Saturday, October 3, 2009

French Cooking

Orleans, as seen from across the river

Because we're poor right now, I checked out a French cookbook from the library and have been cooking regional dishes instead of eating out at restaurants. So far, things have been very tasty. Andrew made some smoked pork sausage sandwiches one night, and I followed up with ratatouille last night. Here's the recipe for ratatouille, for those interested (serves 2):

2 small Zucchini
1 medium Eggplant
2 Bell peppers
2 large Tomatoes
1 large Onion
6 gloves of garlic, finely chopped
Fresh or dried basil, parsley, and thyme
Grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil

1. Boil water in a saucepan. Drop tomatoes into the boiling water for a few seconds. When you see the skins start to peel, pull them out and run cold water over them. Peel the skin off and chop coarsely. Set aside.
2. Ideally, the zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and onions should each be sauted in oil in separate pans until they are soft. Set all the vegetables aside.
3. Add olive oil, garlic, spices, and tomatoes to a skillet or saute pan. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.
4. Add all vegetables to tomato puree and heat until everything is hot. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add grated parmesan and serve!

Yesterday we had our first orientation as assistants. We got to meet all the other English assistants in this area, and made fast friends with other Americans, Canadians, Australians, and British living here. Both Andrew and I were amazed at how good our French is. Technically for this program you only need two semesters of French, but neither of us could have handled this level of French after just two semesters. It was really our time in Mali that solidified our French. Most of the day-long training was in French, and we understood 99% of what was said by our French counterparts. Vocabulary was the only thing that threw us off a couple of times. It was nice having that level of fluency.

Some more interesting tidbits about France:
  • That whole "everyone-walks-around-with-a-baguette" stereotype ISN'T a stereotype. Everyone seems to have a baguette in their hand, no matter what time of day it is. It could be because they're so cheap (about €0,30-0,80 a stick) or because they're just so darn good.
  • Shops are closed Sunday and Mondays, but restaurants are usually open everyday, though they don't start service til it's practically dark. As such, it's completely normal to walk around at midnight and see the outdoor tables brimming with people eating a full course dinner. It's a little weird for us. The other night we went out for dessert around 10pm, and the waiter seemed really surprised and kind of offended that we didn't want dinner.
  • Elevators don't really exist here. I guess most buildings are too old, but you would think that public areas, such as bus and train stations, would accommodate handicapped, luggage-laden, and lazy people. Nope. We live on the fourth floor of our building, and there isn't an elevator, which gets tiring, but it's probably good exercise for us.
  • Speaking French, or at least trying to speak French, makes French people instantly like you. More often than not, if they see you're struggling, they will throw in the few English words they know to make you feel better. And sometimes they are excited by the fact that you speak English, and want to practice with you. I've had many interesting conversations where I speak in French and the person responds in English. It's kind of sweet, especially coming from Southern California where I feel like most people would frown at a non-native English speaker who was trying to speak English but not really succeeding. Here, it's all about the effort.
  • Cheese is cheap! Not as cheap as wine, but still cheaper than in the states. I got a good-sized wedge of brie for €1. Eating a brie and honey baguette sandwich has become my new favorite French food.

Nicole at the festival, and the two of us in front of the statue of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc)

Andrew and I are debating what to do with our free time and how much money to spend during our time here. Our options are:
  • Tango lessons every Wednesday and Friday night
  • Cooking classes once or twice a month
  • Going to the gym several times a week
  • Installing a phone jack and internet at our apartment
  • Subscribing to a "mutuelle" which is really cheap insurance that would cover dental and vision in addition to the universal health care we have right now
  • Traveling all over the place
My preferences are, of course, traveling and cooking classes, while Andrew prefers tango lessons, gym, and internet. He seems to think we can do it all, but while we have a decent salary here, it's definitely not going to cover everything, especially since we now have to start paying back our student loans and we will eventually have to buy plane tickets back to the states when we're done with our job here. It's been really stressful. Things keep adding up, like the fact that we have to pay for laundry once a week, which is about €15! And for internet, since we don't have a phone jack and we're not planning on staying 12 months, it's really expensive for everything. But we want to be able to Skype and we can't really do that at the library.

We're also considering renewing our contract, but we'd only want to do that if we could stay here from May-October, which we wouldn't be able to do without having jobs, which our visas don't even allow. Also, it's apparently pretty difficult to renew. Either way, we'd have to go home in May and return in September to start all over again, which isn't very cost effective. We're looking into similar programs in Italy, so maybe we'll go there. Or maybe we'll come home and join the mad rush to be employed.

I'll actually start my job next week, so I'll post more when that happens.

Nicole and Andrew

P.S. If anyone knows a better way to post photos to Blogger, please let me know. It drives me nuts that it automatically puts photos at the top of the page and is a big pain in the butt to drag them to where I want them in the post (and it doesn't always do that). Thanks.


  1. Internet and travel. Internet is essential and travel is opportunity. Carpe diem.
    What are fellow teachers doing at the end of the term?

  2. Wow! it sounds amazing! I'm glad you have created this blog. I have to say I'm partial to the cooking classes over tango as well, because it is france if you were in Argentina definitely tango! Love, Grace

  3. When is the next edition of Wandering Wallaces being installed here??
    Need my weekly installment... ;-)