Friday, November 30, 2012

Provence Vacation - Part 5 of 5

Back in September, Muschi and Paschi took us on vacation to the Luberon region of Provence.  Here are some pictures and my notes on our time there.  
We stay close to home.  In the morning, we visit the tasting room of one of the regions's candied fruit, or fruits confits, producers.  We have driven by this store several times, and I've been looking forward to sampling a regional product and buying a few gifts.  We try the different fruit and chocolate dipped confections and watch a video on the candying process.  It a sugary petrification: all the water in the fruit is replaced with a sugar solution, transforming the fruit into something that is relatively imperishable (part of why this fruit is used in fruitcake).   The art in the making candied fruit is in the careful modulation of the sugar concentration and gentle handling the fruit so that it retains something of its fresh appearance. The Apt fruit confits makers seem particularly concerned with presentation--they sells melons and and pineapples candied whole.   Fruits that lose color are dyed to keep them aesthetically appealing.

After trying a few of the samples (and looking at some price tags) the boys announce that they are unimpressed and are about to go into diabetic shock.   At some point, Don says, "you know what tastes like candied fruit, but is better and cheaper? Regular fruit!"

But I'm still under the spell of the fruits confits and would gladly continue tasting till my head floats off my shoulders from the sugar buzz.   The gift baskets with their jewel-like fruits nestled in frilly paper sleeves put me in mind of the winter holidays.  Here are the sugar plums that dance in children's heads!  "It's the history!" I insist. People may sing about having Christmas in July (Auntie Mame reference), but, for hundreds of years, the Provencal confiseurs have been engaged in the more pressing task of bringing July to Christmas! 

Finally, I settle on buying a small box of candied orange slices for friends and some candied cherries for a Christmas fruitcake.

After the store, we stop in Apt for a little more shopping.  I have my heart set on visiting a toy store that I'd found online.  I want to buy something for Loulou, who has yet to receive a birthday present from her parents, and something for our Godchildren, one of whom had a birthday at the begining of the month.  We find the store, but it has already closed for lunch.

We return to Le Rosier for an eclectic meal of cabbage, ravioli, and beef patties.  Then we have a dip in the pool.   Only Donnie has been brave enough to try the pool so far, as the weather has been brisk.  But now we all try it, with the exception of Louisa, who doesn't have a great track record with pools, especially cold ones.  She cries when she sees me jump in the water, as though she hadn't quite understood that the quivering blue surface was water and was something that her mother could disappear into.

After our quick dip, Muschi, Paschi, and I return to Apt to visit the toy store once again.  I buy two  sets of wooden farm figurines.  I'm happy to have found a simple wooden toy that both the babies and their older sibling might enjoy.  And they were made in France!

We return home, collect Donnie and Loulou, and head  to the Colorado Provencal restaurant, hoping to eat some wood oven pizzas like the ones Donnie and I had seen (and smelled) the evening before.  Naturally, the restaurant is completely booked.  We head home for leftovers.


We slowly, painfully, stuff the car full of our baggage, souvenirs and leftover food.   I have my feet wedged next to a soup tureen from the Rustrel brocante, and our bag of travel food and our breakfast fougasse on my lap.  I'm paying for my acquisitive ways.  I resolve to adopt a monk-like approach to material possessions and never buy anything ever again.

But then we stop at the Apt Market.  The Apt market is famous for its size and lively atmosphere.  Donnie decides to forgo the market and remain in the car with a sleeping Louisa. The market starts in the same parking lot where the producer's market was, but unlike the producers' market, the Saturday market spills into the city's narrow inner streets, taking up blocks and blocks of the old city.  We see perhaps a fourth of the market during our visit.  Mum buys a sweet ceramic bird whistle for Maria and some beautiful olive wood cutting boards.  We pose for pictures with a dried flowered bouquet and are scolded by the vendor for not first asking permission to take the pictures.   I buy a leopard print silk scarf that I think goes with my recently purchased rain mackintosh.

Tapenade and adorable ceramics for sale,

The illicit photo of Mami posing with the dried bouquet.
When we get back to the car, bubbling over our purchases, we learn that Louisa began screaming the moment we left the car, and Donnie tells me that while the scarf may go with my raincoat, it still looks like a dirty rag.  Well, you win some and you lose some--and it is silk.

On our trip home, we skirt around Avignon and stop at impressive Pont du Gard.

We can't stop for long at the aquaduct because it's beginning to rain and the wind is wipping up.  We return to the stuffed car and eat lunch.  The drive home takes us through pelting rain and traffic jams.  We listen to Radiolab and the NASA press conference following the landing of the Mars Rover.  We finally arrive in Orsay around 9 pm.  Before extricating ourselves from the debris in the back seat, Muschi and I put on our most world-weary faces and Donnie takes this picture.  It's supposed to remind us to be minimalists--no more stuff!

Looking at the pictures from the Apt Market, I wonder why I didn't buy any of those cute tapenade bowls--only three euros a piece!  They would have fit!


The day after our return, Paschi heads back to Charles De Gaulle for his trip home.  Muschi follows a few days later.   Donnie, the girls, and I get back into the routine of work and school in our little Paris suburb.

I've been trying to pin down what is my biggest take-away of the trip, and it comes to this:

We are a bunch of semi-itinerant knowledge workers (or dependents of knowledge workers), and as such, it's easy to forget man's connection with the place he lives--how the minerals in the dirt and the shape of the hills can determine history.  The Luberon's ochre cliffs,  castles, vineyards, and olive groves, all speak of this connection.  Man cultivates the land, and in turn his livelihood and culture are specific to where he lives.   The Luberon had the feeling of a land that is loved, and kept beautiful because of this fact.  Every place should be so cherished.  The place we call home is sacred ground.   

This vacation was also a wonderful family experience.  Different scenery, and the act of deliberately setting the time apart helps glue the memories. 

Thank you, dear Muschi, dear Paschi for this vacation! Thank you, dear Reader, for hanging in there with these posts.  I'd love to hear any travel tips or thoughts you might have.

Friday, November 23, 2012


A family is like a little ark; it's a micro-culture with its own way of doing things.  Like so many of the young families we know, we're working out what will become standard practice aboard our vessel--how to mark the seasons, how to find a rhythm for work and play, how to give reverence where it is due.   One thing our sojourn in France has taught us, is that we haven't quite worked out how to celebrate when we're on our own.  We missed Thanksgiving and Halloween in 2011. The lion costume was memorable, but this year's Halloween was still a little anemic solitary.   Given our track record, it felt like a triumph to sit down to turkey yesterday evening!

Our feast was simple by Thanksgiving standards, but  I'm happy to report that it turned out well--all the more tasty for being produced in a  windowless kitchen, with a toaster oven and a hotplate and less than three square feet of counter space--thank you very much!  It was first Thanksgiving meal that I've cooked, and since putting large cuts of meat into an oven and letting them alone for hours  is not normally how I cook, I was immensely grateful that it came out well.  I followed the basic plan laid out by this recipe.  The meat was succulent and fell right off the bone.  We had just two sides---sauteed zucchini and steamed beets.  I even improvised "cranberry sauce," using a jar of red berries, "airelles," that my mum bought during her time in France and never got around to using. I added sugar and vinegar to the airelles and it made a serviceable substitute.  I baked an apple pie for dessert.  The crust didn't come out quite as I would have liked, but I couldn't be more happy with the filling--the Braeburn apples had that excellent tartness and a firm bite that my mum trained me to appreciate in apple pie.

As a prelude to the dinner, Maria and I did a Thanksgiving craft.  I carved a feather stamp out of a piece of celeriac (a potato does just as well, but the celariac was more handy in the moment).  We stamped tailfeathers onto a piece of paper then added construction bodies and heads.   I think I enjoyed it more than Maria, but she humored me and the activity can go down as her introduction to using a stamp.

I had another Thanksgiving Day treat--a phone conversation with friends whom I haven't spoken to in quite a long time. The conversation gave a warmth to the rest of the day.  It's always so good rekindle a friendship--to find that affection and understanding remain intact  despite time and events.

Around 6:45, Donnie arrived home, bearing bread, wine, and chocolate eclairs.  The table was the laid and the girls installed in their highchairs. We said Grace, followed by listing things we are thankful for this year. 

We are so very blessed.  It is perhaps easiest to feel the truth of this when sitting in front of platters of food, on a table, which, for once, has nary a crumb on it, with a husband who has just brought home chocolate eclairs, and two round-cheeked girls with cleanish faces.  We are thankful for our marriage.  We are thankful for the two little fillies, who delight and challenge us.  We are thankful for our family, far across the ocean (and in Germany too!) and for friends both near and far.  We are thankful for Skype, email, Internet phone service, and digital pictures which help shorten the distance to our loved ones.  We are grateful for this home in France, with its many pleasures, its bright skies and hidden gardens, it's infuriating systems and sympathetic people.  We are thankful too, that we're looking homeward now, that fortune will bring us stateside by the end of the summer.  We are thankful for the Burgundy in our glasses, but also thankful that next year our sauce will be made from berries that grew in a New England bog.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Thank you so much for reading!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

{pretty, happy, funny, real} Tumeric Dyed Lion Costume


Maria's bedroom has a beautiful westward view.  This was the sunset this evening.

These were our dessert on All Saint's Day--tartes de macaron---jam tarts piled with almond macaron cookies and whipped cream.  We picked them up after Mass in Palaiseau.  Maria held the package on her lap during our rainy walk home, hence their battered appearance.  Despite being roughed up, they were still pretty (and yummy) enough to warrant a picture.


We managed Halloween costumes this year!  We missed it last year.

I give you, a civilized lion (she wears clothing) and a tiger cub.

The celebration of Halloween is rather spotty in France.  Our grocery store had one small shelf dedicated to fake cobwebs and costume accessories, but no jack-o-lantern pumpkins or trick-or-treat-friendly candy.  One town in our area that makes a point of having trick-or-treating, but my understanding is that most don't. You have to make an effort to find Halloween events.  If you go trick-or-treating, you have to expect that many people will be astonished by your appearance on their doorstep.

Last week, I asked Maria what she wanted to be, and she answered that she wanted to be a lion.  I suspected she just said "lion" because she was looking at a picture of a lion at that moment.  To my surprise, she persisted in her choice even after I suggested that she might be a flamingo, fairy, gypsy, princess or Winne the Pooh instead--all costumes that I thought would be easier to manage, given the limited materials we had on hand.

I was going to override her choice, but just before departing on his two week trip to the US, Donnie gave me a mandate: "Make that child a lion costume--spare no expense!"

With no car and no local craft stores, popping out to buy material wasn't an option.  We had some sheets and towels that might be sacrificed, but nothing in tan or yellow.  We didn't even have brown paper bags--one downside of everyone using eco-friendly totes.

But then we had curry for dinner.  Louisa has a habit of worming her left foot up onto her tray (always the left foot), and on this evening, her white sock soaked up some curry.  I rinsed it, but the color remained---Voila!  The perfect shade of tawny gold.

I sacrificed a white towel, and hand sewed a lion hood, tail, and paws.  I dyed them with tumeric.

Here are some great directions for dying cloth with tumeric.  I didn't follow them, because I didn't have enough vinegar on hand, and figured that a one-time-wear Halloween costume wouldn't need to be color fast.  I just simmered the costume in water with about a quarter cup of tumeric powder.

It would have been much better to have planned ahead and bought some vinegar because...


On Halloween morning, the costume was still damp from the dying.   I threw it in the dryer.  Of course, it coated the inside of the dryer with gold pigment.  We share this dryer with our landlord, so I went into panic cleaning mode.  Though the clean up wasn't difficult, we were sufficiently delayed that we didn't make our Halloween meetup

We celebrated Halloween by ourselves, going to the playground in Orsay,  We ate about three quarters of a pound of M&M's during the outing.  A sugar high is one Halloween experience that's easy to export.  The kids wore their costumes today to Skype with Meme and Grandpa.  Maybe we'll pull them out again for Carnival.  Even if though we didn't make the party, I at least got my photos.

round button chicken