Thursday, November 18, 2010

New Embellishments

They are called fabric beads and come from the creative mind of Gail Ellspermann. She was featured in a seven-year-old edition of Quilting Arts Magazine. My quilting bee friend MJ saw the magazine in a stack that was to be thrown away. She grabbed it and now it's mind. I made some yesterday. Really simple. The basic part is a drinking straw about 1.25 inches long. Using tacky glue, wrap the straw in fabric that has been torn into 1-inch strips. Cut the strips into two-inch segments. You want the frayed ends to show. The little pile of shiny gold stuff at the bottom of the photo is gold leaf. I used a special glue to apply it to the fabric-covered tubes and then wrapped them in any glitzy string, yarn or beads that I had. Thank you Gail. Her idea will become part of an art quilt that I'm making.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Recyling, Being Handicapped and Strikes

The French, and all of Europe for that matter, bring new meaning to the word "recycle."

Just a few examples pictured here. The Louvre was once a palace; the mausoleum was once a church, the Roman-built amphitheater in Vienne is still used for performances, and the Roman-built amphitheater in Avignon is now home to humane bullfighting (the bull lives to fight another day). No worry about bond elections to fund new football or baseball fields. Use what you already have. I like that idea. It's what makes Europe so interesting. Yes, there are new, modern buildings in Paris but they are really ugly. Not even sure I want to show you pictures of them.

Cobblestone streets are just fine with the French. It makes it really hard to be handicapped in France. We saw one person in a motorized wheel chair. He was really struggling to get around. At the church on the hill in Lyon where there are lots of steps and no railings, there is an elevator. But you have to go down six steps to get to it. As our guide in Lyon said, "we are a complicated people." I did see handicap parking, but not much of it.

Some of my family worried about us traveling to France during the strike by unions over increasing the number of years you must work before you can retire. We only saw them once and that was in Avignon. They dress in orange, play loud music and sometimes shut things down. We couldn't go to Versailles because the workers there were on strike for one day, the day we wanted to go there. Lots of disappointed people on our boat.

We learned that the next Saturday the lock workers on the Seine would not got to work. That meant all boat traffic in and out of Paris would come to a standstill for one day. We got back without problems but the next week's cruise would come back to Paris a day early due to the strikers actions.

When we arrived at Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris we were greeted by a TV reporter from CANAL, which according to our guide is her favorite TV station. The reporter's English was pretty good. He wanted to know how we felt about coming to a country where workers were striking. I stepped forward when no one else did. I told him I thought it was a good thing that the French government was afraid of its citizens. In the U.S. we would be better off if the government felt that way. Don't know if I made it on the air because we couldn't get local programming on the boat. I do believe that; it wasn't just for the reporter. We just sit and take whatever the legislators do. I think the Tea Party will make it even harder for government to work because it has caused a rift in the Republican party.

Just some thoughts on a sunny, warm day in Lincoln, CA
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Another Photo For My Last Post

For the life of me I could not get this to load in the blog about French food. This is Magalie (accent on the first syllable). She was the chef on our cruise from Chalon-Sur-Saone to Avignon. A fine woman and a fabulous chef. I wanted to make sure you saw her. BTW that's me with her.
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Food In France

I'm not sure I can do it justice. On the cruise from Paris to Normandy we had a German chef whom we rarely saw. Food was great. On the cruise from Chalone-de-Sur to Avignon we had a French chef. Her food was awesome. Each evening we eagerly looked forward to Magalie's (accent on the first syllable) description of what we were having for dinner. I swear that many of us were drooling by the time she finished. Also, she often showed up for the light lunch (now that's a misnomer if there ever was one) in the Viking lounge. Her favorite word after "dessert" was "reduction." You can't have enough reduction when cooking french food.

I tried reduction when we got home. I made beef short ribs in the crock pot with a sauce of Calvados (bought in Normandy), duck stock, pomegranate molasses and soy sauce. Once the ribs were done, I reduced the sauce and served it and the meat over organic brown rice. So good!!!!

The flavors, presentation and freshness of the food is what french cooking is all about. Also, portion size. You may have six courses at every dinner (we did) but each course, except the entree, is just a few bites. The crab dish photo is a good example of that. It's beautiful and small. The desserts were also small portions but they had such a heady flavor, you didn't want more. Well, maybe sometimes. And also, the desserts were not really sugary. You knew the sugar was there but it didn't overwhelm your palate.

Kerry had eggs benedict one morning; the yolk was as orange as a pumpkin. That's the sign of a very happy chicken who got to run around in a farmyard and be a chicken. Next time you buy eggs in the super market check the color of the yolks. So many more nutrients in the darker colored yolks. They are also lower in cholesterol.

Bread, oh my God, it is awesome. At breakfast each day we had our choice of probably 15 different breads. Bread accompanied each meal and it was fresh. In every town we visited we saw the proverbial French man or woman walking with a long baguette. If they don't finish it on the day purchased, they still buy another one the next day. Baguettes make for great bread crumbs, although I can't imagine not finishing it.

Farmers Markets abound in France. Regardless of how small the town, the local farmers come to market at least once a week to sell their produce, eggs, cheese, meat and flowers. The lettuce we had on the boat was beautiful, flavorful and fresh. I never saw iceberg lettuce in France. We had lots of soup that was made from the fresh vegetables left from the dinner the night before. Delicious.

I never wondered if our meat had any antibiotics or hormones in it. As we traveled the countryside we learned that the white cattle that graze everywhere are called Charleroi but nicknamed "BBQ cattle" because the meat is so wonderful. If you don't buy your meat at the farmers market, then you can go to a charcuterie. It's a combination of deli and butcher shop. I stopped in one in Vienne. I told the owner, Mr. Dugand, that his shop was beautiful. His face lit up in a big smile. He spoke some English so we talked a bit. As I went to leave he handed me a sausage from a basket on top of the counter and said, "for you madame." I tried to pay but he wouldn't hear of it.

The concierge on board the boat said it would be delicious with some bread, cheese and wine. So that's what we are going to do with it. It was in my suitcase when we landed at SFO. I was really worried I would get busted by the food sniffing dog. He busted someone else and I made it out of the terminal.

Can't leave out cheese; so many kinds that I lost count. Everyday at lunch we had a tray of different cheeses with crusty bread. I probably ate the U.S. equivalent of $50 worth of cheese each day. All the cheeses were local and changed depending on where we were in France. I especially loved the soft, oozy cheeses that spreads like butter. Magalie made sure there were little signs on each cheese telling us the name.

Yes, you can get McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, but I can't understand why anyone would want that stuff. Take your taste buds to France, you won't regret it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Getting Around In France

When you live in a country where a majority of the roads were built by the Romans for their horses and chariots, you are not going to find very many wide streets for big cars. Also with the cost of gasoline at around $8 a gallon you are going to find lots of alternatives to the traditional mode of transportation.

Here are just a few. Motorcyles and motorscooters are everywhere. They can get around in heavy traffic and can park just about anywhere, plus the mileage is good.

Next you have the Smart car which holds just two people, parks easily and gets good mileage. I personally think they are cute. Quite a few folks in Lincoln drive them.

The most interesting way of traveling is the rent-a-bicycle. That's a row of them in front of the red-awninged restaurant in Paris. You choose a bike, put the number and a payment method in the machine and ride off. You can return the bike anywhere there are rent-a bike stands. We saw a lot of these bikes, particularly among students. It's easier than carrying your personal bike up six flights of stairs (elevators are in short supply in France) to make sure it's not stolen.

And the final mode of transportation is the "choo choo" (the guides words not mine) train that takes you up a very steep, narrow road to a church on top of the hill overlooking the town of Vienne. The train has rubber tires and can easily wind its way through the narrow, cobblestoned streets of this Roman town.

And of course you have the TGV, France's fast train, subways, river barges, river cruise boats and many more. I did see one Toyota Landcruiser. It looked very out of place.
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Visiting Normandy

It's only fitting on this Veteran's Day that I show you photos from Normandy where the D-Day landing happened on June 6, 1944. It was a sad part of the France trip but an important place to visit. I learned a lot of things about D-Day that I had never heard in history class.

First we went to the museum pictured. There we watched a black and white film shot in England and France of the preparation for the landing and the landing itself. Seeing all those young, hopeful faces on the screen and then visiting the cemetery where many of them are buried was very sad. Families had their choice of burial in France or having the body shipped home. If they chose France, the U.S. government brought the family over to see the final resting place of their loved one. Crosses and Stars of David mark the graves; there are many who are unknown.

What I didn't know is that prior to D-Day the Germans destroyed the only deep water port in the area: Cherbourg, France. Therefore, the Americans and British knew they would have to build a deep water port in record time so they could supply the troops who were landing. Much of this preparation started a year earlier on the south coast of England. The big metal things resting on the beach were made in England and then floated to the coast of France after the landing. The first breakwater was made up of old ships that were sailed to the area from England and then sunk in a line. Two subsequent breakwaters were made up of the big metal things fashioned in England. Within a matter of weeks, the port of was operating. Workers in England were not told what they were making or how it would be used.

The Germans did other nasty things to foil the American and British operation. They knew that something was going to happen so they destroyed as many things as possible. They also flooded an area where they thought paratroopers might land; many of them drowned because of this.

My mother's brother, Leo, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. He's the only relative I know of who was lost in World War II. When his mother (my grandmother) was alive we would go to the National Cemetery in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. We put flowers on his grave, and my grandma cried. It didn't matter that he had been dead a long time; she still grieved for her only son. He died just before I was born.

So many families have sacrificed loved ones to the God of War only to find out that we will still have another war. No one ever wins; we just move on to the next quarrel with a country. Quarrels escalate and people die. What a shame.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall Colors in France

France is a fantastic travel option for those folks who love fall colors. Here are a few examples of them. The top photo is the pond made famous by Monet's paintings. The wall is in the little village of Giverny where Claude Monet lived. The last photo is his house. That's our guide holding the sign. We wore earpieces so we could hear her without any shouting. Great system, especially in churches. We didn't get to see the lily pads in bloom, but we did get a wonderful glimpse of Monet's world in the fall. Plus it was foggy the morning we were there which made everything look ethereal.
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