Bread: The biggest culture divide.

In Australia I remember talking to Seb about bread. The conversation went something like this..
“When you get to France Nik you are going to eat bread, it’s amazing the bread, the texture and everything.” Seb was starting to rapture and I interjected here with
“But it’s just bread.”
“JUST BREAD?!?!? JUST BREAD?!?!” You could see his french side growing and taking over (think a Jekyll and Hyde transformation)
“It is not just bread, it’s never just bread. It’s our culture, identity, life! Bread is …..” and I then got lectured for over half an hour about my slight ignorance on French Bread (yes, with capitals). He still tells people about this conversation and people in France regard me as the “weird Australian girl”.

"it's just bread"

Basic comparison of Australian and French breads

Growing up in Australia my family focused on healthy living and an outdoor lifestyle, bread was never at the top of my list for something on the foodchain to worship. Choclate: Yes. Bread: Never.

I remember working in a bakery during highschool. I worked there for three years. The boss always fed us for free and I ate salad for my lunch followed by fruit that was supposed to go on top of the cakes. For 3 years.

It. Was. A. Bakery. With. Bread.

Which shows exactly the Australian attitude to bread. I regarded it as something that was as exciting as eating cardboard. A filler for more interesting things. And Australian bread is exactly that. The general character of an Australian piece of bread is boring, dry, chewy and lifeless.

But slowly over the last two years Seb has slowly changed my attitude. I still won’t eat bread in Australia. But in France? Well it’s way too easy! Everyday I buy bread. EVERYDAY. Baguettes that are usually arriving warm out of the bakers oven.

The difference, which is like explaining sex to a virgin is the bread itself. It’s in the flour that makes it. The way they cook it.The kneading of the dough.

French bread

Baguettes ripped apart!

It’s the way that when you tear it apart steam rises like an advertisment. It’s maybe the pride behind the bread too.

The crispy crunchy outer layer. I hated crusts in Australia. Now in France I search the baguette for the best bits. And the crunchiest bits still soak up juices. That crunchy robust outer layer then gives way to the inside of a baguette. The bread is never dry, more humid and soft. The texture like a chewy sponge. For me that is the difference of France and Australia.

Bread is so important that it has led to riots and even a war called la guerre des farines In the history of France you can find it used in slander against the French Royalty. The “great princess” learning that there was no bread for peasants responded with “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake).

And that’s what it boils down to for the French. While life can be complicated the things to be proud of are simple. Bread is eaten by everyone: from a street beggar to a millionaire. You have the most amazing chefs and michelin starred restaurants. But yet what do you find a French person misses when living abroad. The BREAD!!! Bread such a simple staple that it must assist the enjoyment of life. Not hinder it.

Australians forget the simple joys in life. We are always going somewhere, doing something. We struggle to stop on a Sunday (I still feel crazy on Sundays when nothing is open). And we struggle to enjoy a piece of bread. We look at it in quantities of health and how much we’ll have to run after eating it. Or how much better something else is for us than that slice of bread.

And that’s my education and my lesson for you with bread.
1. Take the time to go to a real bakery.
2. Pick a baguette or a roll NOT A SQUARE LOAF.
3. Take it home. Turn off your phone, TV, INTERNET, RADIO Or Fax.
4. Sit down to silence and listen as you rip it apart. You should actually hear cracks from the crunchy bits and whispered tearing from the soft parts.
5. Eat torn chunks. Not neat cut off pieces but chuncks. With demi-sel buerre (semi-salted butter) and cheese!

And just enjoy life while you have it!

*Images sourced from interenet, if you do not wish them to be displayed please leave a comment below.

Advertisements

Loosing my “Zing” and the human touch

Hey guys just a general quick update about why I have been away for so long. 3 things.

1. I got so ill that food wasn’t an option to consume. I arrived at my doctor and he asked who drove you?? My reply made him annoyed…
“You drove yourself? But you are not well, I don’t want you leaving the house and while you are in that house you are to sleep. Nothing else.” (Obviously translated from broken french/english)
I have been following those directions to a tee… The point of that story is. Goofy doesn’t clean up after herself. Especially when she has a new found fetish for making confetti out of toilet rolls.

2. Before becoming sick I also elongated tendons in my knee from running. So arriving into the doctors when I was sick I actually waddled “comme un cannard” (like a duck). This has resulted in me having immense pain and inflamation in my right knee. I am also now a little scared to do a lot with my knee. Everytime I think it is fine I go for a run/jog/walk and it inflames back up with suprising vengeance.

3. Homesickness has been my most horrible issue of late. I have had a fair share of bad news on the home front and that combined with the loneliness and onset of Autumn has made me rather mentally paralysed. For a few weeks I remember just sleeping untill Seb arrived back from lunch, sneakily getting in the shower as he arrived home. And other days being awake all morning and just staring for hours out the backyard window.

It was also the concoction of a few other things.

Like searching for a job and being told a consistent NO. Trying to stay positive after continually being told you aren’t good enough to even clean makes the weight on your shoulders a little heavier. It doesn’t matter that I actually have degree earning experience(Accountantcy) in some industries than cleaning. It’s just that I am simply not Frenchy enough.

Failing one of my correspondance subjects because I just couldn’t handle the pressure of that and a new country, two languages and anything else that has been thrown at me.

Putting on weight because you can’t exercise and comfort eating at the same time is not a good feeling for your self image and confidence. Right now I have a paunch worse than some mum’s just after they have had a baby.

And lastly that ever bearing feeling that you are failing at it all. The effort to dress nicely now is a drag. It seems that I want pyjamas or tracksuit pants. I have lost the urge to put makeup on or brush my hair (The messy bun has been my permanent look of late). To put on jeans, and a nice top is just so much effort. And that’s just going for a beer with sebs friends. I have lost my zing and I am not sure where to find it.

I think part of it is I need hugs, I need more human touch than two cheek kisses from every person I meet. I maybe also need to adopt someone’s mother similar in stature to my mum and demand hugs (I have one in mind but am totally terrified to ask). I need to feel like I have a mom’s hug.

It may sound funny but for all that cheek kissing the french are such distant people. I am accustomed to hug my friends and family hello, and each hug is different. My Aunt squeezes me and my uncle pats my back. Another Aunt rests her chin on my shoulder and I have a friends mum that used to rock me a little. I had cousin I could swing around into a hug and they would squeel with delight and then snuggle in properly, like a little koala.
My girlfriends all gave me hugs in their own different ways. It was all about that comfort of human touch. The fact that it’s closeness and sharing, tenderness and love all without the sleazy lip smacking that can happen here.

I may just start a hugs group, I am really not sure. I do know I am craving for my English family, but must wait for my passport to be vignetted so I can return easily. So far I have demanded that Seb be on permanent hug status. It’s unfair for him as it makes me fairly permanently attatched to his side. And I don’t think he is too keen on getting my sickness.

Talk soon
Nik

French Kebabs and pregnancy tests…

So this is a detour from my normal posting. BUT it is to inform you of Seb’s wonderful introduction to life in France.

After two years of visiting (equaling at over one year of being/living in France). I am now permanently in France. While sounding like a great ending to a fairytale life: Think love, distance, different nationalities and a visa. In truth it really is a different story.

I am with my husband: the love of my life. But the whole romanticism of it all??? Meh. That’ll never be Seb. He is not a romantic. He is more a surprise guy(which I truly do love and is romantic in its own way)… and for being French? He loves his great food. And he can actually tell you if the foie gras you are eating is decent or not.

But he is also such good friends with the workers at McDonalds that they sometimes give him dinner for free. This is not your normal serve either. A normal not manhungry meal consists of: A large Chicken Bacon meal deal (Inc a Large Coke and Potatoes). With another 2 large servings of potatoes(Wedges for my aussie mates), then he will finish that with another 2 double cheeseburgers. If he is hungry it get’s bigger and grosser.

So to bring you back to my point. I arrived to live here on the 24th of August. I brought with me milo, 2 blocks of cadburys and vegimite. The rest? Well my expectation was pretty normal, it’s France so it should be French cuisine.. My particular favourite is the poisson avec buerre blanc(fish in butter white sauce.).

Another favourite was on a visit to the Pays-Basque, we ate out and it was absolutely delicious local cuisine. Local poisson merlu, Home-made Foie Gras, Roasted duck to the point of it melting off the bone. Sadly I forgot to get pictures of these delights. I promise to do that from now on.

However what pictures I do have are ashamingly my extra diet of recent… Junk food and more junk food! McDonalds I will not even bother to photograph. It is universal. I refuse to eat it now. However their Kebabs are so different from ours that I was forced to photograph them. They stuff them with chips… It’s amazing. And sadly addictive.

The sadness compacts when you realise I am in France eating the normal bread, pain au chocolate,roule au chocolate and cheese. And not just aiding my weight gain but adding to it with junk food. The delicious kebabs are a sin. Seb loves them that much he normally eats two.

Which brings me to my second part. Pregnancy tests… I have had waves of sickness and they started before I discovered these wonderful kebabs. And not just little pains in the tummy but massive feelings of neausea so strong that Seb has on more than one occasion nearly pulled over the car because my face was so “yucky”.

We want kids but not now… and Seb panicking suggested that I take a pregnancy test. So being sure that I wasn’t pregnant I took the test. And as normal no extra line showed. I breathed a sigh of relief. The problem here is when Seb decides that a joke could be made: by drawing a line on the pregnancy test. And then just flashing me the test. While knowing 2 seconds after seeing it that it was a “Seb” line. I had those two intial seconds of Panic and Fear.

With this inital face Seb is chuckling and giggling his way around the house. And I am left wondering what prank next is going to arrive in my lap. Maybe I need some vengeance of my own but I have no idea where to start. And Seb is a strong believer in pay back. It makes me shy away from even starting this tally.

So instead I address the sickness. Healthy eating should at least help fix it: No Kebabs/McDonalds/Cheese Courses/extra chucks of bread cos its just fresh and hot/ no pain au chocolate for breakfast/ AND DEFINATELY NOT the roule au chocolate I was eating everyday at morning tea with Sebastien. Part of this shock is Australia has been such a salad eating – fresh lean meats – kind of place that this rich calorific food has left me on a cheese high!

This is going to be hard. But I will try to act the French woman. Healthy eating with things in consideration. Chocolate for the taste not for the Comfort. The problem? We are heading into winter and Christmas…I am crazy… but its better than encouraging my body which is already at its biggest ever size!

Tartiflette and Tantrums

So in Australia I am really well-known as a cook by my mates and family. I actually don’t even have recipes. It just comes out of my head and onto the plate in correct flavours and form. Coming from a family of feeders my pride is watching people come together and enjoy food. I love the fact that my up-bringing was that food is something to be shared.

My sharing was varied from traditional roasts, to stir-fries, to pasta, dessert, salads, starters and tapas… I would literally just pop off to the grocery store and later that night have a feast for my people. I have a favourite memory of getting carried away with cooking and instead of cooking for four people I ended up inviting ten and we spent all night eating different types of tapas!

But alas… the problem:
I CANNOT COOK IN FRANCE!

In fact as I write this I am eating a stir fry that tastes something similar to a second-hand takeaway AND I cheated (Yes; Sauce, frozen veg and chopped up meat, Shameful that I can stuff up something so basic, especially when I hate to make it this way). Why am I eating this? I can hear people’s thoughts… Well I cooked it. And stubbornness is starting to set in.

I have been trying my best to settle into France. And to handle this stressful situation my genetic wiring is to cook (thanks parents and Nan!). But here I cook and it is always an experiment. With quite often spectacularly bizarre results. The best example of this is Tartiflette.

My first ever Tartiflette I couldn’t understand French… Zilch, Zip, Nuttin. The result ended in a dish of raw potato in a runny whitish discoloured liquid covered by not a crust but an actual LID of BURNT something.

My second Tartiflette I at least didn’t burn the ‘thing’. We will leave it at that. And with the third try panic set in as Sebastien had invited over the immediate family (another 3 people). The problem with this was Sebastien was starting to lose weight. My cooking had indeed become that bad.

In panic I contacted quite a few French friends of Sebastien’s about Tartiflette. And ended up googling the crap out of the recipe and creating my own hybrid. To coincide with this third try/experiment I also brought 2 ready-made Quiches. If I failed I would still be able to feed them, my confidence destroyed but my genetic instinct to feed still intact. I had actually concentrated so much on getting this dish ‘right’ that I went and brought a ready made dessert (against my grain but I didn’t want to push my luck).

As the night grew closer I grew anal-retentitive about following my ‘recipe’. To the point that when baking came to eating I was panicking as it landed on the table. Papou as I call my father-in-law is always the compliment when I try things (even eating beef that is so tough that you can’t cut it with a steak knife!). Mumu, my mother-in-law is a seafood-vegatarian so she would eat something different.

The true test would be my husband and brother-in-law. These two guys are permanent vacuum cleaners. As I scooped it out of the dish you could see the creamy cheese mixed with lardons(bacon) melted into the soft fluffly layers of potatoes. The steam rised from it like an advertisement! ENFIN!!(FINALLY!) A DISH! And they had seconds! Oh Mon DIEU! I had done it. I had finally cooked a meal in France that passed THE test! Then comes the crash landing…

My husband without realising how sensitive I am right now (about cooking in particular) does something really French. He critiques the meal.

“Eeet’z(It’s) good, but we will improve it. There still needs some things to be fixed.”

This goes against my Australian culture of “Giving it a Go” so strongly that it makes me intensly dislike him for a lot longer than a split second. More like I fume silently for 5 mins followed by a lot longer sulking. (I had actually tried this 3 times because he likes this dish so much!)

Being the Australian I am. I do not act French in response to this. I do not loudly discuss/nor do I tell him to stick it/and I don’t even try to huff about it. Instead I sit on the problem. And sit, and sit some more. Then a few days later I blow up. Like a very normal Australian.

When I do he wonders what my tantrum is even about…

“Nikki, this problem isn’t about the mistake on the orders for a bodyboard is it…??” He peters out hopefully wondering what the hell has happened to his normally cruisy good natured wife.



“Nikki?”



“Nikkiiiiiiiiieeeeeyyyyyyy”
-“No it’s the fact that I can’t cook. And Australian people don’t believe me and what’s worse french people believe that I can’t cook. And when I do finally get it right, it’s not good enough. NOT EVEN FOR YOU” It rushes out like I have unstoppered a cask of wine. My pride and my tears. Ending in such a fierce accusation that Seb is silent for a second. He starts to laugh, bubbling through his laughter he says this….

“I still eat it even when its crap, I love you. And I promise to eat your food. I eat McDonalds; I can eat your food!”(Just for those not in the know Seb is nearly addicted to McDonalds.)

Later on, after retelling this to a friend of mine she cackles at me…
“Nik that’s not a story, that’s tantrums and Tartiflette’s!”

Chat Noir

So I am pretty convinced that I am THE BLACK CAT… Seb has passed on his bad luck to his usually good tempered wife.
In the space of a fortnight I have
# broken my favourite necklace
# burnt my leg on Sebastien’s motorbike exhaust
# paid an extra $700 to get to France
# Got a flat tyre on the four hour drive home from the aiport turning it into a 6 hour adventure after 29 hours of plane trips.
# paying a further 300 Euros to get a stamp to validated my visa.
# have catered for a friends birthday only for them to invite an extra 5 people for what was a 6 person dinner…

The necklace is fixed, and my leg is healing.

The car tyre was replaced along with the other front tyre. (Found out that here if you want to be covered by insurance you must replace both at the same time, nasty surprise)

I am seeking reimbursement for the airport problem.
I had arrived and my travel agency had not reissued my ticket for a date change. Emirates had me as having already flown on the 29th of July. Luckily they re-issued the ticket on the spot. (I paid $700 and am now seeking a refund for said money)

The dinner for our friend I felt a little like Jesus, turning what was supposed to be a few tomatoes for a chicken salad into some bruschetta, followed by roasted stuffed chicken breasts and then pan fried rosemary potatoes. I literally was pulling stuff out of nowhere with the aid of some bread and potatoes. (Gotta love carbs to fill someone up!)

And the extra 340 Euros is for my medical stamp. Which leaves me to fume silently considering that if I was a student it would be around 55-60 Euros and a worker pays about 100. Why is it that an unemployed housewife (at the moment, I am looking for work!) has to pay so much for a stamp considering that I will be in the french society a lot longer and plan to conribute to it rather than a student or worker who is here for studies or money? That goads me into those silent snarls.

Does anyone else have these bad runs? I am trying to stay positive but sometimes that smile is just pasted on a face that is hiding a snarl!

Mignonne
x

How to explain it all? The basics

I’ll start this bluntly in the hope that it answers the basics quickly and efficiently…

  • I hope to be moving to France in a few months.
  • In the last year I have spent more months here than home in Australia. (Ironically I feel out-of-place back home now.)
  • To state the obvious my partner, VGT, is french. He is a classic geek but with a few quirky areas like surfing and ice-skating. He still loves the odd LAN which contains large doses of aggression at his computer.
  • I am getting married and no it’s not for Visa’s, pregnancy, or money reasons. It’s not to get away from my beautiful Mum and nor is it to get a new citizenship. (Just addressing here all the nasty comments that arrived at the announcement of my engagement.) It is in fact for that universally clich√© thing called Love.
  • The French visa application process is interesting,to be nice about it: It’s a complicated bureaucratic mess. Being Australian I hope that I have better chances than a Tunisian.
  • To obtain any form of longstay visa I must return to Australia and then come back to France. (I go back to Australia in about 2 weeks to start it all)
  • I am only learning to speak French now, with interesting results.

Ok now we have that out-of-the-way… I love chocolate and comfort eat when I am under any type of stress. I hate McDonald’s(which VGT adores) and love fresh veggies and fruit(horrendously expensive here) I do love the odd wine but when I can finally force down a beer I am drunk after a single stubbie.

I miss cooking Australian food here, the ingredients are different which results in different flavours. Sometimes better tastes but usually disasters (For example my soon to be father in law had to HACK SAW my frozen oranges for dessert last night, the ice cream had refrozen into milky orangey ice)

Australia is being flogged right now weather wise and personally I am glad we picked France for the first country to live in… It’s a loud passionate nation who strikes over the craziest reasons, you are lucky to be served with a smile and it can be a chaotic mess. However at the rate Australia is going economically and weather wise I will be coming home to a card board tent, thankful, that I get some newspaper for a pillow.

My second seemingly crazy reason is this. VGT knows Australia culture and customs a little. He speaks nearly fluent English and can happily communicate with any of my family or friends. I speak no French and often ruin a moment of tradition or culture with my habit of Australian blundering. Their perspectives are sometimes totally opposite to what I try to communicate. So it’s a little human experiment of learning french culture and customs then back over to my land of sunshine….

I am overly curious, and love new things. Love being on the move and visiting and meeting friends and family everywhere. In the last month I Have been to Bourges, Font Romeu, Paris, London, Bournemouth, Lyon, Nantes, Anger, Bordeaux, Biarritz and La Pointe du Raz….¬† I am known as G like a Golden Retriever, how happy they are to be loved and surrounded by people. But also how curious they are. We watch Rhianne, VGT’s dog and she is 14 with bad hips and she still gets in and about the most amazing little places. Wiggling her body, wagging her tail you can see the pleasure of a new sensation. That’s me, just in human form. (I get excited over a 10 euro bowl of pasta that tastes amazing)

Lastly, Why not?