Archive for September, 2009

My new favorite breakfast snack

My new favorite breakfast snack

When D. and I visited Sweden this summer, one of my favorite parts was the huge breakfast buffet we had access to in our hotel. It probably wasn’t anything “fancy” by Swedish standards, but I loved the wide array of breads, cheese, spreads, yogurts, granolas, etc. we could chose from.

I think my favorite thing is how they eat cheese for breakfast. That’s just not really something we do much of the US. Maybe cream cheese, on a bagel, but that’s about it, right? Well, in Sweden, they would lay out plates of different hard cheese slices, different cream cheeses, yogurts, etc. along with cold cuts and sausage slices.

The breads  and rolls were very thick and heavy, full of seeds and whole grains – yet still soft. I loved it! (To be fair, I love American and Mexican breakfasts, too. You really can’t beat a big old omelet or a plate of chilaquiles with

Swedish "Krisprolls"
Swedish “Krisprolls”

tomatillo sauce — but those are only good when you’re eating a huge breakfast, probably on a weekend when you don’t have much to do. If you’re in a hurry, these bread-and-cheese-combos are much easier on the stomach!)

Anyhow,  imagine my happiness when I found, in our local grocery store, little bags of crunchy thick toast crisps that claim to be “from Sweden with Love!”

They’re made from whole grains, and they have no preservatives or chemicals in them.

They’re perfect topped with some cream cheese (In Sweden you can actually find Philadelphia cream cheese, it’s all over the place. Here in France, I had to figure out that “Fromage à tartiner” is pretty much the same thing) and then some jam or fresh chives.

So, each morning, I make a cup of coffee, pull out my Krisprolls, and eat one chive-and-cheese toast and two jam-and-cheese toasts. They’re hearty and delicious.

Now, if someone could just tell me where I can find those yummy square rolls I had in Sweden, and in Germany, that are chock-full of sunflower seeds, and all kinds of other grains and seeds, I would love it… I want a recipe!


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The chateau, from far back in the gardens

The chateau, from far back in the gardens

On Saturday night, D., me, and a few friends did something I’ve been wanting to do all summer — a candlelight visit to Vaux Le Vicomte, a château built in the 1600s that some say was the inspiration for the Versaille Palace.

The château was built by Nicolas Fouquet, a superintendent of finances for King Louis the XIV, and Fouquet had to demolish three small villages in order to create it. According to Good Old Trusty Wikipedia, “…the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of a new order: the magnificent manner that is associated with the “Louis XIV style” involving a system of collective work, which could be applied to the structure, its interiors and works of art and the creation of an entire landscape.”

Like many of these French castles, however, the place has an unhappy past. After the first huge party held here in 1681, the King became suspicious, eyeing the lavish displays of wealth as possible fraud. He accused Fouquet of stealing money from the treasury, arrested him, sentenced him to death, etc.

Anyhow, back to 2009.

The back of the chateau from the champagne bar

The back of the chateau from the champagne bar

Vaux le Vicomte offers candlelight visits each Saturday night during summer and fall. For 17 euros, you get admission the museum, the château, which is also lit by candlelight, and the lovely gardens. There’s a bar, complete with champagne, and you can sit in the gardens and drink or eat a light snack.
There is also supposed to be classical music played twice each night in the gardens, but we didn’t hear any on our visit, which was a shame.
Anyhow, it was really beautiful,  with the thousands of candles everywhere, and they let you stay to enjoy them until midnight.
The gardens go really far back – here’s a photo from almost the end of them, looking back at the château.


Also, during our tour of the château, we got to see the old kitchen. It was so huge, I made Deven take a quick snap:
The château's kitchen

The château's kitchen

Overall, I’d say that if you visit Paris, this would be a nice night-trip outside of the city. There are a lot of tour buses that can take you there, and it’s nice to see a bit of the countryside. We really enjoyed ourselves!

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I propose to you…

One thing you realize, once you start spending time with more and more non-Americans, is that you start to pick up vocabulary that just doesn’t make sense to your fellow countrymen-and-women. 

And then you start to get frustrated because, under the pressure of time, you can’t think of a different way of describing, exactly, what you are trying to say.

This first became noticable to me a few months after my husband and I met. Even though he always speaks English to me, when he talks about some topics (mostly food) he, for some reason, uses Hindi or Marathi words. And, since I mostly know these foods in connection with him, I do the same thing. So, for example, my grocery list will look something like this:

Tomatoes, Onions, Chana, Rice, Veggie Burgers, palmitos, spinach, pasta, jeera, cilantro.

Chana is just how I say “chickpeas” now, I can’t help it. Same with jeera (cumin seeds). And palmitos? That’s Spanish, from when I was in Argentina. I just can’t bring myself to call them “Hearts of palm”- maybe because its just so cumbersome.

None of this is a problem, except when I’m telling an American how to make something, and I use the words chana or jeera, and then I sound pretentious. I don’t mean to, I just can’t translate it in a split second, sometimes.

Another example?

 The word “timepass,” is used by Indians so much that D. recently saw a British newspaper’s article about the word  – Indians in London have made this phrase popular enough that ordinary Brits are using it, too.

It’s perfect for, example, describing a Bollywood flick — or one with Meg Ryan.

“How was the movie?”

“Oh, you know, it was funny enough. Timepass.”

Of course, this is the perfect way to describe a movie with Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock.

There are other Indian words I’ve picked up, too, and which we use in general conversation – bukwas is one of my favorites. It means “bullshit.”

” This stuff with the Republicans complaining about Obama’s speech to children is such bukwas!”

I’ve also noticed my English has become spotted with French words. Like “le vacance,” that French word meaning “vacation,” which is often used to describe the month of August, when most French workers choose to use up the majority of their 25+ vacation days.  Everything shuts down. It’s les vacances.

I use it in English.

“Well, August is a good time to be gone anyway, what with les vacances and all.”

Granted, you can probably figure that one out, even if you don’t speak French. But lately, my fellow expats and I have even started using phrases that make no sense at all to others. 

 Je vous propose… the French use it in menus, for the specials of the day, or when you might formally be offering an idea for a yoga class or dinner among colleagues. Je vous propose… and then we switch to English.

Je vous propose… a potluck dinner starting around 8 p.m. on Friday.”

And it starts to get even more confusing when we say it all in English.

“I propose that…we see the movie at 7 p.m.”

Who says that?

That sounds ridiculous if you live in America. In France, among English-speakers, it makes complete sense.

Of course, this sort of thing has been going on for centuries – look at the thousands of Spanish words that have roots in Arabic (aceituna, acelga, albahaca, almacén, jarra, loco, maquila…etc…). And all the Persian words that made their way into Hindi (how do you like ananas? This word means “pineapple” in Spanish, Arabic, Persian, Hindi…and tons of other languages. ) I’m sure they all started off as random words thrown into the middle of native speech, and they took off from there.

Or consider the Spanish words that have made their ways into everyday usage in the U.S.A. – like teenaged girls calling each other chica. Or how practically no one would mispronounce tortilla anymore.  Hybridizing languages just makes sense, especially in this age of globalization.

I recently read a book called “Sea of Poppies,” by Amitav Ghosh, and part of what I loved about it was that it showed this type of mixed language in the way its characters, who lived in colonial India, spoke.  The British characters in the book used a lot of Hindi-ized words (especially curses) and I thought it was really interesting that the author took the time to craft each character’s words as representative of how much Hindi they’d added to their English.

Just some khana for thought…

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I’m back!

After 8+ hours of nearly nonstop turbulence… I’m back in France.

I’m probably a very annoying person to sit next to on an airplane. I don’t sleep, I keep my light on all night to read, and  every time the plane hits a big bump, I freak out. As the turbulence gets worse, I progressively gasp, shift in my seat, grab the armrests, start sweating, getting shaky and, eventually, end up promising God that if he lets me live,  I will become a nun, even though I’m not Catholic.

Well, something like that.

This past flight was no exception. I sat next to an older German man who appeared to find this all very amusing.

I really WISH I could be a better flyer, but I haven’t found a way to change. In fact, my fear of flying seems to get worse each year. I think it all started out when I had a bad incident on an airplane over the Pacific Ocean at age ten. We were all sleeping at night on what seemed like a smooth flight, until the plane hit a huge air pocket. We dropped. Drinks went flying, people screamed, and I woke up to it. It wasn’t a big deal, but now, I can’t help but constantly be nervous, thinking that any minute, we could hit a huge air pocket.

If I drink enough wine on a flight, I’m usually more calm – but then I get a nasty headache and my jet lag is terrible, so I try not to overdo the booze on board.

Other than the turbulence, though, the flight was pretty decent. There were fun movies to watch (“The Proposal,” with Sandra Bullock, some French comedy that was quite funny, and “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” a cute Bollywood movie I saw in India earlier this year), and there were no annoying children around me, so I can’t complain (except about Air France’s terrible meal of boiled carrots and lima beans with white rice, but that’s another story).

Anyone else have problems flying? I don’t let it stop me from going places I want to visit, but I do wish I could find a way to just simmer down on these flights, especially when they get bumpy.

Ok, I’ve been up for 23.5 hours now without a wink of sleep – so time for a nap.

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Home of caustic strategists and sensationalist media.

I guess I’ve just been away from this junk for so long that I’ve become a little more sensitive to seeing it. I can’t believe how such a small number of right-wing nutjobs have cut such a wide swath of media airtime. I also can’t believe how they are getting under the liberals’ skins so badly that they are responding in intolerant and hateful ways themselves. 

The newest topic? Right-wing parents are mad that President Obama is addressing the nation’s schoolchildren in a televised address next week, when he will encourage them to stay in school and study hard.

I’m not even going to bother addressing this issue – it’s that ridiculous. Anyhow, I surmise these parents aren’t really upset about the address itself- they’re upset because they are part of the small, yet vocal, minority that believes,  somehow, Obama “stole” the election and is not our “legitimate” president.

However, that being said, how do the Democrats respond?

Do they respond to these folks with a well-reasoned argument about how this type of pro-education speech, which has been made by former presidents Reagan and Bush I, isn’t partisan, but simply promotes strong values and work ethics? No.

Instead, you can see how they respond, here:

Thanks, James Carville, for that politically astute argument. 

That’s right, for some reason, they respond with an attack on creationism. Umm…Wait, I’m sorry – what does creationism have to do with keeping your kids out of school? Did any of the angry parents mention anything about evolution? No, I didn’t think so.

Now, I believe if Obama had answered, his reply would have sounded quite different. Obama understands that offending people of faith isn’t a smart move – politically, or otherwise. He also understands that there are people, such as my own mother, who vote Democratic (and who volunteered for his campaign) who also happen to believe the world was created by God in seven days. I doubt he would find any reason to mock or alienate those voters. 

But I guess these “old school” Dems, like  Carville  –  the ones who have been around to watch, and perhaps contribute to, the Dems increasing loss of religious voters (the party’s share of evangelical voters dropped from 33%, when Bill Clinton ran, to 17% when John Kerry ran. It went up slightly to 24% for Obama) see no point in trying to maintain a decent dialogue with religious people. Especially after elections.

Which doesn’t make sense to me. I thought the Democrats had finally started to “get” religion.  This article from TIME Magazine chronicled how, during the last election, the Democratic primary candidates decided to engage religious audiences.

In fact, Carville’s remarks stand in stark contrast to Obama’s skillful diplomacy, both domestically and abroad, when he has frequently referenced God, and  Jesus, and  Allah.

Unfortunately, however, many of these Dem hotshots are so blinded by the idiocy and hatred being spewed by a small percentage of conservative Christians, that they’re reacting like nutjobs themselves. In the process, they’re  alienating more moderate Christians who would never think of keeping their kids home from school because the president is speaking – but who now hear Carville’s remarks and think they can’t get any respect from Dems.

So, the question is, if conservative Christians are going to attack Obama and pull their kids out of school for the day — why not respond to them on their own terms?

Why not bust out Romans 13:1,  which says that “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.”

Or how about Timothy 1:2, which tells Christians to pray, intercede and give thanks to God for “kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Or, perhaps 1 Peter 2:13-15, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

But perhaps Carville, like many liberal democrats I know, thinks that using such reasoning would be demeaning – that “stooping” to the Christian’s level would somehow be an affront to science, or a pandering nod to the irrational and superstitious.

Perhaps, they believe, acknowledging people’s religious beliefs would somehow lower them to an inferior intellectual standard.

That it would insult progressive, open-minded, American values.

But that’s a shame. Because blatantly insulting someones religious beliefs does that, too.

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