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La Tour Eiffel

(photo F. Arnaud)

I just finished reading a book by Christian  Signol in which the story takes place in the Dordogne country side during the second world war. It’s about a couple, living in a small house in the country who end up taking in Jewish children, hoping to save them from the Nazis. Reading the book made me think about the choices we have in life today compared to living in different places or at different times. They didn’t even know really how far the Côte d’Azur was from their home and they certainly didn’t wonder about what their life could be if they moved to another country.

I’ve been living in France for nearly 19 years, always in the same department, Pyrénées Orientales. I don’t suffer from homesickness because home became France a long time ago. In the first years I went through a period of missing certain things from Canada, like certain foods, habits, appliances (dryers!!) but by the time my kids were in school, I had adapted well enough to my new life in France and had given up trying to bring Canada in to my life here. I understand newcomers who desperately try to find the equivalent of brown sugar, real baking powder, cream of tarter, horseradish and all those other necessary ingredients to produce authentic North American dishes and desserts. (And I’m now an expert on those things, so go ahead and ask if you want). But I don’t do that anymore. I’m here, probably for good.

But we live in a society where “everything is possible!”. My family and I could pack our bags and go live in Canada or how about Africa where we almost ended up a few years ago. Having these choices pushes me to spend much too much time comparing cultures, ways of living, education, professional possibilities and even food. Since the junior high school in our area isn’t that great, should we move nearer to a city with better school? Are we cheating our children out of a great education? Of course, that comes from my years of private school education and being in contact with highly successful, privately educated people. Will my country bumpkin children find success in their lives???

And what about the social and financial strife we are going through in France?? Would we be better off in a nice, safe, modern country like Canada? My older children are already determined to use their Canadian citizenship and go live their adult lives there. My younger children ask when we will be going back.

Opening a business in France these days is economic suicide, which doesn’t leave much place for professional ambition. Every couple of years I get a strong desire to do something professionally, open a cooking school/store/café, but then I change my mind because I actually do love only working very part time and not having to struggle to be a good mom and a professional at the same time. I don’t want to get in to that situation with young children at home. I’d never be able to find balance. But I can’t help fantasizing about the opportunities we would have if we went to live in Canada.

I sometimes get very frustrated with life in France, especially in such a small town. Coming from a big, modern city and ending up in a small, country town of 450 people is bound to create some havoc in my brain once in a while. But even so, France, and this town, have become my home. I thought I’d take some time and actually list all the things that I really love about this country and my particular area. Maybe one day we will leave (though we can’t imagine selling the house two of our daughters were BORN in) but for the moment we aren’t going anywhere and I think it is about time that I stopped thinking of the other possibilities and just enjoy the luck I have to be here.

We have thought about just taking a year and renting a house somewhere in Canada for the experience. My husband will be able to do his work from anywhere starting next year, though it would mean him being away quite a bit. So maybe we could organize a year away before the little kids are too old to want to go. But in the meantime, this is what I love:

1. I remember arriving in Paris in the fall of 1989. I had flown from Tokyo, to Vancouver, to Paris and hadn’t slept in almost three days. I was MORE than exhausted. But when my friend picked me up from the airport, we hopped on the RER and then emerged into the streets of central Paris, well, my breath was taken away! I wasn’t seeing Paris for the first time, as I had been working their that spring, summer. I was coming BACK and it felt like I was returning the the most extraordinary place on earth. I adore wandering the streets of the city, admiring the architecture, the shops, cafés, parks,  bridges, everything!! I ended up leaving Paris that winter, but it was deep in my heart and when I had an opportunity to go back to France, even though it was to the city the farthest away from Paris in the country, I didn’t hesitate! I just love knowing that at incredible city is our capital and I can go whenever I want to. I have wonderful recent memories of taking the train up to Paris to see my dear friend who lives near the city, visiting a fabulous bakery with her, learning to make the best Parisian baguette of the year, drinking a beer in an Irish pub with my husband who I met up with once while he was working there for a few weeks, carrying Karamelle through the streets of the Marais when she was just a puppy, finally going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and having the fright of my life with my daughter Hélène.

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Le Louvre

Photo F. Arnaud

2. I love the French language. After working in Paris in 1989, I had picked up a bit of the language and decided that I should major in French at university. After all, Canada was a bilingual country and being bilingual could help me get a job. It was funny because I always had really BAD grades in French. I remember once sitting a French exam and, even though I had studied all the grammar and verb tenses, I couldn’t answer the questions because I couldn’t understand the words other than the verbs! Needless to say, I hated French class and systematically fell asleep during the French documentaries we were shown once in a while. But when I actually went to France, it was a different story!!! Hearing people speak it and seeing the culture that goes with it, made me instantly fall in love with the language. So, I studied it in university and when I participated in a third year abroad program in Perpignan, I realized just how little French I actually knew! I couldn’t understand the Catalan accent which could be compared to someone learning English going to live in South Carolina. I ended up staying in Perpignan for nine years and it took me quite awhile to learn the language.  But I did! And it is funny because when I am in an airport and I hear French people speak, I am still in admiration of the language and their way of being… and then I remember that they are from MY country, too.

3. I love French food and cuisine. France produces the most incredible fruits and vegetables, cheeses, breads, meats. Where I live now is a foodie’s paradise! All of our fruits and vegetables are local and mostly organic, bought at the weekly market. I buy goat, ewe and cow milk cheese at the same market, all local and all very reasonably priced. I buy local pork, beef and lamb and have some game supplied by hunter friends. They also give me mountain river trout in the early spring. When I see videos like this:

I don’t feel like moving to Canada because even though it is possible to buy locally for certain things, the prices are outrageous!! I couldn’t believe the food prices in Vancouver this summer and the small amount of organic food, outside of specialty stores are outrageously expensive. And the taste of our food here is incredible. The organic flour I buy to make my sourdough bread  makes the most incredibly tasting and textured bread. Fruit here is fantastic. Biting in to a summer peach is pure heaven. I buy local clementines and kiwis in the winter and my kids eat them like some kids eat candy. I ordered lamb from a local farm last year and I felt a bit bad ordering the death of a poor, innocent animal, but I have to say, when I grilled that cutlet and took the first bite, I had to accept that lambs were put on earth for those people who are omnivores. It was so good! When we got back home from Canada last summer, all of my children stated that they were thrilled to get back to French food.

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France’s famous Macarons

Photo F. Arnaud

4. I love the landscape, the countryside, the chateaux and farms. When we drive to my parents-in-law’s home outside of Toulouse it is always enjoyable. The view is incredible and we even pass by Carcassonne with it’s walled town and turrets.

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Carcassonne

© Delphine Ménard

Since I didn’t grow up with old structures, castles and wine chateaux, I continue to be amazed by them. The rolling countryside in the South of France is so lovely as well. In summer there are fields of sunflowers blazing, rows and rows of grape vines, peach trees, wheat, fields dotted with old stone buildings and thins roads winding through the undulating landscape. It’s beautiful! Our own house is Catalan architecture and though it is very simple, the outside walls are made of large river stones and red brick. We fell in love with it the first time we saw it. There is a small river that lines our property and since we sleep with the window open all year, we can hear the soft sound of the water rushing by. In the summer we fall asleep to the croaks of frogs and sometimes we hear the yapping of fox or the snuffle of wild boar. Last night we had an owl hotting at our window. And just near our house is this path where we like to take our Sunday walks with the dogs.

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A river in the Gers

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5. I actually like the French seriousness. When I first arrived in France, I found it a bit difficult to make new friends because people seemed almost cold sometimes, never very excited or enthusiastic. You rarely hear very loud laughter in public places and everyone seems to have a learned, calm politeness about them. I had come from Canada, of course, where in the space of one hour you can meet someone and feel like you’ve been friends forever. North Americans laugh out loud anywhere they are, speak to almost anyone, ask questions about personal things almost right away. But little by little, I adapted to the culture here and now I find it comforting to be around French people. You see, it took me a long time to make friends, but they are really, really good friends and we always know where we stand. There is never any of that intense enthusiasm in the beginning only to realize that the friendship is impossible or empty which happened to me quite often in North America.

6. I appreciate the private, non-judgemental, what I call the “dark side” of French people. Yes, it is really too bad that some people don’t respect the basic rules of society, but at the same time, not having daily pressure to be “perfect” and compliant is actually very soothing. There isn’t the stress of living up to an imagine or what is expected. We don’t have signs saying 500$ fine for littering, no loitering, etc. People don’t talk about how much money they make or other private subjects. Maybe something in between Canada and France would be ideal for me.

7. I much prefer European clothes.  I remember as a teenager looking for certain styles of clothing or colors and never being able to find them and then when I got to France, I wanted to buy everything! Kids’ clothes are way cuter over here.

8. I like having easy access to the rest of Europe. London is a short plane ride away, Spain is 1 hr by car, 3 hrs to Barcelona (very cool city!), Italy about 6 hrs by car. We have a 110 Land Rover Defender and we have plans to visit Europe. We took a trip around Ireland and would really like to go back and we have plans to drive to Scandanavia. Mat and I headed to London to visit our good friends last October. We don’t travel that much but just knowing that we CAN is fantastic!

9. I like living in the country and not having to feel bombarded by shops, advertisements, noise, pollution. I could live in the country in Canada but what is nice about here is that there are pretty towns on all sides of us, just a few km away with their own shops, markets, hot baths, skiing, hiking paths, etc. We are away from the city but near to a lot of exciting things!

10. France has very little genetically modified cultures for the moment and my area has the most organic producers in the country. It’s easy to avoid consuming GMOs, and I am very thankful for that.

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Our vegetable garden

And any country that makes a film like this:

must be a great place to live!

And music like this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

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Over the last year I have been hearing a lot of talk about children being picky eaters and how to raise children that eat a wide variety of healthy food.

I’ve had many, many discussions with moms about this and I also enjoy observing children and how they eat. I noticed how North American children eat while we were there this summer as well. I have read different articles on the Internet or in magazines. I find the whole thing rather fascinating. Raising five children ranging from 5 to 17, means that I have been in that phase of teaching children to eat well for a very long time.

I think I can say quite honestly that they are all really good eaters. Margot, the youngest, is still in that little kid stage and can get picky sometimes, but I know that it will pass because it did for all the others. I think she uses food as a way to make a statement sometimes. But I won’t go there. My children will eat all types of food, veggies, meat and all the normal stuff, but also snails, oysters, frogs legs, duck hearts, parsnips, celeriac, smelly cheeses, you name it. Yes, they have their preferences and I know there are some foods that just won’t be eaten. Sean and Mat have an aversion to avocado. Sean doesn’t like red pepper, either. But he isn’t snubbing the whole vegetable group, so who cares? He still gets served these things and has to pick them off his plate.

 So, I have decided to write down a few of the principles I adhere to when it comes to children and food. These are MY opinions and so you may not agree! They are just things that have worked in our family.

  1. I never cook with the idea that it is “kids’” food and so the children will eat (at least not since they turned 3 or 4 and then I didn’t even really). I don’t like kids’ food like plain pasta and ham or breaded, frozen fish fillets, and so these things may show up once in awhile, but rarely. When they were very young, I would just adapt the main meal to their age, without actually making a special meal for the youngest.  I cook to make myself happy which is OK because I like most everything (that can be considered proper food).
  2. Snacks are ok when children are very, very small but from age 3 and up, the only snack that is ok is around 10am (if really necessary) and 4pm in the afternoon. The children accept this because they have grown up with it. Snacks are more often than not something that have been made, like a cake or cookies or something simple like a fruit or just a slice of bread with something on it. If, for instance, on a Saturday afternoon, we decide to get together with another mom and her children, inevitable we will ask each other what we should bring for the “goûter”. Making homemade snacks is just part of French culture. Ok, many moms are now buying mainly packaged cookies, but the tradition hasn’t fully died, especially on the weekends, and is actually probably going through a renaissance. Snacking a lot makes people fat and causes eating problems, it’s pretty simple.
  3. If a child doesn’t like a food, I keep serving it time and time again. It has happened to ALL of my children. They don’t like something, then they do and the opposite is true. They go through phases. So the best thing to do is completely ignore them. I just cook a wide variety of international dishes, making sure there are herbs, curry, veggies everywhere, your favorite home dishes, new recipes from a great cookbook and don’t even think about whether they will like it. If they don’t, they can eat bread and cheese, which is always on a French table.
  4. A child must try everything that is on their plate. One forkful. If they don’t like it, no big deal but I will never accept, “I don’t like that” if they haven’t even tried. HOW many times have they said that and then actually tasted something and realized, “Oh I DO like it!” and since the brain needs up to seven or eight times for a new food to be accepted, they need to have that taste sensation so that the new food is registered in the brain.
  5. No kid in a normal home has ever died of hunger. When they were younger, I never looked at my children’s food intake at just a meal. I looked at how much they have eaten over a few days. They would hardly eat at all at a meal and then make up for it the next day. That’s why I never worried about them not liking a particular meal. They would just eat more another time.
  6. I never force a child to finish their plate EXCEPT when I know they are just being picky and are not full. When they were really little, I just took the plate away and when they were a bit older (under 5) I never made a big deal about it. Now that they are older, I do say they won’t have dessert if they don’t finish their dinner but when they were younger, I never used that argument. First of all, we don’t often have dessert, except maybe a yogurt and secondly, I believe that making that argument can cause a warped relationship with food. People should enjoy eating without eating too much of one thing and without negative psychological connections to food.
  7. We always eat as a family. Our table is laid out every evening and the meal can last quite a long time. We talk, we eat, we even play games quite often. I know people, especially in North America, but here as well, that do a kids’ meal early on and then an adult meal later. That has never occurred to me since that meal time is one of the most important moments of the day. Not only is it when children learn about food but it also the cement of our family. We spend an hour just being together and talking about our day, subjects of interest, whatever.  This said, if one of the parents doesn’t get home until 8pm, of course the kids probably shouldn’t wait. Though I do know families where the kids DO wait and they all eat a light dinner together quite late.
  8. If you don’t want your kids to eat junk, don’t buy it.
  9. I don’t marginalize my children. They are attracted to McDonalds because it is quite popular. I don’t like McDonalds but I don’t want to fall in to the trap of being too radical about my food opinions. I don’t buy coke but if there is some at a party, I let them have a glass. I don’t like candy, but they are allowed some at a party. I’ll take them to McDonalds about twice a year. I don’t want them to grow up feeling “deprived” or brainwashed and then go crazy when they leave the house when they are older and then binge on junk. Our children know our opinions on that kind of stuff, we talk about the dangers of too much sugar, foods that aren’t produced under good conditions. They know where their food comes from and for me that is the most important. They have even been to the farms where our meat, cheese and milk comes from. We are lucky to be able to buy food with that quality and have the producers right near by. We hardly eat any processed food at home and most all of it comes from local, organic sources.
  10. And lastly, rules can be broken once in awhile without negative consequences.

Here we are in 2013. I haven’t posted in ages simply because when my life gets hectic or I feel that I am on holiday, I don’t feel like writing. Well, I do feel like it but I don’t take the time. This month of December was so crazy with some catering jobs, baking for the marché aux truffes to raise money for the school, helping with some Christmas activites and swimming sessions at the school, extra cooking classes during the month and then of course preparing the Christmas festivities for my family. I started feeling a bit odd during the second week of December, sinuses bugging me, a bit of a cough. I was determined NOT to get sick because I couldn’t NOT do everything I had planned for the month. I made sure I was well rested, even taking naps once in a while. I felt well organized and not particularly stressed. By the 16, I was really fighting the virus and by the 24, I should have been in bed. But I was so excited about our Christmas Eve dinner planned with friends and I absolutely love Christmas with young children in the house who still wholeheartedly believe in Santa Claus. There was NO way I was going to get sick. My parents-in-law arrived Christmas morning for a lunch and afternoon together. When they left, it was like my body said, OK, now I can be sick and I literally sat on the couch and couldn’t get up again. I spent that evening and the whole of Boxing Day under a quilt. I slept and watched THREE films. We were invited to a Boxing Day party and Lio took the children, leaving me in a nice, quiet, warm house. I started feeling a bit better the next day and progressively got better over the week. I also started taking my supplments that boost my immune system. But now it is the 5th of January and I still have pain in my chest and don’t feel 100%. The virus this year is a doozy.

But I do feel happy about having done most all of what I had hoped to do for our Christmas holidays. Our holidays have been really fun as well.

I spent from September until December being my usual busy self, but I admit I strayed from some of my 2012 resolutions. This may seem silly, but when we were in Canada and the States, I was really hit by the way North Americans have some aspects of their life that are quite ecological, but on the whole, compared to how we live in my area and in our home, they really aren’t at all. The supermarkets are overstocked and full of crap, I didn’t see many homes do compost (though most do recycling), I saw a lot of wasted water and electricity, the cars are gas guzzlers and the sizes of the homes are obscene. Stores and signs are everywhere and it was pretty evident that the society was based on consumerism. Now, everyone can shoot me. I’m just saying what I saw and I know that there are exceptions, espceially when you get out of the cities. I just happen to live in a place where many people are ecologically conscious, where organic veggies are often cheaper than supermarket ones, where people will bring you homemade jam or a big squash as a gift, people keep chickens and have veggie plots. Of course, not everyone, but a lot. So, when I started to get busy in September, I sort of slipped from my good habits with the idea that compared to elsewhere, I was a very ecological person. I started buying paper towel, something that hasn’t been in our house for a couple of years. I bought some canned veggies for easy dinners and supermarket cheese. We had been eating locally for eight months and I started cheating in order to make my life easier. We had also vowed not to buy anything new for the whole year and I started cheating on that, too. I bought some books and stuff for the kids and house. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, and really it isn’t. But after a chat with hubby the other day, I felt like we had strayed too far and really, it didn’t make our lives better!  At Christmas time I bought a raw duck liver and a breast from our local organic farmer and made my own foie gras and dried breast. Our Christmas Eve feast was two huge chickens my neighbor had raised. I bought the veggies from the organic market and my favorite cheese maker finally had her first wheels of the year for sale. The meals were delicious and it made us realize that the local food is just SO much better.

This afternoon we celebrated the New Year with the traditional breaking of the gingerbread house and tree. We usually do it on the 1st, but for some reason we didn’t. We worked like crazy today, doing about three hours of gardening, planting the bulbs we hadn’t got around to doing (mainly because I was waiting for my petunias to stop blooming, which they did until the beginning of December!). So, By 15h30 we were HUNGRY!!!

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Sean’s smile on command face

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Lou having a ball breaking the house

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Margot chose the roof that had the most smarties

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House destruction !

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Tree destruction !

After this luxurious snack, we took the dogs up to the hill for a run. It was 19°C this afternoon around here and the weather reports say that it will continue for a few days. I figure that if it won’t snow, let there be sun and heat!!!!

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  Fort Liberia

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 The Canigou peak

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  (A view of the Medterranean Sea)

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Our town is the one at the bottom of the picture

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I have been spending some time thinking about my New Year’s Resolutions and basically I will be returning to my old ones, accepting that we will always stray because we are human. We are NOT asking for wealth this year because the worldwide economy is not making that a good option. And really, we don’t need wealth. We do need health, as this December has taught me, and we always strive for happiness which I think we are pretty lucky to have most fo the time.  Who wouldn’t living in a place like this ???

But I’ll write more on that another time… as soon as school starts again.

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!

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.

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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