lundi 29 mars 2010

Marilyn Report

Today's Marilyn sightings: two wall clocks and a jewelry holder, a few wall canvases and a t-shirt. Also saw a baby onesie printed with the classic Warhol Marilyn...but with a baby girl's picture instead of Miss Monroe's.

La lutte

I'm starting to notice "theme words" that keep popping up. The pattern seems to be that I hear or read a word, wonder what it means, and then keep noticing it over and over again, until I finally ask or figure out what it means. The current theme word: pourri. Rotten.

I first started noticing this word pop into conversations as I asked anyone who seemed to be older and wiser if they've had experience with termites. I told a colleague at work that we suspected an infestation. No, she said, you would see holes in your poutres, your ceiling beams.


You don't have termites, she said, you would see dust sprinkling down.

Check. We had to move our kitchen table so we wouldn't get dust in our food.

We weren't 100% sure, though, so we didn't want to say anything to the landlord. It just seems like we're always complaining (you know, what with the salt growing on the walls, the humidity in the basement, the recessed light that fell out of the ceiling, the leak in the kitchen sink that saturated the floorboards, and the trick toilet seat that falls off if you lean to one side...). But then, around midnight last week, we heard a creaking noise coming from the ceiling. We thought it was collapsing, until some research (google, I love you) clued us in that termites can make noise. LOUD noise. It sounded like some kind of animal (a four-legged one) was scrabbling around inside the poutre.

Then, to seal the deal, we managed to catch one of the "ants" that had been falling out of our ceiling since we moved in and get a good look. No ant-like waist between thorax and abdomen? Straight antenna?


Fast forward to today. We spent all afternoon spray-injecting poison into termite holes in the rafters and painting on termite treatment. One of the only things that freaks me out as much as bugs is toxic chemicals. I tried to make sure Josh wore "safety goggles" but he kept taking them off when I wasn't looking.

The whole thing was pretty depressing. I know from my extensive internet research that just treating the outside of the wood won't do anything to the termites on the inside, but this is what our landlord asked us to do as the first step (well, he actually said he would do it, and then Josh volunteered to do it ourselves, for which he is majorly in the doghouse). This reminds me of infamous backfiring medieval warfare tactics. Like the French king with a superior army of mounted knights, who lost a battle because there were so many of them that they didn't have room to maneuver their horses. We've painted the outside of the beams, essentially laying siege to the termites inside--you're trapped in there and you'll get poisoned if you try to come out. And just like a medieval siege, they'll eat everything they've got in there before venturing to the outside. Except once they finally venture to the outside and get killed by the termite spray, our beams will be eaten through, and the apartment upstairs will fall in on us, and we'll both have lost the battle, us and the termites.

Or maybe I'm being a bit too pessimistic.


On a completely unrelated note, the weather here is getting nicer, and our nextdoor neighbor decided to take out his motorcycles, I guess to tune them up, for the first time this season. He had more than ten (I didn't bother to count) and two of them had sidecars.

samedi 20 mars 2010

Sophisticated French Lunch

Josh is away again playing in a frisbee tournament for the weekend. My goal: to do all the laundry (about 5 loads), mop the floor, do my homework, and eat something other than yogurt and nutella, which wouldn't even get the dignity of being a nutella sandwich, since we still haven't found a good baguette anywhere near our new apartment. So far I've succeeded: we had some leftover french onion soup in the fridge....but f.o.s. needs those giant cheese-covered croutons. How do you eat it without baguette?

Answer: goldfish crackers.

I originally just brought goldfish back to France to give to my students (it was one of our vocab words this fall). But I feel like the more we see of the world, the more we can appreciate some previously-overlooked good things from the US. Taking away their context helps us see them "outside the box." Here, goldfish aren't just a kids' snack...they're a delightful cheesy cracker perfect with a sweet muscat wine for a pre-dinner aperitif. And what could better accompany them than a sweet-and-savory tomato dip? Mmmmmmm, goldfish and ketchup.

Actually, I think I'd stick with sundried tomato tapenade for any goldfish dipping, but Josh had ketchup on his pre-tournament scrambled eggs this morning and it was looking pretty delectable.

Alright, I've gotta go to the grocery store and throw all this laundry in a dryer somewhere.... five loads is just WAY to much to hang dry in our apartment. No more blogging and back to work. And by work I may or may not mean trying to make savoury carrot panna cotta, which we got last night at a restaurant in our neighborhood and want to marry. I mean make ourselves some time.

mardi 16 mars 2010

Pause plaint: Complaining break

I would like to take a moment to complain.

Our beautiful new apartment has:

termites eating the exposed ceiling beams (noisily: did you know termites can make a crunching sound?)

mosquitoes (yes, in March)

high humidity, causing salt to crystallize on walls

sewage smell coming up through plumbing

dust crumbling off the exposed-stone walls and ceiling of the bedroom

a scorpion (now dead, thanks to my very brave friend Lynn)

not enough windows.

Let me add to my complaint. The customer service representative I talked to on the phone today had:

an extremely thick Corsican accent.

Now let me force myself to see the bright side:

Once you finally forget that you're paying 50 cents a minute to call customer service, because instead of being free, it's charged at a HIGHER rate to get help over the phone in France, and once you figure out what the customer service representative is actually saying, a Corsican accent is really cute. It sounds a bit like someone trying to speak French and eat marbles at the same time. I think I will learn to talk like that and see if people think I'm Corsican. Then I will go there and go to the beach. I hear it's beautiful.

And I really love our new apartment. That's the reason it pains me when it seems like it’s going to fall apart. It’s got gorgeous pickled-pine parquet floors, it’s all recently re-painted and re-tiled, brand new appliances (including a WASHING MACHINE), the bathroom vanity is adorable, all fresh and modern looking…we don’t have to climb up onto a ledge to get into the shower, we have a REAL BED, not a loft, with a brand new mattress...

And it's. . . get this. . . two rooms. I am not kidding. Sometimes I go into the bedroom and just kindof look around in awe and wonder if I'm dreaming. A real bedroom. And I no longer lie awake at night with Josh's elbow in my ribs, wishing we weren’t sleeping in a bed just a bit bigger than a twin-sized. It’s just that now I lie awake wondering if the ceiling is going to collapse.

samedi 6 mars 2010

Breakfast for Appetizers and Appetizers for Breakfast

I haven't been blogging because I've been . . . not here. I went back to the US for a couple of months to be with my family for awhile, but now I'm back, in a new apartment (pictures to follow), studying my brains out (well, really procrastinating my brains out) and cooking up a storm. This week I've made three versions of my new favorite recipe: Savoury cake.

Savoury cake!?!? yup, it's a really popular aperitif, or "shnick-shnack," as my mother in law would describe something served at a coffee table with a pre-dinner cocktail. If you're invited over for dinner around here, the pre-dinner spread is likely to include:
salted nuts
thinly sliced sausages
thin crispy breadsticks

we've also been served something called "paté en croûte" which is translated as "paté in crust." That's exactly what it is--basically, a loaf pan with a pie crust tucked inside, filled with paté and baked, and then sliced like bread. SO GOOD. But so bad for you.

There are also French appetizer items that seem to veer into the world of breakfast foods. At one dinner in Paris last week, we were served, as an appetizer, poached eggs over toast and sautéed mushrooms with bordelaise sauce. Breakfast for appetizers? Weird, but delicious.

And then there's the world of appetizer flavors in non-appetizer packages: herbed or cheese crackers that are really the texture of shortbread or chocolate chip cookies and vegetable crumbles, even molten broccoli cake with a center of melted cheese sauce.

And then there's cake salé, savory cake: your basic cake recipe, hold the sugar, and add omelet ingredients. Voilà, a cross between a cracker and an omelet. Perfect for French appetizers or American breakfast.

So, here's my basic recipe:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease loaf pan.

Sift together in a bowl:
2 cups of flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Add 5 eggs (remember, this is breakfast for a week) and 2 tablespoons olive oil (or canola). Mix until it's a uniform batter.

Add "toppings":
2/3 cup cheese
1 1/2 cups something else (veggies, diced ham, bacon, etc.)

Stir, pour in loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes. Let cool, slice generously, and enjoy as a snack, breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, appetizer. . . it's a pretty versatile dish.

So far I've made ham and green olive (the classic provençal version), bacon and mushroom (the classic hobbit version) and spinach, goat cheese, herbs and tomato. That's my favorite so far. I used tomato concentrate in a tube (try the Italian aisle of the grocery store) and swirled it in for a marbled effect that didn't work as well as I hoped but is still yummy.

I know my love affair with this recipe is too passionate to last very long, but I'm not sure what can take the place of savoury cake in my pantry and fridge. It takes about 10 minutes to prep, needs no supervision while baking. I can throw a piece in a baggie and have breakfast-to-go; I can keep it in my backpack (being careful not to squish it) for an after-school snack before work, we can eat it for a quick no-dishes-necessary lunch... plus, packed full of spinach, or made with 3 eggs and 4 egg's a pretty healthy way to get some protein (and we'd eat that much cheese anyway). Are you daring enough to try a cake that isn't for dessert? Let me know if you manage to break free of your coffee cake ideals and fall in love with this breakfast bad boy.