Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

If Les Sables d'Olonne say so, it must be true...


Saturday, June 27, 2009

I'm really liking this song right now:

It's called "Comme des Enfants" by a Quebecoise named Béatrice Martin. I just bought the entire album, entitled "Coeur de Pirate" - both and offering select albums for only 2.99€. For that price, there's no need to think twice about downloading legally!

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

As I listened to Crystal read a text message from her husband the other day, I started thinking again about the differences between terms of affection in French and English (or at least in American English). Besides all the lovely-dovey ones (mon coeur, mon amour, ma chérie, etc), the French ones mostly tend to come from the animal Kingdom. You've got things like:
-ma puce (my flea)
-mon chat (my cat)
-ma poule (my chicken)
-ma biche (my doe)
-mon canard (my duck)
-ma crevette (my shrimp)

None of them seem particularly endearing to me, but hey, to each his own. Even Fab used to call me "mon lapin" (my rabbit) or "lapinou" (bunny) which I hated at first but then really grew on me over time.

The American ones however are usually food-related:
-sweetie pie
-sugar puff

Any psychoanalysts out there want to speculate what that says about our two countries?


Monday, June 22, 2009

I've been calling my mother every Sunday night at 9pm for probably the past ten years. A couple weekends back when I was Normandy, I lost track of the day, as you often do when you're on vacation, and forgot to call. What followed was a series of increasingly frantic emails on her part, wondering where on Earth I was. It started off with "Samantha, it's after 9, are you going to call?" to "It's getting late now...just wondering where you are..." to "What's going on? Has something happened??" etc etc. My poor mother, being the uber-worrier that she is, didn't sleep a wink that night.

When I finally talked to her the next day, I got a five-minute long lecture about how important it is for me to keep in touch with her, and how I need to give her the email address & phone number of one of my friends here. But she makes a good point - before, if anything happened, Fabrice would've told her immediately. But now that I'm single - who would inform her in case of an accident (or worse)? With the way my job is and how much I travel, I could easily be gone a week or even two before anyone would even know something was wrong. Though thanks to social media, I would hope some of you would notice the lack of posting on here, FB, etc. But even then - how would anyone be able to contact my family since none of my family & friends from back home even know about the existence of this blog?

Which reminds me of another interesting topic that came up in conversation lately - what happens to all of these various accounts we have when we die? Your Facebook/myspace page, Twitter, email accounts, etc. It's kind of eery to think about continuing on virtually even after you're no longer here. People could keep emailing you or posting on your wall and have no clue - they'd just think you were a jerk for not ever writing back.

I did some searching around online and found out that Facebook recently came up with a "deceased" notification form, which allows you to contact them in the case of a death of someone on your list. Their page will stay active, but will be visible only to friends and will no longer show up in searches, making it essentially a virtual memorial. Kinda cool, huh? Imagine if back in 2003, someone had told the inventors of Facebook that they would one day need a page for deceased people - I imagine it's a similar reaction to what I would've had if someone would've told me I'd still be living in France in 2009. Still, it's interesting to think about how all of these new social media and social networking sites are changing the way we keep track of people from the cradle to the grave.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yesterday I got up early, rolled up my sleeves and set about to make something special for my last Finnish class. I decided on pulla for several reasons - we'd talked about it in class and many of my classmates had never tasted it, it was a recipe I was familiar with and it also reminds me of my dear grandmother.
For the non-Finns out there, pulla is a cardamom-flavored sweet bread and you can find several different versions of it in the various Scandinavian countries. My grandma always has a loaf or two on hand during our visits, and it is delicious with your morning cup of coffee/tea or as a mid-afternoon snack.

The recipe I used comes from Beatrice Ojakangas, an acquaintance in Minnesota and one of the best Scandinavian chefs in the area. She's written several different cookbooks, mostly variations on the Finnish/Scandinavian baking theme - you can see a list of her books here.

Pulla Recipe: (I halved it - otherwise that's a lot of bread for one person!)

1 package active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

2 cups mik, scalded and cooled to lukewarm

1 cup (or less) sugar

1 teaspoon salt

7-8 whole cardamom pods, seeded and crushed (or 2-3 tsps ground)

4 eggs, beaten

8-9 cups sifted white flour

1/2 cup melted butter


1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup chopped or sliced almonds (optional)

1/2 cup crushed lump sugar (optional)

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Stir in the milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and enough flour to make a batter (about 2 cups). Beat until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add about 3 cups of the flour and beat well; the dough should be quite smooth and glossy in appearance. Add the melted butter and stir in well. Beat again until the dough looks glossy. Stir in the remaining flour until a stiff dough forms.

Turn out onto a lightly floured board and cover with an inverted mixing bowl. Let the dough rest 15 minutes. Knead until smooth and satiny. Place in a lightly greased mixing bowl, turn the dough to grease the top, cover lightly, and let rise in a warm place (about 85 degrees) until doubled in bulk (about 2 hours). Punch down and let rise again until almost doubled (about 30-45 minutes).

Turn out again onto a slightly floured board, divide into 3 parts, then divide each of these parts into 3. Shape each into a strip about 16 inches long by rolling the dough between the palms and the board. Braid the 3 strips together into a straight loaf, pinch the ends together, and tuck under. Repeat for the second and third loaves. Lift the braids onto lightly greased baking sheets. Let rise for about 20 minutes (the braids should be puffy but not doubled in size).

Glaze the loaves by brushing with the beaten egg, and if you wish, sprinkle with the crushed sugar and the almonds.

Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees) 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overbake or the loaves will be too dry. Remove from the oven when a light golden-brown. Makes 3 braids. Slice to serve.

Variation: Sometimes for special occasions, my grandma will drizzle powdered-sugar icing over the top of it all once the loaves have cooled.

Instead of making the third loaf, I decided to roll it out and make some korvapuusti. Korvapuusti is sort of like the Finnish version of a cinnamon roll - you use the pulla dough, roll it out, spread it with butter, cinnamon & sugar and then roll it back up and slice it. Press down in the middle so that the sides smoosh out, let them rise a bit more and then pop them in the oven.

I'd never made it before, but it sounded simple enough, so I decided to give it a shot. Until I realized I couldn't find my rolling pin. I searched high and low for it (and really, where could it go in my shoe-box of an apartment?), but it was nowhere to be found. So I improvised instead with an unopened bottle of hairspray. I'm getting to be quite the expert at finding second-uses for everyday household objects, non?

This is how they turned out - they're slightly over-cooked because I didn't realize they would bake so fast - these were in the oven for less than 10 minutes.

They turned out okay, but I probably won't make them again - nothing can ever compare to the ones I used to buy from the grocery store in the shopping center below the Helsinki train station!


Friday, June 19, 2009

A website I first heard about several months back is finally up and running! It's called My American Market and is targeted towards American (duh) expats living in France. It's run by a French woman named Anne-Claire who spent several years in the US and is now back in France.

I spent some time looking around the website and the prices are pretty reasonable for most things. I mean, who wouldn't pay 2.59€ for a box of Mac & Cheese? Or 1.69€ for Reese's PB cups or Reese's Pieces. The only thing that I'd really love to see is more Mexican stuff - like canned Black beans or taco seasoning - take note Anne-Claire! ;)

Plus if you blog about it, you will be entered in a drawing to win a 40 € gift basket - click here for more information.

My American Market:

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- Tired of bringing back heavy suitcases from your trip to the US?

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reason #541 I stay in my crappy apartment

Because this is the view I have while brushing my teeth every night:

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In just a few minutes, I'll be leaving for an appointment at a local Eye clinic. I'm meeting with a surgeon to get more information about LASIK vision correction. Those of you who followed my old blog will remember that I had already scheduled the procedure once for last June, but then I ended up canceling it because I was worried about going through the operation alone. (I had images of being alone in my tiny chambre de bonne and having something go horribly wrong and no one to call).

A year later though, I'm feeling much more comfortable in my surroundings and I'm ready to start the process again. I'm planning on visiting at least two different clinics, to see which one I get a better feel from, but I've got high hopes for my appointment today. It's a clinic that my original surgeon has ties with, and they use the latest laser technology. They also happen to be just a five minute walk from where I live, which is reassuring in the case of complications.

I'm sure I'll have a bit of sticker shock since it's Paris, but hey - your eyes aren't really something you want to go the cheap/discount route on.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Les Médiévales de Provins

Yesterday, I took advantage of the (semi) nice weather to head down to Provins, a small medieval town located 77km southwest of Paris. I'd been wanting to go there for a while to visit Casey, a fellow American-in-France, so when I heard Provins was holding its annual renaissance festival this past weekend, I thought it might be the perfect occasion. If you don't have a car, you can get to Provins via a commuter train leaving from the Gare de l'Est, and it takes just over an hour. They are at the very end of zone 6, so you can either buy a train ticket or use a mobilis ticket zones 1-6 (FYI: cheaper than the train ticket).

Evidence of humans living in Provins have been found dating back to the Paleolithic era, and the city itself held quite the important role during the middle ages. People would come from all over France and Europe to attend the semi-annual fairs and trade their wares. Many of the historical monuments in the city date from this era, making it the perfect setting for a renaissance fair. The city also has these great under-ground caves, which I hope to go back and visit some time in the near future.

This is the 26th year the fair has been held - it started back in 1984, with a piddly 5,000 visiters. Last year, there were over 75,000, and attendance is expected to be even higher in 2009. This year's festival covered over 5 kilometers and had over 1000 customed participants and 120 different vendor booths. I thought the entry fee was very reasonable - 9€ for an adult (or 8€ if purchased in advance). Kids under 12 got in free, and if you came costumed, you were only charged 4€. Though some people took the word "costumed" quite liberally - we saw several things resembling halloween customes, prom dresses, and just plain non-medieval things. But it made for some pretty good laughs throughout the day.

There were also three other shows that you could pay extra to get into - La légende des Chevaliers, Les Aigles des remparts, and Arkhangaï, les Cavaliers des Steppes. Plus a sound and light show that took place after sunset that would've been really great to see.
I had a fun time though, and it was really nice to meet Casey (and Mathieu) after all these years - I'm especially glad you guys weren't too weirded out by the idea of meeting up with someone you only know through the internet!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The lesser of two evils

I saw this at a bus stop the other day near St Michel and thought it was unusual because it had actual bathing suits as part of the ad. It also gave me something to do instead of staring at the crazy old woman who was sitting on the other side of me, muttering to herself and taking of/readjusting her bum leg at all hours of the night. Granted, I may have had one too many 2€ kirs before heading home, but the sight of her holding her leg in one hand, while her "knee" laid on the ground in between us, was just too much for me to handle.

So Special K bikini ad it is.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A post from last week

My co-worker wasn't too in to the idea of going to a French restaurant, so instead of going back to the Quebecois restaurant, we decided to eat at a Moroccan restaurant instead. It turned out to be a fantastic experience - we were the only ones there, so we got great service and the chef kept coming out to make sure we were happy with our dishes.
I also had an interesting conversation with the waitress - she was from Morrocco but had lived in Paris for several years before moving to the middle of Bretagne in the fall of 2008. I asked her how she was liking it and she hesitated, and I immediately recognized that hesitation. It had happened to me so many times before. I could almost hear her inner monologue, debating about how honest to be. When someone asks you that, do you say how you really feel? How lonely and isolating it can be to live in small-town Bretagne? Or do you give the answer people want to hear? ie. That Bretagne is a very beautiful region but it sure rains a lot, haha.

So before she could answer, I cut in with "It can be pretty tough being a foreigner in a small town here, huh?" And I saw an immediate wave of relief wash over her face. She agreed and said sadly that she hadn't expected it to be so difficult. So hard to make friends. So many stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding her home country. And she still hadn't gotten used to all the staring when she was out in public, that she often felt like she had two-heads. At which I had to laugh because it was a phrase I'd used myself many a time.

Unfortunately I didn't have any magic advice to give her on cracking the tough Breton exterior - it's a puzzle that I was never able to solve. I could only commiserate with her and reassure her that she wasn't alone, that it had been like that for me (and so many others) as well. So many of us asking the same questions - Why can't I fit in? Why can't I make French friends? What do I have to do to be accepted? Why am I not good enough for them?

I've found myself replaying our conversation in my head several times over the past week. My heart goes out to the poor woman, and I really hope she was somewhat comforted in knowing that it wasn't just her. Cuz it's something that took me several years to realize.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

65th D-day Celebrations, Normandy

Through a contact at the American Presence Post in Rennes, I was able to get a last-minute invite to the D-day celebrations in Normandy this past weekend. I'd already been planning on going to visit Karina that same day, so the timing was perfect. And so worth catching that early morning train, even though I'd gotten back around 9pm the night before from my work trip.
There were special navettes waiting at the train station to take us to the cemetary. I was expecting security to be a lot stricter than it was, but they just gave us a cursory glance at my invitation and my passport and off we went. Since we weren't supposed to bring any food with, they provided us with a sandwich and a bottle of water on the bus. It was kind of surreal going there since the highways had been closed off and our buses had a special military escort to take us there. Not to mention the numerous police officers stationed basically every kilometer along the route.Upon arrival at the cemetary, we went through a metal-detector and then we were free to roam around the grounds for a few hours until the ceremony started. We made sure to get seats first though, since they were already filled up to about half-way back.There were American and French military personnel everywhere. It's not the first time I've been to the cemetary, but it is still humbling when you see the view again. It's so calm and peaceful now, and you have a hard time imagining all the horrors that took place there so many years ago.
I always try to find a cross with a Minnesota soldier on it while I'm there - unfortunately it's not a very hard thing to do, with almost 10,000 American soliders buried there. As a side note, in a video they showed before the ceremony, they said there were 24 American Cemetaries world-wide, acting as the final resting place of more than 125,000 soldiers.
And then we all took our seats for the ceremony - my camera has a pretty major zoom, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get a clear shot because of all the journalists in front of the podium.There were four speakers - first up was French President Nicolas Sarkozy, then Steven Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, then Gordon Brown and finally President Obama.Gordon Brown made a slip-up during his speech that caused quite a bit of twittering (and probably tweeting) in the audience. He referred to Omaha Beach as "Obama Beach" - which I imagine would be really easy to do since on paper, they look almost the same. Then we had a 21 canon salute, and then a fly-over by Canadian, French and American military planes. Four remaining soldiers were inducted into the French legion of honor. There was supposed to be a fifth soldier, but he passed away the night before, after one final visit to the landing beaches.And then all the dignitaries took off in their helicopters - they did a quick fly-over along the coast before heading back to Paris, where the Obamas toured Notre Dame and then went for a quick dinner at a small local restaurant.

Even though a lot of people have complained that Obama's presence (and accompagnying media-circus) at the ceremony over-shadowed the importance of the day itself, I'm very glad to have been able to attend. There are fewer and fewer remaining D-day soliders left, and most are in poor health, leaving us to wonder how many will be around for the next celebration 5 years from now. And it's always a moving experience to visit the American cemetary and its surrounding area.

Lastly, I wanted to explain the title of the FB album I made - "Si les Ricains n'étaient pas là", or "If the Americans hadn't been there". I just realized that many of you out there may not be familiar with the song it was taken from, and in that case, how arrogant it must sound. So here's the background - Michel Sardou wrote a song called "Les Ricains" back in the late 60's, talking about how all of these young American soliders fought and died in a foreign country for people they didn't even know or care about. It's one of my favorite songs, and it's also one of the first French songs I was able to fully understand.

And it also comes in handy to be able to sing a line or two of it when talking to particularily anti-American Frenchies.

Not that I would do that or anything....

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Most of you know already, but I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to the D-Day Celebrations in Normandy this past Saturday. I have a lot to say about it, but I'm chez Karina until tomorrow night, so I'll do a proper post once I get back.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Doh, just realized I forgot to post about this. Tuesday night, the city of Rennes held the first-ever multi-media Opera experience in France. They showed "Don Giovanni" simultaneously on a big screen across from the opera building, inside the city hall in two different halls (one HD and one 3D), on several different local TV channels, on one international channel (Mezzo) and also on the radio.

Here's a view of the screen in front of the city hall. (Again, big surprise here, but I came with an uncharged camera and had to take a pic with the blackberry).
The other highlight of my evening was meeting Emily, a fellow American who used to live in Rennes. We've "known" each other via blogging and FB for several years now, but never actually got a chance to meet before she moved back to the US. But she happened to be in Rennes as well Tuesday night, so we *finally* met up for a drink after all this time.

Here's our drinks with the screen in the background:
And then it was back to Yuri's house to visit a bit with Ms Leah and play with the tiny grey kitty before going to bed. So even though I don't necessarily enjoy coming back to Bretagne all the time for work, at least the upside is that my schedule is flexible enough to squeeze in quick visits with my dear friends.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Well, I'm back in Bretagne this week, though thankfully this time I am NOT at the feet-smelling hotel. I decided to try out a new one in Pontivy instead, and it's actually really nice. They've got all kinds of extras that I rarely see in France, like aromatherapy candles and those incense stick dealies in the rooms. Pretty avant garde for a small-town French hotel. The employees are all incredibly friendly as well. And since we are on a business trip, we have the right to what is known as a "soirée étape". It's a special deal that a lot of hotels offer for people traveling on business, and it usually includes the room, breakfast and a three-course dinner for around 50-60€. Considering that the rooms themselves are often 65€+, it's definitely a bargain.

But this particular hotel no longer has a restaurant, so they decided to work out a deal with several restaurants in town instead. They gave us a list of 6 different restaurants (French, Moroccan, Italian, Chinese, Breton or Quebecois), and said that we each had a 15€ spending limit. My co-worker was really craving a tajine, but the Morrocan place was closed, so Quebecois it was. And I mean really, how often do you find a Quebecois restaurant in small town France? Plus, I was really curious as to what exactly Quebecois cuisine would entail - besides poutine, I had a hard time thinking of other typical quebecois dishes. But the restaurant was great - it looked like something straight out of North America, and the menu turned out to be quite good as well - lots of bison, elk and other gamey types of animals, accompagnied with maple syrup or cranberry sauces. I choose poulet à l'érable and crème brulée à l'érable, both which were very tasty. We had a bottle (!) of French wine with the meal, and then we finished with a Canadian eau de vie - mine was mirabelle and my co-workers was mûre jaune (which seems like a contradiction in itself, but whatever). And then we bobbed and weaved our way along the canal back to our hotel after all of that alcohol.

Upon our return, we discovered that the owners had been so nice as to leave us a tray full of breakfast food in each of rooms. With our wake-up call being at 4am tomorrow (speaking of which, why am I blogging at almost 11pm then?), we thought we were going to miss out on breakfast. But they were thoughtful enough to prepare each of us a plateau - which I really appreciated because 90% of hotels would've just said "tant pis pour vous (and more money for us)". So we may be tired tomorrow morning, but at least we will not be hungry.

You can find more info about the restaurant here. The owner of this restaurant told me it was actually a part of a chain of restaurants, all called "Ô Quebec". There are currently six restaurans in France, mostly centered in Bretagne for now (Pontivy, Rennes, Lorient, Nantes, Angers), but there is also one in Toulouse. Too bad they weren't around when you were here Mal!

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Monday, June 1, 2009

I was downtown running some errands today, when I came across a whole bunch of people sitting in front of l'Hôtel de Ville. At first I thought maybe it was another protest, but as I got closer, I saw they were watching a big screen TV:
Tuns out it's an event called "Roland Garros dans la Ville", or "Roland Garos in the City". Besides the big screen where you could watch the matches live, they also had a tennis court where you could watch professional players, sign up to play a match yourself, or even get a intro-to-tennis lesson. There was also a smaller court for kids to practice and some nets set up where you could just practice hitting.

The event runs from Saturday, May 30 to Sunday, May 7. Hours: 12-7:30pm daily. For more info, check out their website (in English and in French) here.