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When I arrived in France 18 years ago, I didn’t know I wasn’t going home. I was on a third year abroad program as a major in French and as I had taken a few years to work and travel before finishing my diploma, I was much older than the other students. So, as it turned out, instead of heading home after my year of studies in France, I got married to a Frenchman and ended up staying.

The first weeks or even months of being in a new country are all about discovering the new culture and most importantly for me, the FOOD! I love food, every kind of food and I’m not even squeamish about food. Give me snails, kidneys, duck heart, deer, odd vegetables, fried duck fat. I love it all (well, not really the kidneys. I hate their aftertaste).

The first time I was in front of the window of a pâtisserie, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! Pastries, beautiful pastries with chocolate and cream, everything so esthetic and luscious. I tried almost everything that existed and at the beginning, I loved them. I had my favorite bakeries and my favorite cakes and pastries. Throughout the years, I even learned how to make most of them.

After a few years in France, though, I stopped loving French pastries so much. I don’t know why. You see, I don’t really like things that are made with praliné which is a creamy filling or topping made of hazelnuts, almonds, cocao butter and vanilla that is found in so many French pastries. Chocolats pralinés are very common here and I just don’t like them very much. I mean, I’ll eat them, but not with enthusiasm. And as for choux pastry, well, it’s OK, but I really got sick of anything made with choux. I never did understand the pièce montée that everyone has for weddings, baptisms and other events. A tower of cream filled choux pastries, drizzled with caramelized sugar. Beurk…. yuck, in English. And as for the modern cakes in many bakeries nowadays, most of them are these perfectly decorated rectangular cakes made of layers of mousses and creams that have loads of gelatine in them. Esthetic but just not very good. Many people say that French pastry chefs are more concerned with the beauty of a cake than the actual taste! I often agree.

Shall I talk about French macarons? I have mastered that skill. I can make the little monsters, but I really don’t like eating them. Cooked sugary, almond egg white filled with ultra sweet flavored ganache. I just don’t get it! I mean, I guess I do understand why so many people would travel all the way to Paris just to buy the best ones, but I personally don’t like them. My daughter does, though, and that is why I learned to make them.

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I do love French chocolat cakes. Layers of genoise, chocolate mousse ganache (the real stuff, no gelatine!), yah, I’ll go for that. And European chocolate in general is really good, though I’m not an addict.

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(The French Trianon or Royal)

So, pretty quickly, I started getting nostalgic for the sweets of my youth. It took me a while, but I found the perfect recipe for chocolate chip cookies, brownies and cheesecake. You see, the ingredients here are different! The butter just isn’t the same and don’t even get me started about the flour. Many american recipes just don’t work over here and so I have always had to adapt them. In the end, though, they all taste way better because the basic ingredients are just so much better in France. I was in Canada this summer and I made chocolate chip cookies, “just to see”. I have to say, they tasted strange, the texture was strange and we didn’t even finish them.

Christmas time is when I get a sudden urge to make mountains of soft caramels, mint patties, turtles and English toffee. I can’t buy any of these confections here in France or they are terribly expensive and so I have learned to make all of them! There is something simple, homey and just damn tasty about American goodies. Nothing sophisticated about them at all, but there is always a perfect combination of flavours and textures that gives instant pleasure. Every Christmas my grandmother would get a couple of tins of Almond Roca sent up from the States and I remember her sitting in her armchair with that can, popping those small chocolates in her mouth. Pure heaven! So, the first time I whipped up a tray of English toffee, I thought “This is it!” and I have made very many people extremely happy. I love watching people’s faces when they try it. Wow!

But today, I’m going to give you the recipe for peanut butter cups. I make them smaller so that they can be served like box chocolates. When I was a kid, I loved them and always had quite a special way of eating them. Never just biting in to them, I’d always nibble around the edges, making them last a little longer. But these ones deserve to be bitten right in to. You could probably pop a whole one right in to your mouth, but I wouldn’t advise it. Better to serve yourself a small shot of Jameson whiskey, take a sip, bite in to the cup, take another sip and so on. I’ll take that over a macaron any day.

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Peanut butter cups

130 g Peanut butter
30 g Butter
Pinch of salt
30 g Icing sugar

300 g of either dark chocolate half dark and half milk chocolate
1 tbsp butter

I use a brand of peanut butter called Jean Hervé which is organic with nothing added, no sugar, oil or salt. It is really the best peanut butter I have ever tried. It can be found in most organic shops.

In a bowl put the peanut butter and butter. Microwave for 20 seconds and then blend. Don’t let the mixture melt, it just needs to be softened. Blend well.
Add salt and icing sugar and blend well.

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and stir until perfectly smooth. Take off heat but leave the chocolate above the hot water so it will remain melted.

In each mold, drop a teaspoon of chocolate. Then lift and gently drop the mold so that the chocolate spreads. You can either put the peanut butter cream in right away or place the molds in the fridge until they firm up. I like doing that because then the peanut butter can be put on the chocolate and pressed a bit without melting or sinking in to the bottom layer. Either way, place a teaspoon of peanut butter cream on the chocolate and then cover with more chocolate. Tap the molds again so the upper layer of chocolate smooths out and makes a nice, flat surface.
Place in the fridge until they firm up and can be popped out of the molds.

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At the Tuesday morning market, in the town of Prades, you can find something very tasty and quite exotic! A friend of mine, Nadia, prepares these multi-layered Moroccan crepes called m’semen which are served with either sweet or savory fillings. I have to admit, I’ve become a bit addicted to them !

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The dough is prepared using a natural sourdough starter (She told me the original source was from mine). The crêpes are fried and then filled with either cumin eggplant, red peppers, cheese or chèvre and honey. I usually ask for a bit of everything because I just love them all ! The crepes are soft, yet a little crunchy in places. One m’semen make a meal and served with a green salad, it makes a perfect one for me! At 3€50 a crepe why hesitate? I get one every Tuesday.

Nadia shapes the dough in to individual balls which she then stretches out on a very smooth, flat surface with oiled hands. It is then folded over a few times and fried.

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Unfilled m’semen

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My huge, over-filled m’semen.

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She also prepares these moroccan pastries that remind me of baklava. I can’t remember their name. They are fantastic!

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You can taste the different fillings before choosing. Here is the selection of sweet fillings (caramel, chocolat, sweet chestnut purée)

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These have been a truly wonderful discovery for me and I think it’s wonderful that Nadia has now become a regular part of the Tuesday market. It is fantastically rich in local products  and food and has a great atmosphere. Nadia fits in just perfectly. How lucky we are !

Just so you know, Nadia also does “chef à domicile”. She’ll come and cook her Moroccan specialties for you in your own home (coucous, tajines)! I have already ordered an autumn tajine that was to die for. Pears, figs, dates with lamb. Just writing about it makes me hungry.

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Here is a recipe in French for m’semen!

M’semen de chez Meriem

One of the reasons I love living in France is that I am surrounded by old things, often rich in history, often simply beautiful and always so far from the culture I grew up with. I love wandering the streets of Paris or small country villages and admiring the architecture, the shop fronts with their hanging signs or paintings on the wall above. The idea that gold coins from the Louis IV era are sometimes still dug up in gardens makes me giddy with excitement.
There is a very strong second hand market in France. You can either visit an antique store or stroll through markets that specialize in antique or fairly old furniture and items, such as bed linens, silverware, jewelry, household items, pipes, clothing, books, music. You name it.
But what I really, really love are the second hand shops that may have some antique items, but usually nothing of obvious, great value. That is when the search becomes fun. The prices are ridiculously cheap and the vendors don’t really even know or care what they are selling. There are charity shops and then there are what we call “la frippe” which are market stalls where vendors sell mainly clothes and sometimes house linens, bags or toys.
I buy a lot of my clothes from one particular person because most of what she sells is excellent quality, sometimes brand new with the tags still on. The other day, while I was looking through the piles of shirts, jeans, dresses and coats, I came upon a pile of bags and purses. I don’t usually look because I don’t need a purse. Everything she sells, except coats, cost 2 €. Yes, that’s 2 €. Sometimes I choose items of clothing, not really certain that the style suits me, simply because, well, it only cost 2 €. She even does a sale once a month where everything is 1 €.
So, I rooted through the bags just for fun and I came upon this:

It looks sort of like a granny purse. But the same day, I had come across the cutest, wool straight skirt with a flared bottom and a fitted black cardigan. The purse made the outfit just perfect.
When I got it home, I finally opened it up. The great thing about buying used purses is that there is potentially something left behind in it! Well, there wasn’t 10 000 €, but it wasn’t empty either. Here is what I found. A little purse mirror, a pack of nail files like matches and an empty toothpick paper. I also found the cutout leather piece that states that my 2 € purse was indeed made of genuine leather.

Finding this purse in a pile of other, cheap synthetic ones was like finding a treasure. It gave me far greater satisfaction than buying an expensive leather purse from a shop. And every time I find a great treasure, I wonder why people even bother to buy things new, except socks and underwear. But thankfully they do, because there would be way fewer treasures to find if they were hunting, too!

I always have a lot going on. Probably too much. And before having my last three children, I admit I was downright DISorganised. I never managed to keep on top of laundry, bills, appointments, letter writing, etc. Having a lot of kids and being married to an officer in the army really pushed me to create more order in my life. It was no longer possible to miss appointments or meetings, not have everyone’s laundry in their cupboards or forget to pay bills. Not to mention maintain some order in the house.

When the children were small, probably up to 3 years old, we allowed a couple of baskets and bigger toys in our main living space. But from the age that we considered them to be independent and no longer at risk of strangulation or electrocution, those toys disappeared from downstairs. We couldn’t put up with seeing loads of kids stuff when we walked in the house. So, in to their bedrooms those toys went. If they do bring something down, they have to clean it up and get it out of sight when they are done! Aren’t we mean? My husband has always been a neat freak and when he gets home at the end of the day, the first thing he does is a tour of the living space, picking up anything that looks stranded. It sort of irritated me at the beginning because I wouldn’t understand why he was like that and I also admit, it made me feel like I should have done it before. But I don’t notice very small messes. I even leave certain thing “undone” when I clean the house because it makes it at least look lived in. He has dreams of living in a stark, minimalist house with hardly any furniture. So, we have come to a compromise with a fairly clean, organised family house with no toys in sight. The kids seem to be fine with that. Kids are known to be adaptable which is helpful, too.

The other night, I was woken up by my son who needed to use the bathroom. I couldn’t get back to sleep afterwards because everything that I have to do in the next five weeks started zooming through my brain with an intense fear of forgetting the details. A few months back, I read an article about waking in the night and not being able to get back to sleep. It recommended just getting up and doing something for at least 45 minutes before going back to bed. I now do just that when I know sleep won’t come and I can actually take care of what is bothering me. So, up I got, at 2am, made a warm hot chocolate with raw cow’s milk (nothing better for inducing sleep), got my iPad, sat on the couch and got to work.

A few years ago, before I had an iPad (for me that means the stone age, I can’t live without it now), I had developed a daily planner page that helped me be efficient every day. I defined three main goals for the day and then listed anything I needed to do, appointments, calls to make, etc. It was a life saver and really got me into the habit of planning my time and getting things done. Tsh at Simple Mom has a great one and some other helpful downloads.

Now that I have an iPad, things are different. I actually went into a phase of so-so organisation because I didn’t want to use the paper planner anymore, but I didn’t know if I should use my iPhone, my iPad or an agenda for keeping things clear. What I have come up with now helps me stay on track with everything I need to do. It involves three tools or apps available on computer, iPad and iPhone. OK, yes, I’m a iFreak. I considered (for all of one minute) buying a PC and changing my four-year old iPhone 3 that does NOT, I repeat, does NOT have iCloud for a Samsung, but no, I just can’t. I prefer to wait until next June when I’ll get a changeover deal with Orange. So, my phone can only talk to my computer with a cable and sync. He can’t even talk to my iPad, poor guy. That’s OK, though. It’s the computer and iPad that matter. They can share everything !

I use iCal to mark EVERYTHING that is going on in different categories. I run the village library, am president of the parents’ association at school, take part in the Agenda 21 at the preschool, accompany the kids swimming every week, do my cooking classes at the biocoop and my house, have five kids in four different schools, and do try to have a social life. So, in iCal, there are different colors for the different activities and you can make it remind you for every event, so nothing is forgotten. I have been the champion at making lists and then forgetting to look at the lists. This way, I get reminded often by bells. I haven’t missed an appointment since I adopted this strategy. I also make sure it is all noted in my phone.

I also use Wunderlist. You make lists, in different categories, like dates or what the tasks have to do with. You can choose the date something must be done by and add notes concerning the task. There’s other stuff you can do but I admit that I use it in a very simple way and I always feel very relieved when I get to click on, and see disappear, those tasks! Oh, and it FREE. So, go check it out!

The other app I find absolutely incredible and has just recently been updated and modified, is EVERNOTE. I can’t even begin to describe all its capacities, so do go over to their website to check it out. It also is FREE!

Anything you write, take a photo of, capture on the net, can be filed away for easy access and any time. It is a fantastic tool for creating an interactive recipe book. Before the iPad came out, I fantasized of having a small computer-type accessory that had just a screen and could be installed in my kitchen, just so I could access recipes on the internet. When the iPad came out, BINGO! Except that it could do so many things there was no way it was going to live in my kitchen. Actually, it is usually living in the hands of my children who have become a bit addicted to it. But, I DO use it in the kitchen and I stock my recipes, especially the ones I’d like to test, in the Evernote app.

But think about it. There are a million different ways that this app can make our lives just that much more organized and fluid.

No, I’m not being paid to tell you about all this. I always imagine that anyone who has a computer knows about every single app available out there, but when I speak with people around here, in the Deep South, they really don’t. So, just in case they are reading, or anyone else who isn’t up to date with all the helpful tools out there that can make us moms be so incredibly efficient, this is for them!

After an hour of working that night, I went to bed and fell soundly asleep, relieved to know that NOTHING would be forgotten.

For the last two years, I have given cooking classes at our local BIOCOOP, a French chain of organic co-ops. Our store here in Prades has a nice layout, with wooden shelves, an inviting atmosphere and even a central play area for children to use as their parents shop.

You can visit their blog by clicking on their logo below.

Every second Thursday, I give informal classes that teach participants how to cook with fresh, seasonal produce and of course, all those out of the ordinary ingredients so common to this type of store. Quinoa, soya protein, tofu, adzukis beans, seaweed, almond milk, different gluten free flours among many others. My goal isn’t to convert everyone to becoming vegetarian and eating seeds, grains and sprouts all the time, but rather how to incorporate these types of ingredients into a modern, appetizing cuisine.

I am now branching out and offering classes out of my home and also a local maison d’hôte. These classes will be very different from what I do at the biocoop. For instance, the next two classes are:

CUPCAKES – how to bake and decorate          Thursday November 29th 2012  from 9am to 12pm

CHRISTMAS CHOCOLATES AND CANDIES – caramels, chocolates, mints, perfect for offering as gifts or to guests         Lundi 10 décembre 2012 9am – 12pm

The classes cost 20 € a session. Anyone interested can e-mail me for more information or inscription. I’ll be putting together the program for the new year very shortly, so keep an eye out. There will definitely be bread baking classes in the schedule !

And if you haven’t checked it out already, I have a French language cooking blog: http://www.saveursdefamille.com

If you read French or enjoy trying, come see me there for a selection of French and international family cuisine !

Have you heard of the “taxe foncière des entreprises”? Well, I just learned about it a few days ago when the envelope arrived from the tax office .

I give cooking classes at our local organic store, do some catering and am starting some cooking classes out of my house. As I am a very honest person, I took advantage of the possibility in France to be an “auto-entrepreneur” which allows a person to offer a service (ie. WORK) and only pay the “charges” (medical, etc) according to how much they make. For instance, if I don’t work for a trimester, I don’t pay anything while if I make 100 €, I pay a certain percentage. Up until now, it has worked for me. I had some trouble with the URSSAF because oops, they forgot to let the social security office know that I am auto-entrepreneur and not micro-entreprise and so I started receiving notices demanding thousands of euros. But that got straightened out.

Let it been know that I do NOT make a lot of money. I only work a few hours a month. But since I work for a company, I need to be able to bill them properly, legally. And I admit to being a truly honest person, which I am learning fairly quickly is maybe a stupid thing to be in this country.

So, the other day, I receive a document from the tax offices declaring that for the 804 € that I earned in the year 2011, I now owe 368 € in property taxes ! Because my home address is my business address, they just take that and calculate a base rate with NO concern whatsoever as to what I earned. 46 % of my earning??? Oh well, they say. That’s just how it goes.

I called the tax office, talked to a legal expert, the mayor and spent a great deal of time on web site forums and what I learned was that there is NOTHING I can do about this. I may be able to be exonerated for it in the future, but in order to be exonerated for the year 2013 the local government would have had to vote before the 15 of October 2012… almost a month before this new tax hit everybody. So, basically I am screwed for next year, too. There is no exoneration for us silly people that just want to do a few hours a month but be honest and legal about it.

I have had a major decision to make. Either I give up working because it isn’t feasible, or I figure out a way to make quite a bit more money in order to make that 368 € less of a burden. I’ve decided on the second option. I like working. Well, I love teaching, I love cooking and I love interacting with people. So, I will be developing my business a bit more and hopefully cooking up a storm !!!!!!

UPDATE  14.11.2012 : Looks Like my friend Martine was right.  It seems the governement has just decided to waver this tax this year for auto-entrepreneurs. I get to keep my money ! Yay ! I’m just a bit nervous for the decisions that will be made for next year. They are talking about getting rid of the auto-entrepreneur status which doesn’t help people like me who work just a little but need to be legal about it.

As I started preparing dinner, I thought about French cooking and the fact that when I arrived in France, 18 years ago, I already liked to cook, but hadn’t really developed many skills and knew really nothing about French cooking. But arriving in this country, especially in the South, opened up a whole new world of possibility and excitement. I lived in the very center of Perpignan, near the Meditarranean Sea and the Spanish border. As I had no car at the time and was at home pregnant or with a small baby, I very quickly made friends with the baker and his wife, the fruit and vegetables couple, the family that ran the little shop that sold olives, nuts, spices and all those exotic North African condiments that were so new to me and the boucher, fromager that had the most wonderful cheese and chickens. He taught me the difference between a poulet ordinaire and a poulet fermier ! Stepping out of the house every day and going to each shop with little Mathieu in his stroller came to be my social event of the day. My husband was working, I had no family and very few friends, so this social interaction became such an important part of my day. Little by little, I learned to cook. I had a few recipe books, I chose recipes and I bought the ingredients to make them.

As my family grew, after two children, a divorce, a remarriage and then three more children, the kitchen became the heart of my home. I had seven people to feed every single day and so I had decided early on that what they ate was going to be either very healthy or just damn good ! My cuisine had become a blend of French classic and international. In my kitchen, anything is possible. I have lived in 6 different countries, all with inspiring cuisines, I live in the South of France and I have a Japanese stepmom. Those are the makings of some serious cooking inspiration.

So, I have decided to post some classic French recipes on this blog. Recipes that I have learned and sometimes modified over the years. I actually already have a French food blog over at http://www.saveursdefamille.com if you’re interested, though it  is written in French. For the first recipe, as it is starting to get cold down here in the South, I have chosen “Endives au jambon”. It’s one of my favorite family meals. The kids are just starting to appreciate endives which just goes to show, Just keep serving it and one day they’ll like it!

Endives au jambon

In France you can either buy a package of about 8 endives or choose them individually. You’ll often find a deal on the packaged ones when they are in season.

Ingredients:

8 endives

8 slices of “jambon blanc”, regular thin slices of ham

10 g butter

Salt, pepper and sugar

1/3 c hard white cheese (Emmenthal)

With a small pairing knife, cut off the colored part of the base of each endive, then cut the tip off. Wash them by letting water flow down into the bulb then shake each one to get any excess water out. Cut any over sized endives in two.

In a wide bottom pot or deep skillet with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat. Place each endive on the base of the pots avoiding any overlapping. Season with salt and pepper then sprinkle with a little sugar. As the endives start to sizzle, turn them over and season the other size, then a sprinkle of sugar. This counterbalances some of the possibly bitter flavor they can have.

Turn the heat down very low, cover the pot and continue cooking for 45 min. The heat must be low enough so that the endives sweat, but don’t brown or burn. They will become very tender and have created some juice. When they are done, try and squeeze out as much of the juice as possible. Reserve the juice for the bechamel.

Preheat oven to 190 C or 375 F.

Bechamel:

400 ml milk, heated

Juice from endives

50 g flour

30 g butter

3/4 tsp salt

A few turns of the pepper mill.

1/4 cup grated hard white cheese (in France, I use Emmenthal)

In a small pot, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and keep stirring a few minutes.

Stir in the juice from the endives while continuing to stir. Then add the milk little by little, always stirring.

Keep adding milk until you have a fairly thick sauce, even holding back some of the milk if need be. If the sauce is too thin, it will only get thinner when baked with the endives.

Stir in the cheese until melted. Add salt and pepper.

NOTE: you can use LESS bechamel than this. I just like a lot. If you have a favorite bechamel recipe, by all means, use it! Just make it nice and thick.

Have a rectangular baking dish ready. Place an endive on a ham slice, then roll it up and place it in the baking dish. Do the same for each endive, placing them snugly together. The dish should be full.

Pour the bechamel over the rolled endives, covering them fully.

Sprinkle another handful or two of cheese over the top.

Bake for around 30 min until the top is nice and golden and the sides are bubbly.

Serve with a green salad.

There isn’t a picture of an individual serving because it is IMPOSSIBLE to make it look appetizing in a photo. Just trust me, it’s good !

It was cloudy this morning for the November 11th ceremony but the day ended sunny.

I have five kids, two teenagers (15 and 16) and three young ones (5, almost 7 and 8). When my older children were young, I tended to listen to what I thought were their needs and probably ended up protecting them a bit too much. I did teach them to be very independant, so much that now they have plans to leave France as soon as they can. But when it came to certain things, like starting school and their extracurricular activities, I was very sensitive of their fears, their likes and dislikes. This may seem normal and an attitude that makes a “good mother”, but over time, I realized that I was sometimes a bit of a pushover. When Mathieu started school at 3, he would cry and so what did I do? I took him out. Why? Because in Canada, we don’t put our kids in school every day at 3. When Mathieu and Hélène decided that they didn’t like their extracurricular activity anymore, I made them finish the year and then they chose something else the next year.

Now with the smaller ones, I have come to the decision that I need to be a little bit more cold and forceful. This year, they all had to choose an extracurricular activity and I  decided I was going to help them develop pleasure from their advancement in that activity. It means that I spend a lot of time driving back and forth to town because Lou has rhythmic gymnastics two evenings a week and on Wednesdays they all have either fencing or gym and Sean has climbing some weekends. They all LOVE their activites, though on some days, Margot will beg to be able to stay with me. Out of the question. She MUST go, even if I bribe her a bit by saying, Of course I am waiting just behind the closed door. I won’t leave! She isn’t stupid, though, and when she comes out she say, You weren’t there, were you? Well, no. I had some shopping to do. OK, no big deal. She had a great time.

Yesterday Sean went climbing and part of the afternoon included a small via ferrata where he was walking along small metal rods with NOTHING underneath him for 20 meters. It was very, very scary for him. Apparently he did a bit of crying, as did his good friend. But with the urging of their climbing monitor, Marco, they managed to advance and finish the trail. They both came home full of pride and really quite full of themselves. But today they had the possiblity to go on another excursion, this time to a much bigger via ferrata with parts that would be even higher, up to 200 meters off the ground. Both boys, to be perfectly honest, were scared out of their wits by the idea.

This is when, I feel, a parent’s guidance comes in. Do we decide that our boy is still young, with ample opportunity to grow up and decide to take part in such a scary adventure later on when he feels more mature. Or do we urge him to go for it because since he has started on this road of new experiences that test his limits of fear, it’s best to continue with the idea that the more he does something, the less he will be scared. They always say that if you fall off a swing, you musn’t walk away, but hop back on in order to erase the fear that could grow from that bad experience. Sean didn’t fall, but he had a catalyst of fear that could grow in him and so we decided to push him to go today. I know my son. He is a scaredy cat. But often when he feels frightened by something, he just needs a nudge to help him get over his fears. So, we decided to nudge him today.

I admit I was a bit worried throughout the day. What if he was in the middle of a bridge and couldn’t move anymore from fear and stopped the whole group from advancing? I have confidence in the monitor because he had Mathieu when he was younger and Mat had a great time with him. I knew he could get Sean to continue and to enjoy the experience. Well, I really hoped so.

This evening, when darkness had fallen and Sean had been gone for 9 hours, I went to pick it. I turned to him and said, “Alors?”

“Maman, c’était GENIAL !” (Mom, it was great!)

Right then and there I knew we had made the right decision.

I FINALLY managed to get the kids “attestation” for their sports activities. In France you have to declare your main generalist doctor in order to be fully reimbursed and our doctor is a homeopathic generalist. I have realized on several occasions that this is not very practical. As much as I am for “alternative medecine” and loath the way French doctors prescribe useless medications for every little symptom imaginable, having ONLY a homeopathic doctor is a pain. Technically, every fall, I am supposed to bring my children to see the homeopathic doctor so that he can prescribe their “traitement de fond” which will boost their immune systems and their overall health. But since I started only treating the kids with natural or homeopathic treatments, their immune systems are so boosted that I rarely even have to go see a doctor. So, the idea of having to pay 150€ for the three little ones to get their autumn treatment, not to mention the three hours of consultation, either together or on three separate days, just doesn’t sit well with me. So, god forbid I just go to see him to get some health certificates. He’ll definitely want to do the WHOLE hour checkup ! I just need a piece of paper!! Now, my friends that have regular doctors, just call the secretary and she gets the certificates done up for free since they are “regular customers”. I’ve decided that I need to find a regular doctor just for that kind of stuff and the odd emergency like Margot’s impetigo a few weeks ago.

This said, I took the kids up to a doctor in the next town that I know doesn’t get a load of business and where I knew their would be no more than ten minutes in the waiting room with the three active little ones. He checked them over quickly, verified that their limbs moved correctly, heads turned as they should and didn’t look “odd”. He signed the forms and charged 69 €, that is 23 € for each kid. At least we are in socialist France where the entire sum will be reimbursed between the social security and the extended medical.

Finally obtaining those certificates made me feel GREAT! I was supposed to hand them in almost two months ago. Son when I left the office, I felt like I was on holiday as school doesn’t start for another few days and I have no more appointments or work to do. Yay!

For a while now I’ve been feeling a bit guilty that my kids are so enthused about cooking but I never have the patience to teach them. Yesterday evening, Sean and I watched the first two matches between Pierre and Ludovic in the final of Master Chef. Sean loves watching cooking shows. We sometimes watch “Un dîner presque parfait” and the kids judge the quality of the dishes and tell me what I should make or not. Last night Sean had decided that Pierre should win, but I insisted that Ludovic would win. I hadn’t actually watch one single episode this year, but I thought he looked more like a chef (a bit big?). Don’t they say, “Never trust a thin chef”? What does that say for me? But whatever.

So, we had invited some people to come by this afternoon because one of my friends has just had a baby. Who can resist a newborn??? Just place one in my arms and every single cell of my being screams, Have another one!!! I’ve tamed that urge, though, by natural and unatural methods, and am now just looking forward to grandmotherhood. I’m having TONS of them !!!! My children are already being brainwashed.

The girls and I decided to make a cake and I was determined to show an incredible amount of patience and let them do everything. We chose a carrot cake because it is easy, delicious and a little bit exotic for my small town in the South of France. Also, we had a bunch of carrots in the crisper. Every time I let the girls help me cook, they end up fighting and crying and I end up really stressed and irritated, vowing never to try and cook with them both at the same time. But anyone with children that are born close in age KNOWS that that is almost impossible. Toys must be bought by threes, if one wants to do something, they ALL do and even their moods are dictated by the others. It’s like having triplets sometimes. So, I bit the bullet and said, Sure girls, let’s bake together!!!

And for once, they managed to do it with no fighting. Margot had some fake euros and every time Lou did something correctly, she paid her. That helped. Lou just complimented Margot on her incredible measuring abilities. That helped, too. So when the cake was presented to our guests and everyone oohed and awed and took second helpings, my two girls were mighty proud of themselves ! It really is a great recipe. The best carrot cake I’ve had and it comes out of the All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking. If I had to choose only one cookbook in the whole world, it would definitely be that one. I love it.

So, here is the recipe.

Carrot Cake (from the All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking)

1 1/3 cup  flour (I use organic T65)

1 cup sugar (I use sucre blond de canne)

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder (levure chimique or poudre à lever in an organic store)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves (had to buy it on the net)

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt (I use sel gris de Guérande fin)

2/3 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups grated carrots (fine)

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C or 350°F. Grease and flour either a rectangular pan or a fairly wide round one.
In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients. In a mixer, beat the oil and the eggs. Add the flour, then the carrots, then the nuts.

Pour the batter into the pan. For batters like this one, I always drop the pan a few times on the counter to get bubbles out and even it out a bit.

Bake for 35-45 minutes depending on the size of the pan. Do a toothpick test.

Traditionally this cake is frosted with cream cheese frosting, but I didn’t have any cream cheese so I thought I’d do an experiment with “petit suisse”. I started with as much butter as petit suisse by weight but it was too liquid, even with the icing sugar. So, I figure it’s just as good to do a butter icing if you can’t get cream cheese. St Moret just becomes liquid, so though it is great for cheesecake, it doesn’t work for icing. I have yet to do a test with the Philadelphia they are now selling at our local super market “Super U”.

A nice, sunny day today.

This summer our house was hit by lightening and some of our appliances were damaged, one of them being my iMac. I had a backup of photos from 2001 to 2008 but 2009 until 2012 were lost. I did send the computer off to a specialized Apple shop, but they got broken in to and my computer was stolen with about 60 others. How’s that for incredible luck ? No more computer and no chance of ever getting my photos back.

That was a huge wake up call for me and I decided to get my pictures developed. Just like people used to do way back when. Well, actually when my older children were young and now we have the single album problem. Their dad has the albums and both of us are too lazy to scan every single photo out of the three massive albums. So the albums travel back and forth, a few years here, a few years there.

Anyway, I took advantage of some GROUPON offers. If you aren’t subscribed to GROUPON, I do highly recommend it. You just choose your closest city and you get sent all sorts of deals. I don’t use it very much, but I have managed to get some great deals. I bought some offers on photo books which I used to create a book about our holidays and I’m in the middle of doing one with my family photos (my mom and dad young, me and my brother and sister, etc). I also bought an offer for the development of 200 photos. I had to spend about three hours going through all of our photos over a period of about 4 years. The problem with digital photography is that you can just snap, snap, snap away and nothing forces you to have to SORT through the photos. I ended up with over 15000 photos !!!!

But it was fun and I loved seeing the children so young, and they were all so cute as babies. I always forget what they were like and what they looked like. I had a great times sorting through the photos and seeing my babies, reliving moments in their lives.

This one made me laugh and laugh …

After losing my computer and my precious photos, I have an early New Year’s resolution of sorting through all my photos right away, backing up my computer regularly and making albums that people can actually look through because NOONE ever looks at photos on the computer. Nothing beats a cup of tea, a comfy sofa and photo albums.

I also finally invested in a great plug that saves computers from blasts of lightening.

Jennifer is a Canadian/American, living in the South of France for the last 18 years. Married to a frenchman who's job forces him to spend a lot of his time overseas, she has learned to cope with all those everyday challenges brought about by her sometimes crazy life. Adapting to a new culture, raising children, taking care of animals, growing a vegetable garden, cooking for her family and friends, teaching cooking classes and trying to maintain a fairly organized and inviting home. Here are some of her thoughts about it all.

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