pulpy orange juice on my beautiful duck! Served on a bed of Uncle Ben’s® “toujours parfait”, it was delicious. Though I think the ingredients in my sauce needed more time to become better acquainted.

I had to make my rather expensive piece of duck last for more than one meal so guess what I had for lunch today? It’s gotta beat a sandwich…

Another less positive and much less exciting consequence of my kitchen exploits is this…

It's character building stuff...

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So last week due to timetable rearrangements I was forced to focus a bit more on my work and stop visualising the contents of my fridge to brainstorm my next meal. A tough week.

But I also realised that I have some very comical moments in class and they are definitely worth sharing, after all, kids do say the darndest things!

Over the past few weeks my classes have been learning the words for fruits and vegetables. After a few lessons I know how it goes; I’ve learned which syllables to emphasise as I repeat banana, pear, orange for the umpteenth time. Then, occasionally, the monotony will be broken by blank faces, incredulous at the oddity of the New Zealand accent. Or a child will say something totally brillant…

“What is it?”
“Lemon”
“Ah, comme John Lennon…”

“What is it?”
“Schweppes”
“Huh?”
“Schweppes” (25 voices shout at once)
“Oh, you mean grapes…”

“What is it?”
“It’s an apple”
A few kids tap their shoulder… “Epaule, épaule…”
“Hmmm, close…”

I will never tire of seeing eight year olds slap their foreheads and cry “Oh la la” when they lose Bingo. Or, when the goody-two-shoe girls look down at a boy and say “bah, non” when he has just asked a ridiculous question like “Comment dit-on “deux” en anglais déjà?” or “Est-ce qu’on écrit notre prénom en anglais?”

I was warned that I could very well return from France and find teaching is my “raison d’être” mais non… I love these funny moments that we have in class and I enjoy seeing the kids learn (and remember!!) new words. But then I get thrown in front of 30 ten and eleven year olds who have just finished their annual evaluations and are running about the classroom like they are high on crack. I catch the eye of the exhausted teacher standing at the back, hiding behind these uncontrollable children and I think (firstly, where is my Mother when you need her?) et peut-être pas…

In other news, I have spent the last three Sundays skiing with the Bonneville Ski Club. I just so happen to live in the French Alps so a good ski is never more than two hours away! For the past two weekends we have had the most glorious weather, despite reaching a low of minus 12 yesterday at Samoëns. If you can avoid the ice patches or mud (snow has been, quite literally, a bit thin on the ground recently), then a good days skiing is bound to be had. Or you could just admire the views and try to spot Mount Blanc…

view towards Mt. Blanc

Megève, Haute-Savoie

Lunch break, Samoëns

More action shots next time, I promise. Though I have stopped doing Bridget Jones-esque stunts down the mountain now so my skiing is far less entertaining for on lookers…

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Some women buy shoes like they are a drug. Exhausting credit card limits and precious storage space, this can become a serious problem. I know this from watching two and a half seasons of Sex and the City in a week.

I have discovered that my own personal “shoe-drug” problem (or blessing, you decide) is cook books. I realised I may have a problem when I gave in to the New Year sale emails I received from Amazon.fr and bought a 2.8kg encyclopedia of French cuisine for €28.50.

I weighed up the pros and cons as any rational shopper would do. Though, to be honest, when was shopping a rational activity?! With a severely strict baggage limit on my return home what was I doing buying a 2.8kg book? Also, in the last 3 months I have seen new varieties of fruit and vege, a whole other world of dairy products and more types of pastry than I have fingers to count. I’m taking a guess here that I will have to look further afield than Karori Woolworths to find wood-ear mushrooms or fresh laurel when I accidentally leave it off my shopping list. I’m just saying, there is a reason Julia Child’s books were so successful…

I ummed and ahhhed about this book for about 15 minutes, read a few client reviews and decided that if I was going to buy any french cook book it would have to be this one. We’ll ignore the fact that I clicked the button twice and ended up buying the book twice! My technological shortcomings are another story for another post…

I have had quite a good flick through and one of the first things I am going to make is called Gâteau de riz aux pommes meringuées. Rice pudding plus delicious caramelly apples plus meringue? Do I even need to ask?

I will need to keep a running vocab list to go with the this book. I have already learned the word for offal and giblets: Abats-think abattoir… Une papillote is a tin foil parcel. Une macreuse is a beef shoulder and un rognon is a kidney, just like in this little tantalising picture:

rognons de veau au Chabolis et à la moutarde (Veal kidnies in Chabolis and mustard)

This looks like a beautiful book and hopefully I will get a lot of use out of it. But even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, I’m sure it will make a wonderful coffee table book for when I am older and have a coffee table. I can pretend that once I used to be able to speak french and eat gâteau de riz aux pommes meringuées without going up a dress size.

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An intervention

Last week my family performed an intervention. They decided enough was enough with my vegetarian “dabbling”. I am in France for God’s sake and what is staple french fare? MEAT! I was told my head would spin so fast I wouldn’t know what had hit me if I came back from France wearing a hippie skirt and preaching the benefits of a macrobiotic diet. I was instructed to adopt a new mantra: food pyramid. And my Mother ordered that I was to go straight away and cook something that once mooed (or quaked) and ran in the lush green pastures of France.

I don’t understand how my diet changed so dramatically upon my arrival in France. When did I start counting the number of coffees consumed in a week? Why did I stop buying chocolate? When was the last time I drank a wonderful glass of red wine? I think I may have been so paranoid about gaining the mandatory “France weight” that I went in completely the opposite direction and panicked if my meal did not contain at least one pseudo-grain and seven vegetables. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t totally wasted this culinary experience (did someone say language experience…?). French menus vary rarely cater for vegetarian diets so on occasion I have had to, been forced to, indulge in foie gras and confit du canard.

There was a time last year when casseroles were my favourite dish. I would be perfectly content to wake up an hour earlier to cube, pat dry and brown a big hunk o’ meat. Let it simmer all day in the crock pot and come home to a comforting bowl of stew, preferably with creamy mashed potatoes. One particularly proud day, I jointed a chicken. Now I dream of being able to completely bone it. But as my Mother pointed out, there won’t be a place for me at the Cordon Bleu if I continue eating salads and lentils.

So here we are Mum, a fitting return to the world of balance I hope:

Je vous présente coq au vin:

It's not particularly pretty but it sure tasted good!

I admit, I did feel a sense of trepidation when I walked into the Maison du Fromage to buy deux cuisses de poulet. Though, that could have also been a result of having been in “English mode” all day and now I had to speak french…

I battled through and bought 2 lovely healthy looking chicken thighs with the bone still in. They were even wrapped in butcher’s paper. I bought lardons, french shallots and cute little button mushrooms. I had a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Languedoc region which I had been saving for some obscure reason. I would have preferred a red from Bourgogne but beggars can’t be choosers…

Within 30mins my kitchen was filled with the beautiful aroma of shallots and lardons browning in butter, fresh herbs and red wine.

It was truly a delicious meal and not at all impaired by my choice of accompaniment: microwave brown rice.

Later, while doing the dishes, after having dropped and broken a plate and walked into the bathroom instead of the kitchen, I realised perhaps it isn’t such a great idea to cook with and drink the wine at the same time…

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This evening I stood at my kitchen window and watched the sunset over my (bare, i.e. no snow…) mountains. We get a lot of sunsets here in Bonneville and they are by no means your average sunsets. Tonight the sky was the colour of ruby red grapefruit. I could tell it was going to be a beauty before I even vaguely faced west. The bare rock face of the opposite mountain was tinged ruby red. It kind of looked like it it had been sun bathing…

I stood at my kitchen window watching the sunset eating my latest pâtisserie delight: un Royal. It looked beautiful: a little rectangle of chocolate mousse covered in a thick layer of cocoa on a lightly sugared crunchy base. Both the sunset and the Royal were photograph worthy but I was feeling a little selfish.

However, the Royal did not live up to its name. I should have known better; it is a lesson I learned a long time ago. When it comes to most sweet indulgences I am more of a vanilla/citrus/berry girl. I find chocolate in anything other than its pure and natural form nearly always leaves a little something to be desired… That’s not to say I don’t find the rich darkness and bitter sweet qualities alluring, I’m only human after all. But, seriously, can you ever go past a perfect pain aux raisins or tarte citron?


source

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All this for €7.10! Pumpkin soup is simmering away as I write…

un petit cadeau

Le vendeur also handed me two little lychees. I may or may not have thrown him my best smile…

Probably at the absolute bargain I was running away with!

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