Thursday, March 31, 2011

Little World Views - Bang, Indeed!

Tell me, do you see advertising like this in broad daylight where you are?!


Apparently Marc Jacobs has rolled out his new fragrance for men.  This bus stop down near the Vieux Port in Marseille had me doing a double take - or three!  And then I walked back to snap a shot!   Maybe in glossy mags...but right there on a busy street in front of God and everybody?! 

Yay, Marc Jacobs!  Yay, France!  What a country.

Ciao,
Leslie

ps:  There will be one more post in the near future to tie up the remaining loose ends about the passport (which includes a visit to La Police!) but I'm headed to the American Consulate in Marseille this morning for - what I hope will be - one.last.time.  The good news:  Marseille was absolutely sparkling (well...as sparkling as Marseille gets) yesterday in this early spring light.  I haven't minded these field trips at all! 

Plus I take the train.   I love the train.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday Window on Provence

This was actually planned for yesterday but somehow the day flew by and here we are at Wednesday!  How does that happen?!

I thought it would be fun to introduce the "Mardi Meteo" (Tuesday Weather) and since I'm the queen of this blog, I can declare Wednesday as the day to introduce something that will be taking place on Tuesday henceforth. 

Here in Aix yesterday, the weather was cloudy with a chance of...


...stripes!  

Take a peek at that grey bank to the east (center of the image).  I was expecting a wallop, but it never showed up.  Today we have bright sunshine and mild temps expected:  17ºC (62ºF)  Lovely!  Especially since I have to go to Marseille for the next step in the passport saga.  (Remind me to tell you about how that's shaking down.)

Inspired by the readers who chimed in last week with their own serendipitous weather reports, let's see how many corners of the world we can check in with today!  What's happening in your 'hood?

Ciao,
Leslie 

ps:  I'll take any good thoughts sent in this direction for a smooth process at the American Consulate this morning.  Fingers crossed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Just Under the Winter Wire

If you're still emerging from winter's freeze or find yourself under a blanket of grey, one way to shake off the chill is a warming stew to fill the house with delicious aromas - and after a few hours, your belly!

A friend of mine (hello friends in Spain!) made this Jamie Oliver stew for me and I was hooked.  Jool's Favorite Beef Stew is now my favorite, too.  As in favorite stew in the world.  But this is a winter beauty so use these last days of the current transition to make the most of it.  I requested it for my birthday dinner (same friend - an excellent cook, he) and late April was too late.  Not a butternut squash nor Jerusalem Artichoke to be found.  At least not if you eat with the seasons - and many of us do around here.

Rich and flavorful, blending the sweetness of the squash and parsnips with the zing of tomato in a texture and taste that I find pleasing beyond measure.

Gather your ingredients and get to work!

I go to this boucherie.  Best in town, or so I've heard.  The line out the door says it all.


Then to market, to market to gather the rest...


A bit of chopping, a bit of browning (I always brown the meat - Jamie Oliver says you don't really have to.  Dare I disagree with him.  Of course I dare!  I say brown the meat.)  and a few hours later...

©David Loftus

...you have stew, my friends!  And what a stew it is.

Oh!  And the gremolata that you add before serving?  Hea-ven!

Bon appétit!
Leslie


Jool's Favorite Beef Stew - from Jamie Oliver

• olive oil
• a knob of butter
• 1 onion, peeled and chopped
• a handful of fresh sage leaves
• 800g/1¾lb stewing steak or beef skirt, cut into 5cm/2 inch pieces
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• flour, to dust
• 2 parsnips, peeled and quartered
• 4 carrots, peeled and halved
• ½ a butternut squash, halved, deseeded and roughly diced
• optional: a handful of Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and halved
• 500g/1lb 2oz small potatoes
• 2 tablespoons tomato purée
• ½ a bottle of red wine
• 285ml/½ pint beef or vegetable stock
• zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
• a handful of rosemary, leaves picked
• 1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped


Preheat the oven to 160ºC/300ºF/gas 2. Put a little oil and your knob of butter into an appropriately sized pot or casserole pan. Add your onion and all the sage leaves and fry for 3 or 4 minutes. Toss the meat in a little seasoned flour, then add it to the pan with all the vegetables, the tomato purée, wine and stock, and gently stir together. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and just a little salt. Bring to the boil, place a lid on top, then cook in the preheated oven until the meat is tender. Sometimes this takes 3 hours, sometimes 4 – it depends on what cut of meat you’re using and how fresh it is. The only way to test is to mash up a piece of meat and if it falls apart easily it’s ready. Once it’s cooked, you can turn the oven down to about 110°C/225°F/gas ¼ and just hold it there until you’re ready to eat.

The best way to serve this is by ladling big spoonfuls into bowls, accompanied by a glass of French red wine and some really fresh, warmed bread. Mix the lemon zest, chopped rosemary and garlic together and sprinkle over the stew before eating. Just the smallest amount will make a world of difference – as soon as it hits the hot stew it will release an amazing fragrance.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kitchen Window Wisdom

Saturday brought sunshine and lovely temperatures to all of the shady the corners of our fair ville.  I opened the windows wide, slipped a Joni Mitchell CD in the stereo, cranked it up and started my afternoon with a perfectly ripe pear.  I ask you:  does it get any better than that?!


Until my recent return to this apartment, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed standing in front of this south-facing kitchen window.  How I love staring across the little divide between my building and the next, dancing around in my inner world.  Such is the life of an introvert.

Yesterday was no different.  Standing at this favorite spot, bathed in a pool of warmth and light and slurping bites of pear, I felt a flood of gratitude for...well...honestly, for my entire life.  Truth be known, these are not rare moments for me.

But this time my sweet reverie of appreciation for unexplainable abundance was punctuated with acute awareness.  In the very same moment, so many others across the world were experiencing profound suffering. 

I find it challenging to not feel overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness these days.  Current events serve up one generous helping of bad news after another.  In my search for meaning, I look for lessons in that helplessness. 

Perhaps it's about learning to hold both realities; to stay grounded in gratitude while simultaneously embracing the reality of others all across the world.  In that moment, prayers bubbled up and took flight:  that all beings might find anchors of courage, anchors of strength, anchors of hope to face the challenges they are now enduring...whatever they may be. 

I see a theme in my lessons:  something about developing the skill to maintain a degree of equanimity and perspective in the face of my own joys and difficulties; something about constantly remembering we share a common desire in this messy, complicated, rich, wonderful and mysterious life.

We're all just trying to do the same thing: be happy and avoid suffering.  Bless us all for our efforts.



Wonder what other core lessons this kitchen window has in store?



Bon dimanche, dear readers,

Leslie


 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Little World Views

A splash of Provençal color to kick off your weekend.

Hope your day is lovely - however you may be spending it!

Ciao,
Leslie

Friday, March 25, 2011

First Flowering

A few days back, we lurked around under bruised skies that threatened to dump buckets on brand new buds...



But we all seemed to have survived the storms and continued to push on to new and brighter days...




 




My weekend plans include some long-overdue café sitting.  And you?  Do tell!

Wishing you all a lovely weekend!

Ciao,
Leslie

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Window on Provence

It may be time to pull your parasol out of winter storage!



Have a lovely day!

Ciao,
Leslie

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-chaanges...

I've got a lesson to learn.  I would never pull the petals apart on a bud out of impatience to get to the full-flower stage. Watching the process is a joy in itself.  So why the impatience with spring's arrival?


Change, in some form, is what usually brings people into talk to me...in my other life

The inherent instability of transition can make us feel wobbly, uncertain, attached to one side or the other of the shift that is at work.  Eager to feel better, we often try to distance ourselves from that which we are leaving and cling to the promise of what lies ahead.  In making that reach across the divide we miss the rich opportunity of learning the lessons that transition offers. 

In Tibetan Buddhism, such a transition or suspension between two realities is called the bardo.  Traditionally referring to the state between life and death, an example of a similar transitional space exists between waking and sleeping (or visa versa).  These are the bardos

If I can manage to release the need to be in one state or the other, the suspension allows me to learn to simply be in the transition.  One breath after another, I'll reach the other side. 

So it is with the current seasonal bardo I happen to find myself in.  Neither winter nor spring, I'm in a suspended state of transition in which weather can delight or discourage me.  I've recently taken notice of my attachment after an altogether too-long winter. 

I get cranky.  I get irritable.  I become impatient for sunshine and warmth.  Attachment becomes my middle name during this transtion.  I began noticing this theme in my recent posts and decided to take on the lesson being offered. 

After a really lovely, warm and bright weekend, we have the threat of rain today.  Skies are grey.  A slight breeze makes temperatures feel colder than they really are.  But today I'm dedicated to being with it.  I want to love all the breaths of transition that will happen between now and the actual landing into the season that the calendar says arrived a few days ago. 

One of the ways I'm going to do that is to enjoy the last of the winter fruits and veggies in the marché.  The other day,  I managed to hit just the right mix and let inspiration and willingness to be in the bardo between the seasons lead the way. 

A wander through the market - and a commitment to let my intuition plan dinner - had me flying by the seat of my pants.  I picked up some broccoli rabe from one of my favorite bio-vendors, a too-good-to-pass-up soft, fresh goat cheese mound (looking all festive from what appeared to be a raucous roll in crushed red pepper flakes) and a solid head of our Provençal garlic, wrapped in a scarlet and lavender striped cape.

Meanwhile back at la maison, I found half of a butternut squash - likely the end of the season for these golden beauties - and some angel hair pasta that was waiting to find its purpose in life.

Here's how it rolled from that point:   

The squash went into the oven (where a dish you'll see next week braised and bubbled) to be baked as an entire chunk.  When it was soft, I pulled it out to cool it just enough to cut into chunks and spoon its still-warm flesh from the skin.  Those chunks were the first to hit the pot to await the rest of the party.

The broccoli rabe got a quick blanch in a steamer basket in the top of the pasta pot before the pasta went in and was then put aside to drain.  Next, the angel hair pasta went into the bath.

The poissonier had given me an extra little fillet of dorade on my wander through the marché, which I sautéed to serve alongside the pasta and while it cooked, I sautéed some sliced garlic in a bit of olive oil just to the side of the same pan.  When it was soft, into the gathering pot it went - followed by the now-drained-and-still-warm broccoli rabe.


The goat cheese was next, each smooth chunk yielding a piquant pungency as the spoon separated it from the mother-mound and sent it into the pot. 

When the pasta was done and drained just enough (it's okay if there's a tad of moisture in this when it gets added to the mix), into the pot it went to join the fête. 


Give it a good toss and you've got dinner!  It has the look of spring's freshness with a sweet, warmth of winter-cozy.  I drizzled it with a good quality olive oil (a little curtsy to my friends in Spain who taught me that Pasta Putanesca should be served 'wet and sloppy' - which always makes me giggle.  No, no...not like a third-grader.  Just because it sounded so...decadent? Messy?  But they were absolutely right!  It makes a difference!)  and voilà! 


A little sautéed fish fillet to balance it out and I'm tellin' you...this is a keeper!

If you've got your nose pressed to the glass, drumming your fingers against the pane, impatient for spring to unpack its bags and stay awhile, I invite you to join me in celebrating the transition.  With possibilities like this pasta, I might just be able to learn something from this bardo state.

Bon appétit!
Leslie

Monday, March 21, 2011

Promises, Promises

Getting back to the regular routine seems to be happening in fits and starts.  I'll have the Monday recipe for you tomorrow.   I think it may well inspire you to make a wander through your closest local farmers market for a few simple ingredients to toss into a pan.  The results are delicious!  I promise.  Plan to stop in tomorrow to see what's cookin'.

Keeping another promise, I'm taking this opportunity to formally introduce my neighbor downstairs who graciously agreed to be the star of yesterday's post.  Dear readers, allow me to introduce you to my neighbor Jugurtha (on the left) and his friend, Simon.  Jugurtha, or Jeu, as I understood his nickname to be, is a university student originally from Lyon.  His friend, Simon, was visiting from Lille.  (It was Simon who asked me how it was that I came to speak French so well...so of course you can imagine, I'm hoping he plans to visit quite frequently!) 

Once again, a note of thanks to you both for being so gracious about having your dining experience interrupted by this American blogger...with her camera.  Merci beaucoup. **

**Une fois de plus, une note de remerciement à vous deux d'être si aimable d'avoir votre expérience culinaire interrompu par ce blogueur américain ... avec son appareil photo.  Merci beaucoup.



Plan to pull your chairs up to the table tomorrow for a tasty treat - perfect for the transition from winter to spring!




À demain!
Leslie

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Presque le Printemps!*

*almost spring

Little hints of spring's long-awaited arrival blew into town in that last ferocious wind.  When the gusts subsided, there was a splash of color here...


...a familiar spot now warm enough to stop for a moment there.


(And watch these trees!  In no time, these bare branches will be spreading a leafy canopy across the Cours Mirabeau once again.)


We're peeling away the woolies...


...for something more sheer and lacy!



Today's marché aux fleurs was stuffed from edge to edge with colorful blooms...




...and a lively crowd of people taking advantage of the sun's first rays.  Some there to do sun salutes...




...some to fill baskets with touches of spring's promise...




...some to breathe in a familiar fragrance, absent for these long, cold months...


...and some to take in the sights while sipping a café in the middle of all of the activity...


Moi?  I was there along with some other eager gardeners to pick up a few fresh herbs from two of my favorite plant vendors.


My neighbors downstairs artfully moved from winter greys...



...and brought color and life to our little rue with the first of what I imagine will be many al fresco dining experiences through the season.  (How adorable is this?!)


The first sign of spring Chez La Fourchette is now sitting on the window sill...


...waiting for the chance to be tossed into what's cookin' next!

We're almost there, dear readers!  Spring is on its way! 

Bon weekend,
Leslie 

ps:  My neighbors have names that I'll be adding in a comment later...because we were all in a hurry in the hall when I told them I wanted to put their photos on the blog and list their names...and then one of them told me I spoke French well (or at least I think that's what he said!) and I got all flustered and tried to convince him otherwise and... well...you know how I can be.   As soon as we cross paths again, I'll get that name thing straightened out so you can meet them.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Soggy Little World Views

Did I mention the stormy day yesterday?  Of course I did!   Pelted by hail and drenched by rain, I was glad to get home last evening.  I used to whine complain mildly about the boring weather in California.  One lovely day of sunshine after another.  Ho hum.  Yawn. 

No more!  The drama of living in weather was exciting when it was new.  Now, I have joined the other residents of weather-worn corners and each day look for signs of relief spring's arrival.

A few peeks into my day yesterday:

Look to the lower portion of the windshield in this image.  Traffic had come to a full stop on the autoroute due to a heavy pounding of hail!


After making a stop to refill the tank, I returned the car and hoofed it home.







(Because some people just are.)






As my mother used to tell me, "You've made your bed, Missy..." 


...and apparently I've parked it in a place with this thing called "weather". 

Care to join me in my search for spring?


Ciao,
Leslie

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Le Pouvoir de Surprendre


We've all had a whop upside the global head in the past few days that tends to help us put things in perspective.  With the unrest in the middle east, the unknowns of the Japan catastrophe and the general squeeze felt by oil prices that always seem to increase as the weather warms up and people hop in their cars to get outta Dodge, here's a little something to consider when you find yourself complaining about paying $3, $4 or even $5 a gallon.  Yes...a gallon!

On the days I do consulting hither and yon, I rent a car. Lucky for me, all of my travel expenses are paid for by my contract.  But check this out!


That's right!  You're reading that correctly.  1,545€ per liter.  L.I.T.E.R.  Think water bottle.  Think wine bottle - which is 3/4 of a liter.  If my calculations are correct, one gallon is 3.785 liters which would put a gallon at that price at about 5,85€ per gallon.  At today's conversion rate, that would be $8.15 per gallon.

Ch-ch-ch-chinnnnng!

And get this:  In parts of Paris, prices are being reported at 1,81€ a liter...putting the cost of loading tigers in your tank at...wait for it...drum roll, please...$9.54 a gallon. 

As prices rise, you might ask yourself a couple of questions:
  • Is it possible to modify my current gas consumption?  
          and 
  • Aren't I fortunate to be living in a place where gas is so inexpensive?  (Until of course, your prices match our prices...and then we just need to leave it at the first question, non?!)

Still wringing out my curly locks and soggy boots from today's wind and rain and hail!  Yes, dear readers, we are having some serious weather here in the 'hood. (And though I rent a car for the 45 minute distance, I walk about a kilometer to retrieve and drop off the car...sometimes in the rain.)

Film at 11...errrr...tomorrow.

Hope you are all staying warm and dry on this mid-march day - and appreciating your gas prices!

À demain,
Leslie

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Little World Views


We're all a little wet around the edges here in the south and storm warnings through the day have caused me to postpone my trip to the American Consulate in Marseille - the next step in this passport saga. 

I received a letter yesterday from La Poste stating that they had done an exhaustive search and found...drum roll, please:  absolutely nothing.  (My words, not theirs.)  Here are their parting words after stating that their research had not 'permitted them to find my parcel':

"...Je tiens à vous assurer que pour La Poste la qualité e l'acheminement et de la distribution est une priorité.

Votre envoi est assuré, vous recevrez prochainement un chèque d'un montant de 16 euros.

Pour la prochains envois, notre réseau commercial est à votre disposition et peut déterminer avec vous la solution qui vous conviendra le mieux.

Je souhaite qu'au-delà de cet événement, vous conserviez votre confiance en La Poste.  Je vous prie d'agréer, Madame, l'assurance de ma consideration distinguée."

blah...blah...blah...

Translation:

...I assure that for La Poste quality routing and distribution is a priority.

Your shipment is insured; you will receive a check in the amount of 16 euros.

For future shipments, our sales network is available and can help you determine the solution that suits you best.

I hope that after this event, you maintain your confidence in The Post.  Please accept, Madam, the assurances of my highest consideration.  (more literally: I pray you to agree, the assurance of my distinguished consideration.)

Sixteen euros.  Of course, my costs will be much higher.  Let's take a look:
  • Another set of 2 passport photos:  10€
  • Train fare to Marseille (round trip - twice):  30€
  • Additional cost of the new passport (because to replace a lost passport is more expensive than     a simple renewal): 25€
  • Stress in trying to deal with the various people at various levels of La Poste to "determine a     solution that suits me best"?  Priceless.
Their offer of 16€?  Pfffft.

The 'sales network' person at La Poste yesterday took one look at the letter I had just received and literally turned her head away - as if it emitted a dangerous glow and she had to avert her eyes.  She followed this with a hand motion as if sweeping me away in the direction of the door.  But when I didn't move and began to ask another question (very politely, mind you - such comportment gets you much further in these parts), she indicated there was a number listed to call for any further questions or concerns. 

Ah, yes.  A number that will probably cost 1,34€ a minute - as do many 'customer service' numbers here.

I'm nothing if not persistent so I shall continue my march for justice...and a new passport.  But I'll get that march started as soon as the skies clear.  In the meantime, I've got a phone call (or six) to make. 

And I pray them to agree, that all will be handled with my most distinguished consideration. 

But, of course.  C'est normal. 

Ciao,
Leslie

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bon Courage, Japon*


We are sending prayers - in every language - in your direction.


*be of good courage, Japan

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Little World Views - A Peek Chez La Fourchette

Yowza! (I think that translates in any language!) A Mistral blew in yesterday...



...and this is not an uncommon scene:  parapluies smashed on one side or another by gale force wind.  There is nothing to do but abandon them.  And abandon them we do.  This was one of three I saw yesterday at various spots through town.  Poor thing...left out in the cold in the entrance hall of my building.  Not my parapluie, mind you.  My last casualty went in the trash between home and destination during the last storm.

A more pleasant view can be seen out my window to the building across the courtyard.


Take a closer look and you'll meet my neighbor.  A guardian angel.  How lucky am I?


A splash of color is always nice and this splash is just what is needed on these ancient shutters across from my kitchen.


I've been crazy-busy catching up on work details after missing such things for...errr... a month!  And although my return has been one of fits and starts, you'll see that I've been very productive in those moments of hiatus. 

The orchids have settled in - and a new one joined the group thanks to a lovely gift to warm the new digs.


All things seem to be finding a sense of place...


...and speaking of place, there is one waiting for you à table chez La Fourchette.


When the settling process is complete, I'll give you another tour.  But for now, plan to stop in this week for a peek into my little French life as I get the gears shifted back to a more normal pace and rhythm. 

Thanks so much to all of you, dear readers, for sticking with this unexpected hiccup.  It was one helluva February, but things are looking up.  Come to think of it, that's the only direction they could possibly be looking!

Bon dimanche à tous!
Leslie

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