Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reflecting on Challenge

 I just got back from a walk to the Bricorama,  our nearby "petit" home depot.  Bricolage is the term here for  DIY .  And I am doing it myself , yes,  a "beauty project" for my little 1920's built house.   There comes a time in the life of a paint job know.

  I have put off the kitchen redo,  the kitchen being a hub;   always food being prepared in there , never out of use.   So I have put it off too long, but  now I am sneaking up on it,  knee deep in it but doing a little at a time and learning the techniques that work as I go along.

I did the grout for the counters first and successfully repaired a broken tile and that has encouraged me to take the plunge of repainting the cabinets.  The paint over varnish will be a colossal challenge,  I can't even get all of the hardware out of the wood.   It's been plugged into it so won't come apart.   I am not sure how I will deal with that yet.

On the walk to pick up the paint today I met two old gentleman from my neighborhood.  The one I am acquainted with has a wife suffering from breast cancer.  My friend does not expect her to survive it.  The other man too had the same story, a wife with cancer.  They were having a natter in the street and I joined them as they flagged me down.   I am now "mon amour, l'Americaine".

I asked how long they had been married to their spouses, thinking ...I don't know what...that my thirty years of marriage were proof of an endurance test, I guess.   SIXTY YEARS was the reply.  But they told me, a marriage is nothing, cancer and problems that come are nothing,  they had endured La Misère .

The new fellow began to launch into what had happened during the second war here in Nice as proof of  the  resiliency of the two of them.  During the war, no one had a sou.  They were starving and there were Germans everywhere.  He called it La Misère,  the French enduring, largely without food, without shelter and without hope until  "the Americans came".  And then he says they were still poor but they could buy a car on credit even without being able to put gas in it.  Still people lined up to buy cars as proof of their optimism for the future.

  This is all I could decipher from a story that spilled from his lips too fast for my correct translations.

"Youth today", he said , aiming an eagle eye at me....ha.  "Youth today don't know what life is.  Ils n'ont pas vecu. "  They haven't lived.

Then he laughed loudly and after kisses all around, sped off on his moto.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Quail feast

My favorite meat is roast quail.   Here in Nice you can find excellent quail at the Galerie Lafayette at Cap 3000.  These that we had last week are called Quail Imperiale and cost about 5 euros each (the high end for quail).  But as we had a friend staying it was a double excuse for splashing out on the best.

My favorite story of quail dishes I have eaten was about birds that we ate the day after hiking in the Parc de Mercantour.  The night before the hike I carefully packed a lunch for Monsieur and I so we could get an early start.  I had the lunches all wrapped in the "frigo" and I popped them into our back-packs in the morning.

 When we got to the summit of our Mountain after 3 hours or more of climbing,  I was ravenous and scrambled in my sack for the alors,  I found instead, 4 quail in the white butchers wrapping that I had brought with me instead of my sandwiches.  Of course, I trekked home with those birds and shared lunch with the others on the hill that day.

The following lunch, I cooked up those  "cailles sportifs" and they were even a bit tastier than usual. ...or was that my imagination.  Maybe the "randonné" was their "resting" the aging of game birds  before cooking which is practiced in Britain.    My husband's favorite treat is "hung" grouse hunted only in Britain where it feeds on heather.  He is also a big fan of partridge and duck that is hunted and then allowed to rest a few days before being plucked and eaten.

My favorite recipe for quail is from the Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater, one of my favorite cookery books.   But this is one of the few recipes of that book that I have changed to suit my taste.  Mr Slater has us make up a marinade of soy, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, grainy mustard, garlic, salt,  and ground nut oil........all well and good but it seems too acid for my taste so I add some brown sugar as well.

 I bathe the individual quail in this sauce and separate them in a large pyrex dish and then I baste them half way through the 25 minutes of roasting.  I also make up four times as much sauce as Nigel recommends which means 2 lemons and 4 Tablespoons of brown sugar for 6 quail.

  Mr. Slater would approve.   He is all for personalizing a recipe.    You see in my photo we are using paper napkins.   I find it impossible not to abandon knife and fork with such a succulent feast.

 Post Script:   By the way, according to the new speak, I am a flex-itarian.  I will eat fish, chicken and game and occasionally meat.  I seek always to find animals to eat that were raised and killed humanely.  ( It's often reflected in the price!)

I have made some conscious choices about where I draw my line in the sand and my choices and argument are as complex as the human psyche itself (and cyberspace is not really a good venue for a sensitive argument in any case).  

I like this excerpt from the autobiography of Thomas Jefferson my first voyage from Boston...our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food... But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, 'If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you.' So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

Yes, well said , Thomas.  Can I interest you in some quail?  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Galette de Roi : King Cake

At my engraving (gravure) class this week we were treated to a homemade Twelfth Night Cake made of frangipani or grated almond paste. We drank cider and popped open a bottle of good champagne brought by another student.  All this before we started class at 9am ! ( we didn't want the chemical smells of our various processes to mix with our treat.)

 All through the month of January and particularly from Christmas eve to epiphany, Jan. 6, this is a treat shared in many Catholic countries wherever friends come together .

 It's the third galette I have had this month already and this time I drew one of the favors in my slice.  

The recipient of the feve or dried bean is the queen and the ceramic trinket ( usually of santon   or village person figurine  but now disney figures are often found) is meant for the king or Roi.

Various privileges and obligations are implied including the wearing of the paper crowns that come with the cakes bought from the bakery.  

Related culinary traditions are the tortell of Catalonia, the gâteau des Rois in Provence or the galette des Rois in the northern half of France.   The galette des Rois is made with puff pastry and frangipane while the gâteau des Rois is made with brioche and candied fruit.   Both types are sold and made in the South.

 The cake is named for the three kings (Rois) or "wise men".  A little bean traditionally hidden in it,  is a custom taken from the Saturnalia in the Roman empire: the one who stumbles upon the bean  is called "king of the feast." In the galette des Rois, since 1870 the beans have been replaced by porcelain and now by ceramic figurines.   Here is the Titi (Tweety) Roi that I gathered from my pastry slice on Thursday.

Samuel Pepys (whose wife was French) recorded a party in London on Epiphany night, 6 January 1659/1660: " my cousin Stradwick, where, after a good supper, there being there my father, mothers, brothers, and sister, my cousin Scott and his wife, Mr. Drawwater and his wife, and her brother, Mr. Stradwick, we had a brave cake brought us, and in the choosing, Pall was Queen and Mr. Stradwick was King. After that my wife and I bid adieu and came home, it being still a great frost."

I love new traditions and this one is particularly "amicable":   Friendly and fattening too.  But ah,  I seem to remember a book I read, " French Women Don't get Fat" and so it seems for some lucky few.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

La Droguerie

Being a putterer, a person who likes to make stuff....I have discovered where some of the similarly afflicted hang out in Nice.

It is a crafters boutique franchised throughout France called La Droguerie  In our town it is

La Droguerie à Nice
29 rue de l'Hôtel des Postes 06000 NICE Tél: 04 93 04 51 47 Fax: 04 93 53 39 56 Heures d'ouverture: Du lundi au samedi de 10h00 à 19h00 La boutique restera ouverte le samedi 24 décembre 2011 et le samedi 31 décembre 2011 
jusqu'à 18h

The shop carries buttons, ribbons, and all manner of beads, ropes, chain, baubles, etc for making your own jewelry or completing garments, as well as yarns for crocheting or knitting and fabric swatches for quilting.   It does sound like a female domain but I have known men who knit and sew and certainly men who make jewelry albeit from more noble materials.  One of my brothers can sew and make his own buttons if he feels like it.

It is sort of a mysterious system at the Droguerie.  The store has its own designers who propose possible designs for their jewelry or knitted clothes etc but do not provide written directions.  You are free to take a photo from their picture catalogue and free to ask plenty of questions but why make it too easy.  This is France.

Of course you can come up with your own ideas.  I often take apart necklaces or earrings that aren't quite right or have cheap elements that I don't like and reconstitute them with some of the extra elements I find at the boutique.

  I found this chain in the boutique and redid these old style earrings.

I found these Eiffel towers stamped on abalone shell for 6 euros in a junk store and changed all the rest.

I added the tear drop part and glued on some rhinestones to match the original earring drops.

These chunks of raw coral came from a necklace that pinched my hair. I hate necklaces like that so I changed the necklace in the back and had some remaining chunks of "root" coral left.  I had enough to make two pairs of earrings from elements I found in the "Droguerie"  trove.

Here is a necklace I made using some of my pieces and some of theirs.

and here is one I made using their pieces but my idea.

The only drawback is the price of the elements that can be found cheaper in bulk online.  To make a pair of earrings with just their elements costs about 15 to 23 euros.  I find that expensive so I like to find my own elements as much as possible. But if you are addicted to making things, then it just seems the price to pay for some fun.

The best bargain for the jewelry maker is a pair of round "pince" for 4.30 euros at this boutique. 

All the tools you will need are on sale in the shop for decent prices.

Of course, if you are good with needles or hook, there is a fine selection of yarns.  The only thing that is missing is a knitting circle or class.   But maybe that is an American concept.

Yes, from time to time , you will find me in a hallucinatory trance looking at the endless array of beads and dreaming up new designs.  It is just one of my more innocent addictions.  Let me know if you want to go together and I can get you started on the road to penury.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pleasure, routine or work?

8 am:  Lie in bed.... I don't get up early in winter if I don't have to.   Read a few entries from Sarah Ban Breathnach's  Simple Abundance a way to kick start the new year.  This is a lovely inspirational diary that has been around since 1995.  I have picked it up again this year and it is still relevant and fresh .   (creative pleasure)

8:15 :    Turn on the heat,  open the door to the neighbor's champagne colored puss who thinks he owns us now.  ( pleasure)   Eat breakfast of a fresh farm egg , good toast , creamy butter, mandarine sweet.   Coffee.  yes.  ( pleasure),

 Start cooking large, white Italian beans that I have soaked overnight.   Throw in some rosemary and thyme collected from the garden.  ( creative pleasure)

9:00:   Check E-mails and turn on jazz station KCSM. ( pleasure)   Confirm first reservation of the year for my studio...2 weeks in August are now booked.  Hooray.  ( pleasure)

9:30 :     Clean out reservation book of last year's tenants. (work)   Log on to the bank because they want me to look at "important information" ( blow a raspberry).   Check all my other e-mails and answer a few.  ( work/pleasure)

10:00:   Bathe. ( routine)  Get dressed for "work".   Its a good idea to continue the yucky job of cleaning up after the leak in the rental apartment .  ( work)

10:30-12:00-   Indoor clean- up, ( work)  clip the rest of the grape vines, lemon tree and roses.  ( work and pleasure) Trim back garden, (creative pleasure) Put out trash bags and water plants. ( work)  It's a gorgeous sunny day and it is lovely to be outside. (pleasure)

12:00:  Ask my husband to help me turn the mattress of the bed.   (I forgot to do this last year so it's hardly a routine but you can't do it by yourself. ) Strip bed and remake it. ( work) Do a load of wash.
 ( work)

12:30:   Clean and start steaming the escarole. (routine).   Wipe off outdoor table and set it. (routine)  Hang up the wash. (work)

1:00    Prepare, serve and eat lunch.   Its just a simple dish of Italian white beans and escarole sautéed in garlic but we love peasant food.  After all the rich fare over holidays, it suits us perfectly.

  Sit on the terrace and enjoy the conversation, the birds bathing in the birdbath, the stillness of the neighborhood.  The warmth of the sun on our backs.   Eat three squares of dark, rich chocolate for dessert.  (What a pleasure.)

2:30:    Bring in the dishes and start another load of laundry.  K will do the dishes (wheee.).  Start a blog post and photo of the lunch. (creative pleasure)   Correct and edit the last photos I have taken. ( creative pleasure)  Play a few rounds of cryptograms.  ( pleasure)

3:00:  Play two games of cards online.  Eat three more squares of chocolate .  ( guilty pleasure)

3:15:  Strip downstairs bed and start third load of wash, (its all those sheets!).   Take art supplies out of the guest room and tidy it to get ready for house guest tomorrow night.  ( work)  Fold clothes brought in from the clothes line.  (work)
 Bring in some narcissus and put them in the vase Sarah and Joel gave me at their wedding.  "Quel parfum"!  (real pleasure)

4:00  Read a few articles online from the New York Times .  (pleasure) .   Apply, download, print and read 9 pages for an absentee ballot. We have to do it in January to vote next year.   It is more than confusing....whaaa?   ( work).

5:00    Bring in the laundry that is dry and fold it. ( work)
 Shared kitty inside the house, the sun has gone down and I am "home" .  I think I'll finish this post, eat something for an evening snack, read a book, write a letter or take it easy.  I may even watch a dvd.  ( pleasure)

My wall between definitions of work and routine is very thin.  Routine has a tendency to be mindless but not difficult at all.  Work is sort of " I would probably rather be doing something else but this needs to get done..."

Mmmmm.  This was an interesting experiment...    to see what happens to a day and observe, record and publish one's reactions to it.  

I  do understand that work is a privilege.  I wouldn't not do the things I labeled work.  Humans want to have structure and meaningful work . ... so work isn't the problem.  It's the proportions really. I am pretty relaxed at this time of year without the apartments being rented so I have no urgency today, no real work.

For me , a lot of little freedoms and choices along the day really add up to a pleasurable day.

To tell the truth.... publishing this made me a little less lazy.  I might have played a few more card games or spent more time online if I hadn't been aware.  Good reminder to stay present.

But on paper, I look pretty happy and pretty blessed don't I?   Well I is.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

First days of 2012: musings

Here we go launching ourselves into a new year with various degrees of consciousness, excitement or trepidation.   Today I got my first challenge as one of my apartments has a small problem with a leak ruining the floor....  A problem of the small variety.

My studio rental apartment at  property #411822

But lately a lot of folks are coming up against much bigger challenges and there appear to be dire  warnings everywhere we look.  Part of it is that we get more news nowadays so things worry us more, and part of it is the very real challenges to our quality of life.

My antidote to all the bad news bombardment, is to choose at least one fun (creative) thing to do each day along with all the "crap".

So today, after handling a few small problems , I decided that I needed some retail relief.  After all, I have been very good for a very long time and stayed away from shops.  And I have purged my closet of several unwanted items.  I can justify anything sometimes.

My intention was to just sail by one clothing boutique to see when they would start their sale.  Turns out that they are now offering 30% discounts to favored customers in a pre-sale promotion.  So, of course,  I let myself try on a few items.  After all the dollar is almost par with the euro now.

Interestingly the girl in the shop started a conversation about the difference between Americans and French.  According to her the French are "sauvage" and nasty with each other.   She said Americans are so welcoming, warm and friendly, even with perfect strangers.  She has been to New York City, New Jersey, Tennessee and Florida but she loves what she has seen about our way of being with one another.

This time I was inclined to silently agree with her.

The bus driver this morning was rude to a family who had registered their desire  to get off by pushing the button.  But he had failed to stop,  blaming them.  He chivvied them and then called them "imbéciles" under his breath ( we all heard it).   And then he sailed through my stop later on until I shouted out.    Luckily,  no comment from him the second time he overshot the stop.

His head was obviously "dans les nuages".  But that he dared to act out to a client is pretty normal here.  There is a lot of anger around.  At the last party I attended I heard four stories from oldsters: one of a physical attack on an old gentleman, out of anger not for money;  another as a death threat on the phone,  the third, an actual theft and last,  a fellow being accidentally mowed down by a bike.   I imagine this kind of aggression and rage is a world problem now and not just a French one .... and I don't know but one side of the story either, but the reactions to provocation are noticeably worsening here.

By contrast, though, the "30 something" of the dress shop couldn't have been more attentive or kind or friendly.  She had remembered me from two years before when I had visited with a pal.   Even outside of a sale situation, she is not the first to tell me how much she loves the way Americans tend to be less suspicious of one another , more willing to engage.

It made me pleased, I don't know why it should, we do not all hold the same traits,..... but if we do indeed have this gift then we just need to spread it around.    It doesn't cost us anything.

 Just saying.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Week to Savor

The week just after Christmas and before starting into the New Year is one of my favorite periods of the calendar.  It is a time that I put down my "to do list" and indulge myself in art, movies, books and quiet reflection.

Yesterday was a wonderful New Year's open house with dear friends and today is just quiet... a time to practice the art of doing nothing or barely something....a rare treat for any of us.

WE have been having such beautiful winter days here on the Cote d'Azur  that we don't often want to hunker down in a warm robe or cozy sweater.  But today, a rainy Monday,  I find myself not wanting to go out, but just enjoy my home, my husband and the visiting kitty.... casual and comfortable.

Yes, a neighbor family who is away has left their cat to fend for himself this week .  He is a very companionable type , not very old and prettily behaved and we can't resist helping him out while his people are away.

 He has begged some tasty scraps from us and I can tell now that the food that was left for him has run out or been consumed by other animals.   He is much more insistent when we open the door in the mornings and I have only cans of tuna and a few other tidbits, no kibble on hand.   We are happy to help out and let him inside for a love fest ( he has a mighty purr)  or for a cat nap from time to time.  He sits quietly in "his" chair and goes out when he starts to feel frisky.

   I  strongly disagree with this idea that domestic cats should suddenly go back to the wild when it suits the owners.  Worse still are abandoned pets.  But I am pretty sure that the neighbors will be back tonight as tomorrow is certainly a work day.

But today, with a cat, a winter lunch of pea soup and some new music from Santa,   I was more than satisfied with just "being" for a while......

But  I don't do "stillness" very well.   So after lunch I descended to my studio to touch up some scraps that I have in a remnant box from past projects.   Its been a long time since I had a paint brush in my hand.

 Here is what I came up with.   I added a few more splashes of gouache and ink to these monotype print scraps to give them a bit of structure.   They are still abstracts but I see images now.

     Untitled             17x24 cm, Gouache on paper

    Untitled                17x24 cm, Gouache on paper

I just need to put a large white pass-par tout around them to bring them forward.   Do you see what I see?