Friday, February 26, 2010

pumpkin pie

Time for another recipe! A few weeks ago, a friend of ours gave us a huge pumpkin/squash-type thing and we were able to make three dishes out of it: pumpkin soup, pumpkin and chorizo risotto, and pumpkin pie. This being France, pumpkin pie is not known here at all and so this was Jean-Marc's first taste ever! Here is the recipe that I used (half borrowed, half made up). As you can tell by the photo, it was so delicious that I forgot to take a picture of it before it was half-eaten.  Yum!

1 1/2 cups flour
pinch salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water

3 eggs
2 cups of pumpkin puree or a 15 oz. can of pure pumpin
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup (110 grams) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

For the crust, cut the butter into little chunks and mix it into the flour, salt (if using) and sugar with either a knife, pastry cutter or your fingers. Once the mixture resembles a coarse meal, mix in the vanilla extract and add water one tablespoon at a time. You may need more or less water, depending on the temperature and the weather, so add a little, mix a lot and then see if you need to add some more. Too much water will make the crust hard. Knead the dough until it holds together. More folding and smearing with your palms will create more of a flaky pastry. Set aside to rest. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (190 degrees C.)

On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a circle about an inch larger than your pie pan. Flip the dough into the pan and tuck in the edges. 
In a large bowl lightly whisk the eggs.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and place on a large baking pan to catch any spills.  Bake the pie for about 45 to 55 minutes or until the filling is set and the crust has browned (the center will still look wet).  Cool on a rack.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

audition in Paris

Even though I was rather sick this past week, my voice miraculously came back enough for me to go to my audition in Paris. I took the TGV, which takes about 1.5 hours from Angers, and had a couple of hours to kill before and after my audition. Since it was Sunday and most things were closed, I just ended up walking around and having a meal. It's still amazing for me when I think about the reality of being able to go to Paris for the day (and to be back by 5pm!).

My singing was ok and I felt relaxed and confident; it wasn't the best audition of my life, but certainly not the worst! The ensemble had a full week of auditions this week, so I'm not sure whether anything will come out of it for me. It was a good experience, though, and a nice warm-up for the bigger audition I have planned for the end of March.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

last names: part II

I have a Canadian friend who lives in France and she mentioned that it's best to just roll with the last name thing. Officially you keep your maiden name but sometimes they assume you have taken your husband's name. A little look on Wikipedia brought up this information:

"Since the 1789 Revolution, the law stipulates that "no one may use another name than that given on their birth certificate"; furthermore, the 1946 revision to the Constitution guarantees that "women and men have equal rights", including in the use of their birth name. Upon getting married, a woman keeps her maiden name (nom de jeune fille). She may, under her maiden name, for example, open a bank account, sign checks, obtain a passport, etc. However, marriage grants a married person the right to assume his or her spouse's last name. It is still a common practice for a woman to use her husband's name in this way, despite the fact that no official due process formalizes this usage. The majority of married women use their husband's name for all documents, official or not."

I personally think this is a confusing way to go about doing things and I'm not sure I agree with it. How do I prove who I am? I'm going to take the advice I was given and roll with it for a while (for now, anyway!).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

last names

Arriving in France as a married woman, I have come to the conclusion that France has a long way to go in its treatment of women and their decision to keep their own last name. In every instance, it is automatically assumed that I have taken Jean-Marc's last name, and it is proving to be inconvenient and confusing. Here are my experiences:

1. the bank
When setting up my bank account, the person insisted on putting Jean-Marc's last name as my last name and then said not to worry, that I would receive a bank card and cheque book with my own last name. She said that it was just a formality that was based on an old way of doing things. When my bank card arrived, it had Jean-Marc's last name and not mine. They needed to reorder the card. Just two days ago when I went to a different branch to make a deposit, I showed my cheque book and they were confused because the cheques had my last name, but the computer screen had Jean-Marc's name. When I write emails through my bank account to my branch, it doesn't have my correct name as the sender.

2. health insurance
We went to the insurance place together to get me set up with an account under Jean-Marc's card. They took my ID, photocopied it and we mentioned that my last name was different than Jean-Marc's. When I received my attestation in the mail, they got my name wrong. I needed to ask for a new one.

3. extended health insurance

4. immigration
When I arrived in France I had to send off a form to the immigration services to announce that I had arrived. There was a line for "maiden name" and "married name" that I was confused about. I didn't fill anything out in the "married name" line because I've kept my maiden name and I didn't want them to use a name that is incorrect. The people at the immigration session said that I would have no end of problems because the sticker that they put in my passport only had my maiden name and the married name was left blank; it means that everyone will think I'm not married and that could prove difficult when I need to renew my visa.

In all of these circumstances I have explained that all my ID has my maiden name because that is the name I have chosen to keep. If they issue me health cards, bank cards and immigration stickers with the wrong name, I think I'd be in even more trouble when it came time to prove who I am. I don't believe that it's impossible to change the computer system to accept a person's name as it is, without specifying married or maiden. Indeed, I am 100% sure that men don't have the same issues. If they can do it for men, they can do it for women. In Canada you give your last name - whatever you have decided to use - and then there is a line for maiden name, if applicable. I don't understand why France is so behind. Tomorrow I have a "civic education" day where we will discuss liberty, equality and fraternity. I might have a thing or two to add to the discussion of equality.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

getting sick

Well it was bound to happen sooner or later, and in my case it happened sooner. Jean-Marc was sick all last week and I thought that after a week of escaping whatever he had, I was home-free. To my shock and disappointment, I started feeling something coming on last Saturday and ended up spending the whole day in bed on Sunday. I taught two hours on Monday and by the time I got home I had little energy and barely any voice left. This morning was even worse, so I decided to go see the local doctor. He assessed the situation (strep throat, an ear infection and bronchitis) and prescribed a whack of stuff for me. Medication is covered by health insurance here (basic and extended) so I was able to go to the pharmacy and walk away without paying a cent. Here's what I got:

3 bottles of the equivalent of Tylenol (the doctor prescribed 6 bottles, but to be fair there are only 8 effervescent tabs in each bottle)
1 bottle of nose spray (the doctor prescribed 2)
1 bottle of ear drops
1 package of anti-inflammatories
2 packages of antibiotics

What struck me is how quick he was to prescribe all this. At home in Canada, since drugs are not covered by insurance, the antibiotics would have been prescribed but the rest probably would have been just a suggestion for over-the-counter products. I can see how France is the #1 consumer of prescription drugs in the world!

Then there was the uncomfortable situation of having to call in sick for tomorrow. I was scheduled for 8 hours of classes and there is no way I could have done that; my voice wouldn't have lasted one hour! In France, calling in sick involves needing a doctor's certificate that needs to be mailed in to both the employer and insurance company. If I were full-time, my first 3 days of being sick would not be paid (as a contract worker, when I don't work I don't get paid). I can see how this prevents people from calling in sick when they're not really sick, but it also encourages people to go into work sick. Who wants to lose three days' pay for a cold or the flu? So people go into work sick and make their co-workers sick and so on, and so on. That's how Jean-Marc got sick and that's how it came around to me. Of course I feel horrible calling in sick after just one month of work, but there is no way to change anything except to try and get better soon.

The biggest bummer of this episode is that I had an audition planned for Sunday in Paris. It's not the biggest audition I had planned, but it would've been a great ensemble to sing with part-time. I will see how it goes and I still may try to go, but I think it's unlikely.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

my job

I have been working for three weeks now and I was waiting to see how it would go before making any public observations. In all honesty, I was stressed and working like crazy the week before I started. I had three classes starting the same week and I had to prepare my classes without any textbooks and with very little knowledge about my students. The first week was difficult and I started to wonder if this job was viable; I am paid for 10 hours, but I was working 40 hours of unpaid time just to get prepared. Once I had my first classes, things fell into place.  It all came back to me and I actually enjoyed the experience, which was somewhat of a surprise for me! I find the teaching experience to be energizing and I have gotten my prep time into perspective. There are still a couple of hours of prep to do before each class, but it's much less than the first week.

I have three classes at the moment, with a fourth starting next week. Two of my current classes, as well as the one starting next week, are groups of two people and they all come from the same company. I'm teaching everyone, from the secretaries and the technicians to the administrative director. I have one other class that is with a retired British woman who is learning French. Yes, you heard it right - I'm teaching French in France!  I think my boss gave me this class because I am anglophone and I can relate things back to English, if needed.

So next week I'll be teaching 12 hours per week. It's still not a full-time job, but what's good about it is that most of my classes are in the late afternoon/early evening, meaning that I have most daytimes to get other things done. I have a couple of auditions coming up that I need to practise for, so I'm happy to have a bit of extra time to myself.

These classes are all contract work and so far I am committed until the end of March, with one class going until May, and I am still waiting to see how things progress before committing to more. If I decide to continue on, we will likely look for another place to live that is closer to the city.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

underground recycling

A favourite thing that isn't edible? I wasn't sure it was possible, but I ended up finding one. I have seen these recycling containers in many cities and villages around France and I think they're a great idea and a perfect solution to city recycling, where the apartment buildings don't necessarily have the room to house their own recycling containers. Essentially, these are underground bins with an above ground chute that can hold a lot of recyclables. When it comes time to empty them, trucks lift the whole bin out of the ground, unload them and then put them back. I think it's great because it doesn't take up a lot of room, they're not too ugly to look at, and they're handy enough to encourage people to actually use them.