Great place to visit: Southern California and the Central Coast

The Grover Beach coastline.

The Grover Beach coastline.

For our honeymoon, we decided to visit my home state over the winter holidays. Our road trip included stops in Universal Studios, Santa Barbara, the Grover Beach butterfly grove, Monterey and Carmel. While Los Angeles has its characteristic showbiz feel, the Pacific Highway takes you winding up a wild coast line that looks much the same as it did 30 or 40 years ago, minus a few McMansions. California has a little something for everyone whether you like the glitter and glamour of Hollywood or the natural beauty of the Central and North coast.
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There’s no place like back home after the holidays: 2013 in a nutshell

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After nearly a month away from home between visiting our families for the holidays and going on a belated honeymoon, I’m glad to be back in Toulouse. It’s also been nearly a month away from this blog and in the meantime I’ve been all over the state of California with my hubby without writing a single word about it here. We’ve seen a lot of really neat sights over the last few weeks and I hope to share them with you all soon.
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Our dirty Christmas apartment

Our Christmas decorations, did you really think I’d show how dirty the rest of our apartment is?

Our Christmas decorations, did you really think I’d show how dirty the rest of our apartment is?


With the holidays growing near, the rush is on to finish all our last minute work projects, which seem to spring up like mushrooms in the shade of vacation time, and prepare for the transatlantic journey back to California.
Since we never host Christmas, the apartment starts looking more and more haggard as the holiday season continues on. Right now, all the radiators are covered with damp clothes, as I try to dry laundry in a hurry before our plane leaves Tuesday. (For those who have never had the pleasure, a cast iron radiator is the poor man’s dryer.)
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Christmas gifts from Toulouse

The Nutcracker, Repetto store front.

The Nutcracker, Repetto store front.


My annual holiday visit to the states is almost here and it’s time to stock up holiday gifts for the family before heading back home.
After all, what is the point of living in France if you don’t bring back souvenirs? Christmas shopping is always a stressful time. After living in France for a few years, I’m starting to run out of good ideas for Frenchy things to get for the family. Foie gras, Mariage Frères tea, opinel knives and t-shirts from assorted regions are just a few examples from previous years.
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After the party food : le cake au jambon et olives de Marion

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Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, which means it won’t be long until your in-laws invade, leaving a trail of leftovers and havoc in their wake. A close friend of my husband’s gave him this easy-to-make recipe which will help you to take care of some of those 40 pounds of spiral-cut ham ripening in your refrigerator. This simple dish can also be served cut into bite-sized pieces as an hors d’oeuvre at holiday parties. I’ve conveniently translated the recipe into American units, but please let me know if you have any recommendations, since I’ve never tested the converted version.

A small note on the meaning of cake in French: a ‘cake’ is typically not sweet in France and corresponds to what Anglo-Saxons would call a loaf.

Ingredients :

4 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup white wine (use the already open stuff in the fridge)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
4 large slices of ham cut into cubes
1 large can pitted green olives
Large handful of shredded cheddar or gruyere

4 œufs
250g farine
1 verre vin blanc
1 verre huile d’olive
1 paquet de levure chimique
1 paquet de dès de jambon
200 g olives vertes dénoyautées
Poignée généreuse d’emmental
Une pincée sel et poivre

1)      Mix together oil, eggs and white wine.
2)      Mix together flour, baking powder, salt and pepper in a separate bowl.
3)      Add dry and wet ingredients together along with the olives, ham and cheese. Mix.
4)      Pour the batter into a buttered and floured cake or tart dish (around 8-10 in round). Sprinkle the top with shredded cheese.
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5)      Bake at 150°C/300°F for 30-40 minutes or until golden and toothpick comes out clean.

Our tiny tiny oven.

Our tiny tiny oven.

I hope you enjoy this recipe which is a classic of French parties (holiday or not). Let me know how it works out for you!

Si vous souhaitez les indications en Français, laissez un commentaire =).

How to Halloween in Europe

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In the United States, decorations for every holiday imaginable pop onto store shelves weeks or months ahead of the intended date. Towards the end of September, I’m already stalking the aisles of Target, ogling sparkly pumpkins and other Halloween goodies. I’m also the only person in my family to be able to stomach candy pumpkins. One of my favourite snacks is diet coke and candy corn. Yes, I am aware that this is not normal.

Being in France has put an abrupt end to many of my Halloween festivities. No more pound bags of Brach’s candy corn and candy pumpkins, no more miles of fake spider webs decorating my neighbour’s porch. Oh wait, we don’t have a porch anymore, we have a stoop.

Halloween is one my favourite American holidays, so it helps me to feel more connected to my roots to be celebrating it here. I’m also kind of proud of it as an American institution. Dressing up and visiting the neighbourhood is a great way to bring communities together. Watching scary movies and celebrating death is also a way to be less afraid of it.

Here’s a few ways that I try to celebrate Halloween in France while sharing it with my friends and co-workers:

1. Buy some squashes

What we would call a pumpkin (citrouille) in the States is usually defined under the more general term courge or squash in France. Whether buying courges or citrouilles, varieties here are usually grown for their taste and the quality of their flesh. That doesn’t mean they aren’t as festive and cute as their American cousins, but it does complicate carving a bit. A good compromise is to place a candle on or next to your pumpkin without cutting into it. You can use it for a delicious pumpkin soup or pumpkin pie afterwards.

2. Decorate even if you feel silly

Halloween decorations aren’t a big deal in France, so you might hesitate to put out your ghosts, pumpkins and fake spider webs. Don’t! Your friends and co-workers will be interested in your traditions and want to learn more about them. This is a great way to make friends and share something positive about American culture. What we’re most known for here in France is obesity and drink holders for litre-sized cokes. Help change that.

If you’re looking to dress up, Claire’s sells Halloween costumes in France. Yes, there are Claire’s in France. Not sure if that’s good or bad. Mostly weird.

3. Have a pot

The pot (pronounced po’) is a French term for a party that typically celebrates a major event in your life such as your arrival at a new workplace, your depart from your job, a thesis defence, a birth or a marriage. It normally refers to the party thrown for your co-workers during work hours to celebrate said event. Appetizers and drinks are served. They can be very elaborate involving foie gras and champagne or very simple with hard cider and chips or peanuts.

Why not throw a pot for Halloween? Plan on bringing treats like candies, American style apple cider or candied apples (pommes d’amour). This is a great way to have fun and make friends with your co-workers or fellow students.

4. Pumpkin pie (tarte)

If you’re throwing a pot, why not make a traditional pumpkin pie as well. Pumpkins are normally prepared in savoury dishes in France, so your French friends or co-workers will appreciate trying out new ways to eat pumpkin. Muffins are another American treat that the French really appreciate, think about making them with roasted pumpkin.

A small caution : French food tends to contain fewer spices than American treats. Adding too much cinnamon or nutmeg may offend French taste buds. Try increasing the quantity of butter and pumpkin instead.

Here’s a link to one of my favourite pumpkin pie recipes :
http://charlestonchow.blogspot.fr/2010/11/drunken-pumpkin-bourbon-tart.html

I’ve made it for a couple years in a row now and it’s a big hit with my family. Conversion to French measurements coming soon.

5. Watch scary movies with a friend

Sharing the motion picture culture of your home country is another way to feel a little more connected during the Halloween holiday. Drag Me to Hell (Jusqu’en Enfer) is one of my recent favourites. You also have timeless classics like the Exocist, Halloween or Psycho. Add popcorn for a uniquely American touch. Sometimes you can find the microwave version in the Anglo-Saxon section of your local grocery store next to the marmalade, marshmallows and ketchup flavoured chips from Canada.

Try to get your hands on subtitled (French) versions of the films you plan on watching. Your friends, who may have varying levels of English oral comprehension, will thank you. Dubbed versions, while usually not that bad, are still disappointing.

Until next time, Happy Halloween.