Thursday, December 23, 2010

a crafty christmas

It all started a couple of days ago, when I happened to pick up an old - and only - copy I have of Martha Stewart Living (November 2001, to be exact). I have always hung on to this magazine because it has a number of good recipes for Thanksgiving and for various biscuits (baking powder, buttermilk etc.). Jean-Marc came home for lunch that day, saw the open magazine, and asked me about it. I explained what it was and showed him the nice article on chestnuts (and many chestnut recipes) and he was impressed. I honestly haven't given Ms Stewart much thought in the past 8 years, but I thought I'd check out her website. I went through a number of recipes and saved a few to make later and then I went to the craft page. The ideas for homemade soaps got me thinking about making bath products and that was enough to send me out of the house and down to the local craft supply store.

I bought some bulk glycerin and then I discovered a nearby baking supply warehouse that is open to the public. I carefully went through each aisle  and ended up buying some cardboard boxes to package Christmas baking in (as gifts), as well as some bulk pecans and walnuts to go in said baking. Yesterday I set out to make soap, reading up about what I could add to the clear glycerin to make it look and smell nice. In the end I had enough glycerin to make four kinds of soaps: mandarin, honey oatmeal, bergamot tangerine cinnamon clove and mandarin cinnamon. I just used my muffin tins as moulds and learned that once the soap had set, twenty minutes in the freezer would be enough for them to come out fairly easily. I then packaged them in sets of four to give away as gifts.

In the meantime I also wanted to start on my holiday baking. I made ginger snaps to give away, and in preparation for the pumpkin cheesecake I'm making for Christmas, and I made cranberry pecan shortbread and almond pepper biscotti. I will package up the three sorts of cookies in the boxes I got the other day and they will be, along with the soap, our gifts for the adults this year. It's fun getting crafty at home and it's something I'd like to have the luxury to be able to do more often!

Monday, December 20, 2010

the 12-hour lunch

Last January, we had a 9-hour dinner with friends to celebrate Christmas together. This year we had a lunch instead and it ended up lasting 12 hours. We were invited to arrive at noon, and soon after arriving we were served apéritifs with various hors d'oeuvres, including mini-quiches and pâté en croûte. After a good while, we were invited to sit down around the table and we were served oysters with a shallot vinaigrette, accompanied by white wine. Next up there was a salad with crispy lardons and a seafood terrine. Afterwards, we started to play "blind test" where the host played a few seconds of songs and we had to guess the artist and the title. Luckily for me the host happens to like English music, so I was able to participate. The main dish was roasted duck thighs with garlicky fried potatoes and green beans. By this time we were on to the red wine and it was all very delicious. After the cheese course, and another round of "blind test" we got around to dessert with champagne. The host had purchased omelettes norvégiennes, which are a sort of ice cream cake that is is flambéd before being served. I think we finished dessert around 6pm, at which time coffee was served and we helped ourselves to chocolates and mandarin oranges. I kind of expected that things would wrap up, but no! Everybody continued eating chocolates and some started drinking beer. Somehow time flew by and then the host appeared with apéritifs, charcuterie and cheese. Round Two! Thankfully there were no further meals planned, because I was still full from the first one. After apéritifs with snacks, the wine came out again (I had been drinking only 1/2 glasses and was drinking solely water since dessert). Yet more chocolates and coffee and tea for some, with wine and beer for others, until midnight, when everybody decided it was time to pack it in. Jean-Marc and I ended up winning the blind test and we won a CD that was mixed by the host. I don't think I've ever sat around a table for so long, but I think that everybody else there thought it was perfectly normal. It was a great time with friends and their kids.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

la paperasse (or, paperwork)

I almost laughed out loud the other day when I was driving to the two different préfectures to change my address. I was listening to the radio and an announcement came on saying that we should try to avoid printing paper unnecessarily in order to be more respectful of the environment. Why I found this amusing was because in my bag I had two sets of photocopies of my ID, my proof of address, my récépissé (receipt) for my carte de séjour and my car registration. Not only that, but I was driving 15km each way just to officially change my address. So ecological! The authorities - banks included -  are generally not keen on changing addresses without all these things and they won't just take your word for it (unlike my banks in Canada who are more than happy to change my address over the phone). Changing my car registration apparently could have been done by mail, but reading about it made it seem more complicated than just driving the 30 km roundtrip and doing it in person.

After taking care of my car registration I went to the foreign services part of the préfecture to do the same thing for my carte de séjour, which I have been waiting for since the beginning of September. I had called ahead of time to see how I could best advise them of the change of address. They said I should just drop off my papers at the reception desk and that I didn't need to wait in the line (which is usually about 50 people long). When I arrived, the man at reception asked what I was there for. I explained and he immediately gave me a number and told me to join the line. I stood my ground and said that I had already called and that I was told it was possible to just drop off the papers for Mme D, the person in charge of my file. He said no, I explained further, he said no, I continued on, he said no, I countered, saying that I didn't have the time to wait in the long line, and then he said OK. I have learned that in France, when the first response is "it is not possible" it is usually possible if you argue enough. This reaction at reception didn't surprise me, but the manner with which he spoke to me did. I have been to this office many times and each time I have witnessed the worst personal relations I have ever seen. It is filled with disdain, rudeness and superiority, and absolutely no empathy for the many foreigners who are just trying to get their paperwork in order. Could it be that they are not eager to help foreigners settle in their land? No, surely not. At times like those I consider myself lucky to not be a visible minority and to be able to speak French. I know that it's much worse for others.

In fairness to the French authorities, I did find an online government site where I was able to change my address for my health care and taxes without all the paperasse that is normally required and I think this is a sign of good things to come. Of course if we print less paper, that might mean that there will be fewer fonctionnaire jobs for people whose job it is to deal with all these files. Hmmm... this could take a while to catch on.