impossible n’est pas francais

Last night, I saw a sign! Le sign!

H and I started talking, and at first, I was skeptical. He told me about his fiancée, how they are in love and want to start a family, how it is so beau l’amour (just like a movie, right?) How love is the best feeling in the world, etc. Do people really say these things? Men?? Out loud?? To a stranger?

He asked me about how I am faring in Verdun, and I expressed my frustrations in getting French people to open up to me. He let me in on a little secret, la code secret, au fait.

H told me that when French people meet a foreigner, they are automatically afraid. He told me I must briser la glace. Break the ice. You can’t be friends instantaneously. Of course, I thought I knew this, but maybe I have been too hasty. I want to fit in and find French friends so badly, I have not put myself in their shoes. Americans are used to hospitality, plus I am pretty outgoing, so it is out of my comfort zone to have to work so hard to meet people. I knew cracking the French code would be tricky, but as my friend told me, once you break in, French people are very loving. It does make me sad that Americans who come to France for vacation never see that side of the French.

Today, au marché, armed with new knowledge, I tested out H’s theory. The woman whom I bought a pumpkin from last week was there again, and she recognized me right away! She asked me how I was doing this week, if I am liking Verdun. I told her I am well, and I made a delicious risotto with the pumpkin she sold me. She beamed, and handed me a bag full of fall apples, opening the bag and switching the bruised ones for the best. “See you next week”, she said, as I trotted off, ducking me head to hide the giant grin sprawled across my face.

I know I will make friends here, no matter how difficult, because as H told me last night, impossible n’est pas francais.

‘rogi night

What do you get when you put two foodies on a limited budget with four hot plates in a small French kitchen?

Why, ‘Rogi night of course!

In an effort to show you my amazing cooking skills, (or maybe in hopes of become a famous food blogger so people will send me product samples? Jiffy? Chobani? Quaker Oats? Can you hear me?) I present to you, Pierogi night.

When C and I were stumped as to what to do with our leftover cabbage from borscht night (C lived in Ukraine this summer), we put on our thinking caps and came up with Pierogis. A traditional Polish meal, we decided it couldn’t be that hard and invited our starving English assistant friends over to join us.

What resulted was mass amounts of chewy, doughy, buttery, goodness. We stuffed our ‘rogis with both a cabbage carrot slaw and onion potato mixture, and served them with a side salad, of course, to balance out our plates.

To recreate this magical evening in the comfort of your home kitchen, il faut plusiers choses.

First, the dough.

We combined 3 cups of flour, some salt to taste, one egg, 2 tablespoons of crème fraiche, and about a ½ cup of lukewarm water in a mixing bowl. Then, my good friend L dove right in with her purple nail polish, until everything was well mixed and the dough was in the shape of a ball. While you let that sit for fifteen minutes, you can start working on the filling!

For the cabbage and carrot filling, C really outdid himself. He started by grating the cabbage and carrots into a pot, added some butter (he won’t tell me how much), and of course about a glass of dry white wine. Then he heated the little baby up on medium heat, until the cabbage and carrots were soft. Then you must season with salt and pepper! When the filling is just right, let it cool (we just opened a window and let the pot sit) so that the filling doesn’t melt the dough when you put it in.

For the potato filling, I boiled six potatoes, and started chopping the onions (Disclaimer: if there is one thing C and I love, it’s onions. If there is another thing we love, it’s garlic. A perfect seasoning match is a rare find, people. I’m convinced it’s fate).  I used lots of onions, but you can use as much as you would like. Heat up a skillet, add some butter, and add lots of garlic and onions, cooking until the onions are brown and soft. While this is happening, your potatoes should be simmering. When they are soft, drain them, add some butter, and mash them up. You can also add salt and pepper to taste, or parmesan cheese! We ended up with a garlicky, cheesy, delicious potato mixture.

Now, if you happen to have a rolling pin, you can use that to roll out your dough until it is about 1/16 of an inch thick. You can always use wine bottles, which work just as well. When that is done, cut the dough into 4 inch circles. Place a dollop of the filling in the middle of the circle, and fold over, pressing the edges shut. It is important that none of the filling is on the edges, otherwise the ‘rogi will not close and the filling will be everywhere instead of in the buttery pocket it’s supposed to be in!

The next step is to drop your ‘rogis, very carefully, into boiling water. After a few minutes, the ‘rogis will rise to the top. This is when they are done! If you happen to have an oven, you can use a slotted spoon to remove them, and put them on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees, adding a little drop of butter to the outside of each individual ‘rogi. If not, you can put them in a pan with butter like we did, so that the outside edges brown.

Serve with a healthy side salad! Top with a dollop of crème fraiche (sour cream will do), or a sprinkling of pepper and salt.

If you prepare the dough in advance, this really is a simple dinner to make, and it’s also  quite fun. We certainly enjoyed ‘rogi night, and are going to continue with the international theme as we host more dinners throughout the year. Right now, I am craving some fall chili! Next recipe to come?

Email me tales of ‘rogi adventures at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com or leave a comment!

sweet escape

So today, I almost ran off with a baby!

It all started off a normal day, our first real weekend in Verdun, and all we wanted to do was escape our little town. So, after studying the cryptic and frustrating time table for the trains, we were off to Nancy for the day for the jazz festival! We attended on a special day of the festival, poor person’s day. That’s right, all of the concerts today were free! Yay for us!

 

As we hopped on the train in Verdun, we thought all would go smoothly on our journey, only needing to make one stop in Jarny. Fools! Fools we were. After sitting on the quai and realizing the next train would not arrive for two hours to take us to Nancy (minor miscalculation on the time schedule) we decided to make the best of it and explore Conflans-Jarny. Let me just remind you that today is Sunday. Dimanche. Oh, I could rant to you about dimanche. On dimanche, nothing is open. No café, no supermarket, no pharmacie, no monoprix (France’s target), no nothing. The town was eerily quiet…

Well, we walk into a café that appears to be open, and what do we find? Ten old, creepy, dirty, smelly, old French men drinking beers at eleven am, and a BABY! This baby was no ordinary baby, she came running right up to me and demanded I pick her up! How could I not? Admist the urging of old men, I scooped that girl right up and gave her a hug. She was a gros bébé, according to the old men, 3 kilos and only 18 months old! We sat and played with her for almost two hours, as the creepy men watched us and called us zeee girls from zeee United States.

After a terrible parting with the baby – bartender father could not control her screams  – we were off to Nancy. Quelle belle ville! A beautiful fall day awaited us, as we met up with some other English-speaking assistants and got a tour of this beautiful city. The main area, place Stanislas, is absolutely exquisite. That day, they had an earth appreciation exposition going on. The whole place was filled with beautiful flowers, vegetables, and green sculpture! It was breathtaking. The concert was in Park de la Pépinière, and we strolled through the rose garden while munching on baguettes and crepes. We loved the band called Saxitude. They played everything from aux champs elysée to Thriller by the MJ! I have never seen French people so loose! And they weren’t even drinking! Everyone was jamming and having a good time. We didn’t even stick out as crazy Americans, all though we could sing along to the words of all the songs.

Babies, music, baguette, friends, is the definition of a bonne dimanche. What is your favorite thing to do on a Sunday? Leave a comment!

lifestyles of the rich and the famous

This post is so everyone can appreciate my new celebrity status in Verdun. Everywhere I go I am constantly chased by paprazzi, stares, whispers – “c’est l’américaine!!”. People leave glitter, candy, and flowers by my doorstep. I was recognized by the eveque of Verdun (bishop of Verdun) in a formal ceremony, and next week there will be a statue created in my exact likeliness. This weekend private cars will take me to meet Sarkozy, and there has been talk of reinstating the monarchy so I can become France’s next queen. I’m kind of a big deal.

 

You don’t believe me? Ask my students, who I can honestly say think I am the hottest thing since sliced baguette. I live in centre ville? C’est cool, ca. I drink skim milk? C’est top. (note usage of English to be trendy and impressive).

 

I have assembled a list of questions that my students have asked me during the past few weeks, which will give you a small idea of my popularity.

 

–          Do you have palm trees in your backyard?

–          Why do you speak French so well? (hysterical, roaring, nearly uncontrollable laughter followed from me)

–          Are you a real American??

–          Do you have any children?

–          Do you have Facebook?

–          Do you have a boyfriend?

–          Did you walk to France? Do you walk back and forth from Philadelphia to Verdun every night?

–          How do you say “je t’aime” in English? Me: I love you. (awkward pause). I love you Ms. Brenna!

–          Do you live in Miami bitch? (intention: Miami beach)

–          Do you like fast food?

–          How are you going to teach us English if you speak American?

 

This lifestyle can be tiring, so be sure to send warm wishes and chocolates to me at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com or by leaving a comment!

Verdun

After an emotional parting with Fifi (it was a love/hate relationship really), we dropped the car off in Metz and headed to Verdun. When I got into Verdun Monday night, I was a little bit worried. The town seemed dark and, for lack of a better word, ugly. But when I woke up on Friday morning, I realized I had nothing to worry about. I walked to work and passed by the bakeries, all along the river Meuse that runs through town. It is a small town for sure, but there are some really beautiful spots.

View from my bathroom window early one morning

A little bit about my apartment – I live in a Middle School. Yes, that’s right. You turn right after the nurses office, and there is the entrance to my flat. However, the building is old and beautiful (built in 1890), and I have a huge room with wooden floors and high ceilings. Yes, there are teenagers in the courtyard at lunch time, and they are in their mean stage. I have not had any run-ins with them yet. Although I have been confronted with teachers smoking in the corridor outside our entrance while I was in my zebra-striped pajama bottoms.

One cool thing about our town is that we are known for our beer! We have our own brewery here in Verdun, called l’Estaminet. There are also lots of tapist beers in the area. What is that you ask? Why, it’s beer brewed by monks living in France. One of our first nights here we went out to get a beer with our landlord, M. D, who has been an awesome friend and help to us as we are getting used to Verdun.

C and E drinking some local beer

College Buvignier Courtyard

Fall in Verdun has been surprisingly beautiful! Today I ran along the river and relaxed as the colorful trees urged me on. Really, outside of our town is nothing but cows, goats, and farms. I cannot wait to explore more.

Have you ever left a big city to move to rural France? Leave me a comment or email me at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com

brost!

So…Oktoberfest. Let’s start off by introducing you to FiFi, our rental car. A white Fiat with the heart of a lion but the speed of a turtle, she was with us through the good times and the bad. We rented her in Paris, with the hopes of renting a GPS, or as the Germans say, a “navi”. Unfortunately, they did not have any more navis and we were forced to use our own senses of direction, which didn’t get us very far. Kids today are so spoiled. Luckily Di installed googlemaps to her berry so we wrote down the directions and off we went!

 

The scenery was very beautiful, as we passed Champagne, Meuse, Moselle, Karlsrue, Stuttgart, and eventually Munchen! Munich is a very romantic city. There were huge buildings that reminded me of castles, with flowers sprawling out of the windows. When we were walking around at night there was a string band playing classical German music. It felt like we were walking around a giant music box. Some parts look very industrial, but if I ever go back I will definitely tour the castles outside of Munich.

Oktoberfest was amazing! We took the train into town from our bed and breakfast, which was in a more residential, quiet area of Munich. We stayed with an older German couple who gave us café crème and delicious cakes in the morning. On the way to the festival, there were lots of Germans on the train in traditional costume. They were sporting grey woolen socks pulled up over their knees and tucked into their brown shorts. The material of these shorts are unknown, but it seems to be a little bit like leather? These pants were held up by suspenders, the icing on the cake. The girls had much more conservative outfits on compared to the short-skirt-corset-push-up-bra Halloween costumes I have seen in the States. Read: longer skirts, less boob. We were ushered to Oktoberfest and, naturally, right away bought a huge pretzel, which apparently is a traditional snack food in Munich. They were delicious! We walked around for a little before choosing which tent to go to. There were roller coasters, beautiful horses decorated with the colors of each beer tent, smells of sausages everywhere, and cheery Germans hopping about!

Hippodrome, our favorite tent. You can see your friendly old lady neighbor!

As we went to each beer tent, we met more and more interesting people from all over the world. The first tent we hung with Germans for a few hours. They taught us about German cars (one of them was an automotive engineering) and the different traditions of Oktoberfest. Mainly, the hundreds of drinking songs, in which you have to look your partner in the eye and say, “brost!”.

The best part about Oktoberfest was that there were people of all different ages and cultures relaxing and having a good time. At one table, we were sitting next to two German ladies who looked about seventy years old! They were singing along to the songs and laughing at the tourists who were loving life.

THE delicious pretzel

Overall, the beer and food were cheap (for a tourist-filled city). We ate lots of pork (knuckle, potatoes, and cabbage. Everything was delicious. The last night we went to a restaurant that makes its own beer, and we got a yummy wheat beer that I had never heard of before going to Munich. I highly recommend a trip to Oktoberfest and Munich! It’s a carb-lovers heaven…oh wait…so is France…mwahaha.

How you ever been to a festival dedicated to drinking beer? Leave a comment or email me at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com

to pack…or not to pack.

it is eleven twenty. i leave tomorrow. i have not started packing.

Why why why!!! do I do this to myself. How am I supposed to cram nine months worth of things into two tiny suitcases, each weighing under fifty pounds!?!? doesn’t british airways know anything about French fashion? My mother keeps telling me that I need to wear half of my wardrobe with me…on the plane.  At first this seemed unreasonable. Now I think it is genius. I am trying to figure out a way to wear not only one pair, but two pairs of boots simultaneously. Ideas ?

What I am NOT packing, listed from most depressing down.

1. My flavia. A delightful and practical gift given to me by my best friend’s parents, this coffee machine gives me daily morning joy as I rush out of bed to brew a fresh cup of capaccino, french vanilla, or columbia coffee. My sanity.

2. My television with American TV. GLEEKS everywhere, I am missing the Britney Spears episode next week! HELP!

3. all of my fabulous short-sleeved, colorful, happy, clothing. goodbye, sweet warm temperatures. hello, frigid verdun. average daily temperature of…freezing. Also, goodbye to my sweatpants, yoga clothes, and t-shirts. If I wore you in France I would be excommunicated.

4. My books. Since I most likely will not have television and internet, I would love to bring a big old stack of reading to catch up on. However, books weigh too much, and I have already packed Goodnight Moon and If you Give A Moose A Muffin for my kiddies to read!

Do you have any book recommendations? have you ever experienced a packing nightmare!? email me at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com