life’s funny timings

I woke up around eight am, jumped out of my bed and into the cold, and set the kettle to brew some Saturday morning coffee. I was leaving Verdun for the day! Or so I thought. I couldn’t help pushing C out the door, I was just so excited to visit Metz! But, much to my dismay, I arrived at the train station and alas, there were no trains to Metz because of the strikes. Foiled again! Those persistent compatriots have really got it in for us!

Yet for some reason, I was more than disappointed about this particular snafu in my weekend plan. Sometimes it’s a weird trigger that reminds you, hey toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Except I wanted to take my sparkle-y red heels and chuck them at the ticket agent’s face.

Even when C bought my favorite, pain au chocolat, I could not get out of my funk. Even worse was a particularly upsetting phone call “reminding me” of my part-time work constrictions under my visa status. As I ran along the Meuse, watching the rowers glide through the water, a sadness came over me that can only be understood by fellow expats, that question inside of me doubting my own abilities (despite all the encouragement of family and friends). I hated my own negativity.

This morning, I woke up, a little less energetic, to brew my Sunday morning coffee. I trekked up the big hill to the Cathedral, in an attempt to bring myself to the one place that is constant no matter where in the world I am. During mass in the elegant, dignified, old crypt church, I watched as children played jokes during the sign of peace, smacking each other on the back and getting scolded by their parents. Ah…there’s no place like home.

I spotted one of my little students, D, after mass, and went to say hello to her. Her eyes lit up when she saw me – a teacher outside of school? – and I nodded a Bonne Dimanche to her mother. When I headed to pick up a baguette after mass, D’s mother saw me and asked me to lunch at her house. Even as my jaw dropped (has a stranger really just invited me into their home? In France?), I joyfully jumped into the car.

D’s parents introduced me to each little smiling, beautiful, daughter – five in total – as we headed to their house. I slowly took off my shoes and followed the sounds of giggling girls up the stairs, the smell of pot roast simmering in the oven. D’s dad a militaire, he took out a map and taught me a little about the history of Verdun, and soon we settled down to a deliciously French lunch. Homemade terrine de campagne with fresh baguette, boiled potatoes with pot roast and mustard, a fabulous cheese plate with a side of Merlot, yogurt, fruit, and of course, café. As the sun beamed in from the windows, we sat in the salon as I watched the girls color and play with their loving parents. D’s family offered more than a delectable and blissful Sunday afternoon. Their kind gesture to invite me into their home completely changed my outlook, and as I walked home I saw Verdun in a completely new (shiny) light. I am constantly amazed by life’s funny timings, by the fact that everything happens for a reason. As my friend L tells me, ca va aller, it will be alright. Thanks to my experience today, for once I can finally listen to her.

paella party

Sometimes, when you wake up in the morning and you can see your breath, you just need a little spice.

Cue Thursday night dinner club. You are all wecome to join, although you must bring wine. C and I were hosting this week. On the menu? Stuffed mushrooms, baby tortillas, paella, and rice pudding.

It all started off innocently;  C and I sipping tea, chopping onions, peppers, and sausage, peacefully browning the chicken thighs. Little did we know what was in store for us.

We lit some candles and played some Ray Charles, eager to relax in the warmth of our apartment, enjoying the smell of our simmering paella. Our guests slowly trailed in, leaving the frost behind them. We chatted about our students, traded ideas about our upcoming vacation, and grumbled about the train schedule, (as usual). But when the mushrooms and baby tortillas arrived, along with L and A, the ambiance changed. The spicy salsa fresca and the creamy guacamole fait à la main triggered something a little crazy in each of us.

Then, came the paella. It was creamy, it was spicy, and it was delicious. It had mussels and clams and scallops and chicken and shrimp. Each and every grain of rice was scraped from each and every plate. And just when we thought we couldn’t eat a drop more…

The rice pudding came out. And that really did us in.

Suddenly French rap came on the playlist. Ponytails were let down, bottles were cracked. Confessions were made. Secrets were told. Things happened that we cannot take back.

I advise you to make this paella tonight. But please do be careful – your wild side may surprise you…


(adapted from BBC food recipes)

  • 170g/6oz spicy sausage, cut into thin slices
  • 110g/4oz lardons (pancetta), cut into small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 tsp soft thyme leaves
  • ¼ tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 570ml/1pint paella rice
  • 125ml/4fl oz dry white wine
  • 1.2 litres/2 pints chicken stock
  • 2 chicken thighs, each chopped in half and browned
  • 1 bag of frozen seafood (mussels, clams, scallops, squid)
  • 110g/4oz canned peas
  • 1 can of tomato purée
  • 125ml/4fl oz good olive oil
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 5 tbsp chopped flatleaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat half the olive oil in a paella dish or heavy-based saucepan. Add the chorizo and pancetta and fry until crisp. Add the garlic, onion and pepper and heat until softened. Add the thyme, chilli flakes and Spanish rice, and stir until all the grains of rice are nicely coated and glossy. Now add the paprika and dry white wine and when it is bubbling, pour in the hot chicken stock, add the chicken thighs and cook for 5-10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil with the garlic cloves in a separate pan and add the seafood. Sprinkle in the peas and chopped tomatoes and continue to cook gently for another 10 minutes. Now add the seafood to the paella. Serve immediately.

epic kitchen fails

I had many culinary trials this week. Because I do not work forty hours a week (in fact I work much less than that! mwaha), I am able to spend more time than usual cooking. I am loving it! However, I have made some horrible mistakes in la cuisine. Most tragic was spicy chili, which ended up being very spicy and very dry (I am attributing this to a lack of canned beans and canned chilis in France, which led to an awful experience at the supermarket, entailing me mimicking post-spicy-chili consumation…le sigh).

Even though I had epic kitchen fails, C did not. He whipped up some delicious borscht, and also apples baked in Calvados (apple liquor) with buttered cabbage and white sausage. Yummm! Nothing could get us down. Even when our light went out in the kitchen, C and I still managed to eat by romantic candlelight*. You should try it! We ate for hours, dunking our baguettes into our steamy soup. Of course, we finished with our newest love, Chaource. A cheese from Troyes, it has stolen our  hearts with delicate and creamy deliciousness. At least we know where our priorities lie…

*I realize this seems like we’re dating. We’re not. We’re just two roomates who share a love for food, french, and witty banter.

au marché

I love the marché. I love watching little old French ladies small talk with their favorite fermier. I love gouter, tasting cheese and saucissons and pineapple. I love walking around with a baguette hanging out of my purse, even if the end part is missing. I love the hustle and bustle of people, couples and babies and dogs, all socializing and doing the bise. I love unpacking my panier, filled with apples, pumpkins, and potatoes.

Fall is here in France…and chez vous?

la grève

The inevitable has happened. I have experienced a grève, or strike. French people taking to the streets, to express their distaste for  political change, or lackthereof. This one refers to la retraite. In France, Sarkozy has changed the age of retirement from 60 to 62. This has caused French people to stop working and complain, leaving me isolated in Verdun for the weekend with no outgoing trains. It has also lead to a series of ranting French students outside my window. Students are worried that by keeping employees on the payroll for longer will take away from their job opportunities. Not only has this effected my weekend, but also some of my classes have been cancelled – I have not even met some of my students yet because of the grève!

All I can say is, the greve is the culture of France. It is normal to take to the streets and skip work. I must learn to embrace it if I want to fit in here for the next 9 months…or maybe just buy some earplugs and a moped.