Musings

I return in 11 weeks.  And my brain is starting to refocus.  My memory of my kitchen and appliances sneak in to my head particularly when I clean.  As I have done… well, are doing.  Taking a break before vacuuming.

The dryer!  Soft warm fluffy towels, sheets and clothes!  Right now bedding in hanging up over the towel heating rack and over the dryer racks and clotheslines spread out over my apartment.  It’s not as bad as last year.  This year I brought a second flat sheet over (they are softer than the ones I have here and really, I am here 9 months!).  So I can remake the bed right away, no more waiting for a sheet to dry.  But still… imagine… a dryer!

I also dream of the dishwasher.  But really that’s more because I had to buy a new one when I got back last January.  The thing that probably came with the house when it was first built died.  So now I have this wonderful Kenmore waiting for me.

And I dream of no dust.  I am sure there is dust in California.  But not like Paris.  Today I wiped the kitchen counter.  I did this yesterday.  I didn’t do more than make tea last night.  But in spite of that, the sponge had a definite blackness to it.  Where does this dirt come from and so quickly?  I will be interested to see how much dust has accumulated in California.  I don’t have anyone living there full time so I put sheets over some things.

And then I think of croissants and baguettes and sigh wondering why I am going back.

But now, off to vacuum.  (Unless I can find a book that needs reading…)

OH  Books!!  I highly recommend SAPIENS.  Recommended to me by two French friends and by two Americans when I mentioned it- they said, oh yeah, that’s a great book!

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Costco!

Yes there is a Costco in France!  Out in the environs of Paris.  A friend was interested so I took the train to her place in the banlieu (suburbs) and we drove over.  It’s located across from a field of cows!  But it’s a real Costco.  Looks the same.  Entrance.  Help desk.  I wanted to get in on my US membership.  And that’s possible.  But it is far easier if you bring your Costco card with you.

I didn’t  It’s sitting on my desk in California.

But I persisted.  Nope, they couldn’t look up my number.  BUT! I went to my Citibank app and opened it and found: COSTCO Citibank Card.  Just showed that and he waved me in.  Loved Christophe.

As we wandered about, we saw a group of French business people (suits) surrounding a guy in khakis and polo shirt – talking – American accent.  English.  We figured it was the manager explaining Costco to them.  My friend and I found some things to buy – I was on assignment from my Dutch friend to look for Almonds.  I found them next to the big bag of Krustez pancake mix.  On purpose I sent the photo including both the almonds and mix for her confirmation to buy the almonds.  Immediately she texted back KRUSTEZ!  Bought them both.

At the check out, the gal wanted my card.  Non, madame, je n’ai pas ma carte ici.  Mais Christophe !  She talked to her supervisor.  Again I said, Christophe!  Had to repeat it a couple times but they called Christophe who came over and smiled at me and explained to them how they could enter information and let me pay by credit card.  It was amusing because both ladies did not seem too happy with the accommodation.  They have a lot to learn about Costco customer service.  Christophe, however, gets it!

I pride myself on my great planning skills but sometimes they  fall short.  A back pack full of Krustez, Almonds (both Costco size!), and two bottles of wine  (yes, from St Emilion) is quite heavy!  It was a long trip to the Netherlands.

Travels

Out and about France.  I don’t think I said much about the trip to the West coast of France.  I have been looking at the map and seeing areas that I haven’ visited yet.  La Rochelle and Bordeaux leapt out at me.  La Rochelle so reminded me of a Southern California beach town.  Which in a way it is.  The two famous towers that guard the harbor.  Climbed one, the other closed.  http://www.francethisway.com/places/la-rochelle-towers.php

I enjoyed wandering around.  Even took a cruise out to Fort Boyard on a very choppy and windy day!  I was glad I accidentally picked the larger boat for my trip.  Clearly, it wasn’t tourist season – no more than 12 of us on a boat that can fit over a hundred.  Fort Boyard is a fort just built in the middle of the water.  Well, I did see a rock or two peeking out, so I assume there was something to start on.  There was also a famous French TV show called Fort Boyard – I know this because every- yes – every French person told me this when I said I went there.

Then the train to Bordeaux.  Now I am becoming a drinker of red wine, but only light reds.  Chinon, Brouilly.  And Bordeaux is known for the strong reds.  Still.  I took the train to St Emilion, famous medieval town and center of a wine region.  I loved this town and highly recommend it.  And thanks to a reader who went there on a tour and recommended it to me.  I climbed three towers that day and took a wine tour with the Tourist Office.  Another recommendation – always check out the tourist office site on line before going there.  I found this great tour in English for the morning and a tour of the underground church in the afternoon – also in English.  I was going to walk from the station but it is a bit of a hike.  The Tuk-Tuk came by and I caved.  And took them back also.  Which was a very good idea because at the winery I purchased two bottles of wine – a rose that was not labeled Fronsac (where it was located) but Bordeaux because of all those strict Wine rules.  And a delightful red that was not too strong.

I did the bus tour around Bordeaux the next day and was pretty much done with the city.  I think I enjoyed St Emilion so much that Bordeaux suffered by comparison.

CARNIVORE!

Meat!  Last week in La Rochelle, I had the best entrecote I have ever had in France.  But that’s not saying much.  As I was cutting through it, I was wondering where all the filet mignon are hiding?

Think about it. OK. It’s a big cow.  And the filet mignon spot is relatively small.  But still… I think I may have seen la Tete du veau (calf’s head) on the menu more than filet mignon.

OK I have to stop this description or I won’t be able to eat beef for a while.

I am a wimp.  I couldn’t take biology in high school because I refused to cut up a frog.  Or anything.  I took chemistry AND physics to avoid it.  And I was 22 before I could skin a chicken breast.  And then I had to put on rubber gloves!  If it looks too much like it was alive, I’m done.   Some idiots at a fancy conference meal of surf and turf picker up their lobsters and made them walk on the table.  I picked up my plate of steak and changed tables.  And when I was 9 years old, a delightful family friend cooked a 4 course meal for my family.  He placed the  plates of fish in front of me and my mom first, then went back to the kitchen to get the other plates for the rest of the family.   Clearly my discomfort was obvious for, on his last trip to the kitchen, he picked up my plate and said “let me remove this offensive creature.”  I was in love from him from then on.  I mean, really?  The whole fish, scales and all and this one eye peering up at me!  Shocking!

In 2001 I stopped eating red meat.  It was an energetic thing.  My body just wasn’t interested.  Which was fine until I decided to move to Paris.  I made a conscious decision to incorporate beef back into my diet.  My choices were too limited without it.

But entrecote?  I was getting so tired of it.  In La Rochelle I found myself longing for a filet mignon.  So a quest started.

First I had to figure out what they called it.  Did you know that US, UK, and France all use different naming constructs for the cow?  Here are links to pictures and stories.  I like the article from the Telegraph about the French butcher who says British beef is better than French and he got kicked out of the butchers’ association.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11233627/Why-English-rosbif-is-a-cut-above-the-French.html

http://www.anneshealthykitchen.com/beef-cuts-us-uk-france-spain/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut_of_beef#American_cuts

I had to stop my internet investigations because I was seeing too many charts that had the face of a happy cow staring at me while the rest of it was marked up for how to butcher it.  I would have been terrible in 4H.

My quest didn’t take long – even though I reached several deadends – my foodie-est friends knew no restaurants with fabulous steak.  However, a friend who has lived in France 30 years called me for dinner.  I told her of my desire for a good steak and she found a place.  La Maison d’Aubrac.   And miam miam!  A true glorious tasty steak.  On my English menu, they called it Tenderloin.  I was so deliriously happy I didn’t check the French menu.  But no worries.  I will go back.  And no need to dream about Ruth Chris Steakhouse anymore.  I have a local place!

Children and Cooking

It’s been a month or so since my visitors flew back to the states.  I think a lot about them.  It was a different visit than I usually have when friends come over.  First, obviously, because one was 7 years old.  And what a 7 year wants to do and how she sees life is very different from my normal viewpoint.  And secondly, her mother was the first visitor who had been to Paris, and knew what she wanted to see and show her daughter.  That’s great.  Not a problem at all.  But it was confusing for me at first.  Normally, my role is to show people around.  She knew how to get everywhere.  And sometimes had a different route in mind.  Again, which was fine – but different for me.   We also walked a lot more than I normally do.  I have the Navigo pass that gives me unlimited use of bus and metro for a month.  Yes, for a fee of about 80 bucks.  So I just fall into the “take the bus” habit.  My preference over the metro any day.  But the metro if necessary.

But walking is also good.  (She corrected my gait, did I tell you?  Shorter strides, pushing off with the ball of my foot and leaning a bit forwards.  And voila – no hip pain!  Who knew!??)  And with no hip pain, walking has been more fun.  And with the pushing off, well, you get there faster with less noticeable effort.  Again – who knew!

After their departure, I have found myself walking more than I did before.  If the bus will be 8 minutes, I walk to the next stop.  Sometimes I don’t even take the bus. My Fitbit is very proud of me!

On occasion I felt much a fifth wheel – unnecessary for their visit.  I don’t think that is true – but I did have to make many changes in my brain to redefine my role.  Overall, I think it’s a very good thing to be moved out of your status quo.

We went to many kids playgrounds.  That got me to thinking…  I know her mother and I recall she takes the grandkids to playgrounds all the time.  And did with her kids too.  I don’t have kids.  So I am not an expert at all.  I think the playground idea is a good one.  But I found myself thinking back to my childhood and I don’t recall every stopping at a playground on any trip.  My sister does.  But she’s almost 10 years older than me.  I grew up in the country and I think Mom just opened the door on a sunny day and pointed to the lawn and swings and tree house and said go play.

Now, however, I spot all the playgrounds blocks away.  Although I don’t have any young kids coming to visit in the near or far future.

The visit also made me think about cooking.  If you follow my blog, you should know I am not a cook.  When I was married for 11 years, I did cook.  And it wasn’t bad.  I had some go to recipes.  I even experimented.  But after splitting up, I have had no motivation to cook.  I just don’t find it interesting.  I can even have the same menu for a week without being bored.

Walk me down the spices aisle and I am unmoved.  I have no idea what things taste like or what goes with what on what.  But put me in a hardware store or an art store, I will know what paint colors go with what, how to mix them, how to make pretty much anything out of duct tape!  I made a duct tape purse one time.  And a duct tape vest.  Because crafts and art do interest me.

Fortunately, my visitor could cook and cook well.  The one time I tried dinner for the three of us, I was tired and ended up burning the chicken.  See.  It bores me.  Who wants to stand in the kitchen waiting for things to cook?  I asked a friend to send me ideas for an easy to fix vegetarian dinner for a French friend.  She sent me suggestions that used terms that were like Greek to me.  Do this…. Do that…   Huh?  I thanked her nicely and I paid for my friend’s meal in a restaurant instead.

My mom didn’t teach me many of these fundamental household things.  She often said she was too tired and I was the third kid so…  But I did take Home Ec in junior high.  I remember we baked cookies and sewed an apron.  I also hate sewing (even though it should be in my DNA as my mother, grandmother and sister are all excellent seamstresses).  I do, however, love to embroider.  Maybe that’s more like making art?

I am a bit intrigued about the chemistry of cooking.  That might be a way to lure me into the kitchen.  I always thought why can’t I just dump all the ingredients in at the same time and just mix it up.  Ok.  So different ingredients react differently together.  Heck, even when you put the salt on the food makes a difference.  Or so I’ve heard.

I can make semi-decent scrambled eggs but even then I get bored or distracted.  And my omelets never turn out like the ones I get in French restaurants.

Then I think, I am too old to start.  And I am finally getting over my embarrassment at not knowing how to cook.  It’s taken awhile.  Friends say – oh, just cut up the tomatoes for the salad.  And I have an existential crisis!  First, I have an allergy to raw tomatoes (they make me puke).  So I have always avoided them.  And cutting them up?  How?  In half the long way, the side way, into chunks, into slices?  Oh there are TOO many choices!!!

If people wonder that I don’t offer to help in their kitchen, it is not because I am lazy or rude.  It’s because I am scared to death that I will show how utterly helpless and clueless I am.  Let me set the table.  Let me make a centerpiece!

I am starting to step up and admit: I AM A KITCHEN IDIOT.  Not necessarily proud of it, but finally willing to admit it.