Friday, November 23, 2012

LA FRANCE PROFONDE.....

 
 
 .....a phrase that denotes the existence of deep, and profoundly French aspects of the culture of French provincial towns, of French village life and rural agricultural culture. I got that from Wikipedia.
It's a phrase I recently heard from a CFO at a major Cognac house, when I asked him what he likes about life in Jarnac. "Not much changes around here", he told me when I asked what that saying meant to him. And then he changed from his street shoes into his office slippers.....imagine that.
 
I've been thinking about life here in rural France quite a bit lately. On the one hand, you hear a lot of gripes about taxes and lousy politicians at the top, on the other hand, France IS the fifth largest economy in the world. As a foreigner to this land, you could get caught up in the negativity quite quickly, especially if you surround yourself with a crowd of not so happy people. With a few minor exceptions (yes, I am still harping about the plumbers, Ken), we had a very very smooth ride so far in France. My Club Med level french may help, but I firmly believe that overall the rep France got, is just that a rep. Yes, it is hard to understand it all, their motivation behind actions and decisions, but we are not here to change them, we are here to enjoy it all.  One just has to overcome that the French firmly believe in the, "If it ain't broken, don't fix it" way of life..
 
Let me explain by an example. A week ago I saw an ad for an Estate auction in the area with no address, just the village name, date and time with the items being sold.  I must have called the auctioneer five times leading up to the sale, but nobody ever picked up the phone. I finally sent them an email requesting some sort of information as to the address. To which I got this reply: "Monsieur, la vente a lieu a Saint Yrieix a 150m de l'eglise - cordialment."
My first reaction was that of a typical customer, pffft, I am not going, that is stupid, he can't even give me the proper adress.....blablabla. Really. Find the church first, then draw a radius of 150 meters and find the house.
 
Curiosity and hope of finding some bargains made me go anyway and guess what. There were already about 200 people walking from the church parking lot to the house where the aution would be. Easy to find. It's a village, how big can it be. I am glad to have gone and attended that sale. Besides the bargains, i realized that why would the auctioneer change the way he did business for the last decades when it worked all the time and still does. Why buy expensive signs, if cardborad boxes will do to show the way to the house.
 
 
 
SPOT THE SIGN

CARS, LAWNMOWER AND TILLER

LARGE CROWDS

HOUSE FOR SALE

SO MANY DISHES

SOLD FOR 200.00

GORGEOUS BIBLIOTHEQUE

FAUX BAMBOO BEDROOM

YOU WON'T BELIEVE THE PRICE FOR THIS ARMOIRE

ANOTHE GREAT BUY

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

MY CUCUMBER SALAD

 
 
Mundane topic. Cucumber salad, who cares.
When I started out in my first chosen career in the hotel and restaurant business my first intern job was in a hotel kitchen. I was 14. The Chef who ran the show decided I should work the salad station to learn how to use the utensils. How to cut vegetables and not my fingers.
You have no idea how many cucumbers I sliced that summer. And some fingers, but I still have all of them.
Though I never chose the kitchen route of the hotel business (  the bar side of things looked way more appealing), I hand cut most of my vegetables, including cucumbers to this day. It's much easier with a mandoline of course, but try to cut your next one by hand. Even slices please. It's hard at first, but after some 60 cucumbers and a dozen of Band Aids you'll get the hang of it.
 
There are many ways to make a dressing for this salad, my favorite is the creamy spicy mixture described below.

 
 
HAND CUT

CREME FRAICHE, CREAM, RICE VINEGAR, SPICY PEPPERS, SALT, PEPPER

JUST MIX IT ALL UP INTO A SMOOTH DRESSING

THE WAY I MAKE IT

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

WHY FRANCE?


The single most asked question we encounter everywhere. Back in Canada, here in Jarnac from some locals and of course my parents who are in Austria, which would have been a more logic location in their eyes. After all, France is one the countries with the highest taxes in Europe.


Well, let me explain. 
Health. Some regular clients from way back at GFP in Cochrane may recall how Victoria suffers from severe Migraines and we all do know that Alberta with it`s location east of the Rockies is Chinook country, a major migraine inducing weather condition. Not only limited to actual Chinook season (which is 6 month anyway), but the barometric pressure changes in Calgary persist all year long and with it come migraines for many many sufferers.
There was a report just recently on the news about how AB has the highest suicide rate in all of Canada and they made the relation to mental illness and bullying.
I believe they should have mentioned weather induced depression as well. In Austria, the town of Innsbruck, located in an area with very similar conditions as Calgary, has the highest suicide rate in that country. I do not want to play this opinion up too much, but some of you who suffer from migraines may be able to relate.
So we looked all over the Interwebs for spots with fewer barometric pressure changes, no mountains, etc., etc.

The Charente is known for it`s micro climate and as we did more comparisons, the region always came out on top. Though we did give Austria a quick tryout, let me tell you, the most horrifying experience with one of Victoria`s headaches  happened there. It was so bad, so scary, that both Isabella and myself were mortified when Victoria`s  veines on her head started to bulge out into 3D dimensions as if she was starring in a horror movie. We were on the road, miles from a doc or hospital and no help anywhere. At a gas station I was able to buy ice cold cans of soft drinks (no ice cubes), which made the situation a bit more bearable for Victoria until we we able to get her more help. needless to say, Austria was eliminated that day.

And this is the reason why we are here. In SW France. Though Victoria still has migraines once in a while, they are not  nearly as frequent nor severe as they were back in Calgary. And not weather related. I think her husband may be responsible for a few....

On a separate note, in a magazine article back home, GF Patisserie was falsely labelled a French company. Though it made the write up sound so much more exciting and quite frankly sexy ( Sales people will know what I mean....), GF Patisserie is a proud Canadian company with a Canadian Lawyer and a Canadian Accountant owned by a Canadian business woman. GF Patisserie is not doing any business in France, no bakery, no baked goods. just a healthier life for the owner, Victoria Edlinger.

GF Patisserie would love to find a licensee here in France, no doubt. Which by the way is NOT a franchise. Big difference actually. No ongoing fees, no monthly dues.
Even a flour distributor would do for now, so if you know somebody.....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

FALL IN JARNAC

 
 
This will be our first winter in the house. Yesterday I started to insulate the attic, a dusty, but necessary job. Stone houses are not as well insulated as new ones.
So far so good, fall has been good, lots of rain and some cold nights.
 
During the day though, when the sun shines, the Charente region is great. We went for a walk at lunch and we were not cold at all. Definitely beats what weather we could have had in Calgary.

 
 
 
 
NOT TOO COLD FOR SOME KAYAKING

CHANGING COLORS

THE CANAL

OLD WATER WHEEL

CATCH & RELEASE
 
NOT SO BUSY ANYMORE

 

TEA INSTEAD OF ICE CREAM

ADVENT CALENDAR

BUSINESS FOR SALE

Sunday, November 11, 2012

PROGRESS

 

 
Just a few snapshots of the studio in progress. One week away, the right crew in place. Lots got done, maybe not as visible from these images, but I am very happy. We are on target and better be, as the first testers are arriving mid January....we would not want to have them sleep in a mess.
 
The electrician laid his cables and evacs for stove hood and bathroom, the very well insulated floor has been poured and they started with the insulation of the ceiling already.
The most important progress however was the plumbing.
Very happy to report that it looks much better than before. No more wastepipe running through the middle of the room, all neatly tucked away where they belong, above beams and behind walls.
 
Now waiting for the door guy to repair the stone work and rehang the renovated and now double glazed entrance door.
Can we be done by Christmas? I think so.
 

 
 
NEW FLOOR IS POURED. WELL INSULATED UNDERNEATH

 
EQUALLY WELL INSULATED CEILING

REROUTED PIPES, NOT GOING DIAGONAL ACROSS THE ROOM ANYMORE

LOADS OF PLUGS AND ELECTRICAL

 
AND THE BATHROOM HAS VENTILATION

Friday, November 09, 2012

RUE TIQUETONNE

 
When we walked around the first and second district of Paris today, we saw so many streets like this  RUE TIQUETONNE which  apparently is named after a baker in 1399. Just a few blocks away from major Boulevards where tourists would wander from famous sights to well laid traps and never see the backalleys and streets where local life in Paris is happening.
 
Lined with restaurants that seem smaller than the dining rooms of Mcmansions in the US. Funky shops selling it all, from fashion to art to spices, a couple of offices, basic Paris. Not that many tourists around which is too bad as they miss out. But then what can you accomplish in a week if you are wasting time strolling the backstreets of Paris.
 
When I see that many restaurants in one spot I want to eat. Reading menu after menu, it gets really hard to decide what to eat. Risotto with Cepes and Foie Gras. My choice for the day.  Sounds gluten free. But in my imagination only. This street is home to three(!) Thai restaurants which means one thing. Victoria wants a Thai fix. So much for my Foie Gras Risotto dreams.
We asked the spice shop owner which of the three places to pick and without blinking he told us Trois Elephants is the best. Right he is.
 
The staff seemed somewhat theatric, almost as if a group of Burlesque entertainers gave up their night job in Phuket and decided to run a restaurant in Paris.  The fuller the place got, the more they cranked it up. Interesting performance. 
 
The food stood out. All dishes were fresh and flavorful. Isabella's Curry and my Seafood soup were as good as any we have had at Lotus of Siam in Vegas.  And though we arrived early before the waitstaff peaked in their theatre antics, all dietary requests were followed without a hitch which by itself is the best recommendation you need to hear about.
 
So. When in Paris, try to make a wrong turn on purpose. You will find your own restaurant alley and youwill have your own story to tell.
 

 
 
BETTER THAN BAKER STREET

ONE TYPICAL PARISIAN STREET

LINED WITH UNIQUE RESTAURANTS

WAIT TILL YOU SEE THE MENU

ONE OF THREE THAI PLACES IN THIS STREET

COOL SPICE SHOP

SOUNDS TASTY

RISOTTO WITH CEPES AND FOIE GRAS. I NEED TO EAT THERE

BUT FOR FAMILY SAKE WE WENT THAI

A FINE THAI FISH SOUP

ISABELLA'S GREEN CURRY

ARE MANGOS EVER OUT OF SEASON IN EUROPE?

COCONUT WATER

Thursday, November 08, 2012

GLUTEN FREE PARIS



I had to look up my posts from June 2011, the last time our family visited Paris. Not a mention of Gluten Free food at all....that tells you something. Because it was just a couple of days, there was no time to seek out things, short of a decent Steak Frites, there was no safe gluten free bet when visiting this great city with 45 million international visitors.

Things have changed since.  Compared to Barcelona and Milan, Paris is still behind overall (try to find GF Pizza or Pasta at a regular Ristorante) but at least now there are two dedicated gluten free places to choose from. First to open  was Helmut Newcake in September of 2011 and more recently NOGLU opened their doors with a 100% gluten free menu. 
We ate at both and they are doing brisk business with locals and tourists alike. No review, too much typing, but I add a couple of links below for you to check out opinions and more pictures.

Victoria got talking to a couple of fellow Celiacs from Los Angeles and the Czech Republic at Newcake, which gave me the time to explore the immediate 'hood around Rue Bichat.
Right across the street is a Cafe with WiFi, so if you get yakking gluten free, send spouse over there for a coffee and surf the Ipad.

As we had more time in Paris this year, we actually looked and asked more than last time. We arrived early at Noglu (on Mondays they don't open until Noon), so when when we strolled the Boulevards around the area, surprise surprise, we found a Chipotle. Yes, right down the street. 
And all Celiacs know that besides their flour Tortillas all else is gluten free. Rejoice, safe fast food in Paris. They even had a corporate transplant from Austin on staff, David knew all about the issues.

Though nothing special when it comes to gluten free baking (every Hausfrau knows how to bake a meringue), I never had a Merveilleux before. But there is a shop in Passy that sell just that and only one flavor that was NOT gluten free.  We had a coffee flavored meringue and we are going back before we leave, that's how good it was. 

We also had  lunch at an Algerien place where you pick your own skewers of meat, from Turkey to Offal, bring it to the charcoal fired grill, sidestep the Couscous with Rice and you got yourself a great gluten free meal. Just check the price beforehand to avoid discussions afterwards that your skewer was twice the price because you too a big one.....

And then there are the other 40000 restaurants in town. Away from the tourist spots, owned and operated by husband and wife teams, some as small as 20 seats, you are bound to find good safe gluten free food.  
With a smile and an "Excuse moi", they will listen to your concerns about being safe and prepare a duck breast with potatoes for you in separate pans. Bring the Triumph dining card if you must, or  write down your own Google translated comments. 

 







NEWCAKE
http://etoileecrivain.blogspot.fr/2012/09/gluten-free-in-paris-helmut-newcake.html

NOGLU
http://foodintelligence.blogspot.fr/2012/10/connaissez-vous-noglu.html


RISOTTO

L'ADDITION @ NOGLU

PIZZA AT HELMUT NEWCAKE
http://www.yelp.com/biz/helmut-newcake-paris-2

IN DER NOT FRISST DER TEUFEL FLIEGEN.....

DAVID FROM AUSTIN KNEW ALL ABOUT GF

CUISINE ALGERIENNE

CHARCOAL GRILL

SUB WITH RICE INSTEAD OF COUSCOUS....

MERVEILLEUX

MY FIRST TIME EATING ONE OF THOSE.

SO MANY PLACES TO CHOOSE FROM

THE SMALLER THE BISTRO, THE BIGGER THE CHANCE OF GLUTEN FREE