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Posts Tagged ‘France’

I say “Nut Butter Salted Caramel Peanut Butter,” made by Nut Butter Nation in Nashville, TN. This local delicacy has become one of my favorite go-to breakfasts. I spread a dollop onto one toasted Nuti-Grain Eggo blueberry waffle, add a cup of coffee and I’m ready for my day. I might also add some nut butter to a bowl of oatmeal as my food blogger friend KERF taught me. I was never one for a plain peanut butter and jelly sandwich, even though that is a staple for Bob if he finds himself adrift for lunch.

A different kind of nut butter has recently produced riots in France. A nut butter I thought was French, but is actually Italian! http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42826028

The problem with Nutella started in this country when prices began to soar, and instead of hoarding it, we may have created a surplus? Maybe that’s why grocers in France decided to drop the price of a jar of this choco-nutty deliciousness from 4.50 euro to 1.50 euro…Now I never thought of the French as particularly aggressive shoppers. In fact, I like to think of Madame strolling through her market, in kitten heels, with a quaint wicker basket picking out only the choicest of delights for her family. I thought “bloody Friday,” aka the day after Thanksgiving for consumer deals, was a typical American invention.

An all American stampede through the doors of Walmart for a coveted TV, sure. But the French, mais non! However, you don’t want to mess with their Nutella crepes!

“They are like animals. A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a bloody hand,” one customer told French media. A member of staff at one Intermarché shop in central France told the regional newspaper Le Progrès: “We were trying to get in between the customers but they were pushing us.”

Now there is nothing wrong with Nutella mind you. This dark, creamy hazelnut spread began its life as a way to ration chocolate during the Napoleonic Wars. Then a century later, a crafty Italian baker decided it wasn’t such a bad idea; after WWII ,when chocolate was again hard to find, he swirled a little cocoa into some hazelnut cream, thereby creating Pasta Gianduja, renamed “Nutella” in 1964. The stuff dreams are made of!

So it’s an Italian invention that is produced in, wait, where is it made? It seems that like beer, some of this divine delicacy comes from the original factory in Turin, Italy – and some is made for the American market! It’s even packaged differently – “Formato Famiglia” or the imported version in a glass jar vs the Canadian-made, American version in plastic tubs. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/nutella-imported-vs-domestic-is-there-a-difference/2014/05/30/3

I remember visiting Holland and being told the Heineken made there, with Dutch water, was better than our Heineken in the states. Well, there are people here who will pay more for the original Italian Nutella in a glass jar, because they say it isn’t so sweet. And did you know that next month we will celebrate World Nutella Day? An Italian-American blogger and Nutella afficianado, decided to dedicate one day a year to her favourite spread.

On February 5th 2007 “World Nutella® Day” was launched, and this schmear has been spreading ever since. One jar of Nutella is sold almost every 3 seconds throughout the world, so you can imagine how well this little family (Ferrero) business is doing.

Despite selling out of its entire stock in 15 minutes at a grocery store near Toulouse, leaving one woman with a black eye, I doubt the rioting will spread throughout Europe or the rest of the world; more than 160 countries carry Nutella on their shelves.

For my part, I’ll stick to my fancy local peanut butter. And fun facts – did you know that peanuts are not a nut? They are actually legumes grown underground. Also American kids on average will consume more than 1,500 PB&J sandwiches before they graduate high school. But they may not eat the crusts.

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  1.  There is nothing better than women in pink pussy hats coming together in Washington, DC to speak their minds, run for office, and begin the #MeToo movement
  2. Well, maybe the Rocker and Aunt Kiki’s wedding was at the top of my happiness list; a magical, mystical Palm Springs wonderland with family
  3. I’m not afraid to ask for help. Hiring a stylist to help me organize my closet, and a concierge to help with the move were important and essential decisions
  4. I CAN DO a Passover Seder – of course, it will never be like Great Grandma Ada’s but it was a good first attempt
  5. My fear of travel was replaced by my love for the South of France, and Mario and Claudio’s perfect pairings of market tours and cooking classes
  6. Downsizing and moving from the country to the city of Nashville in the summer was daunting, but those grandbabies are so worth it; and I learned to hold on to the bannister while going downstairs
  7. And finally, as I approach seventy with my best friend by my side, I realize that we’re in this for good, bad and ugly. And my intention for 2018 is to strive for the Good!

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People are always asking Bob what’s retirement like; do you miss doctoring, what do you do all day? For an old codger he remains pretty busy. He just started flying again, and will have to study and practice to get his instrument rating up to date. After all, who doesn’t want to fly through clouds? And he packed up a U-Haul truck with some of our furniture, drove it over 500 miles to Nashville, and is currently reupholstering some chairs!

Now, if you were to ask ME what his retirement is like, you might get another story. A therapist once told me that he explains it this way to the men he counsels: “Imagine you’re still working, and your wife comes into your office and sits down by your desk every day. And never leaves.”

Is that transparent enough?

The first time I heard the word transparent to describe people and not paper, or windows, was from my psychologist brother, Dr Jim’s lips. Years ago he was talking about people from California, because he’d married Anita in Big Sur and chose to live and work there among the tomato and wine vineyards. In general, he was describing  someone who is happy in their own skin, who is not guarded.

Think of Woody Allen movies, where the lighting is so scorchingly bright on the West Coast, and diffuse and dark on the East.

The next time I heard about transparency was while writing for The Berkshire Eagle. I learned that reporters could access any and all public records. You may not remember this, but back in the day when women had to be married to get birth control and credit cards, many records were sealed, including our own medical records! And then we the people passed “Sunshine Laws!”

Through sunshine laws, administrative agencies are required to do their work in public, and as a result, the process is sometimes called “government in the sunshine.” A law that requires open meetings ordinarily specifies the only instances when a meeting can be closed to the public and mandates that certain procedures be followed before a particular meeting is closed. The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C.A. § 552) requires agencies to share information they have obtained with the public. Exceptions are permitted, in general, in the interest of national security or to safeguard the privacy of businesses. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Sunshine+Law

The Freedom of Information Act was passed by Congress in 1966 and not surprisingly was spearheaded by California Congressman John Moss. If you’d like to look up a Citizen’s Guide to Using the Freedom of Information Act and the amended Privacy Act of 1974, you will find the following quote from our 4th President who lived right over the hill at Montpelier:

“A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”  James Madison

So we should arm ourselves with knowledge. That. Bears. Repeating. I’ve been thinking alot lately about how this Russian thing is a “Prologue to a Farce,” or perhaps even a tragedy in the form of treason.

Now the third time I thought about transparency was after being elected to a school board. Because it really wasn’t until I found myself on the other side of the table, the side that held closed meetings to discuss policy and personnel, that I realized there is a Yin and Yang, a dark and a light side to everything. Of course we didn’t want to disclose “on the record” why a teacher wasn’t getting tenure, and of course that teacher’s union could appeal to an administrative law judge, but in reality Due Process takes time…

These are the times that try our souls. Mr T has been celebrating Bastille Day, which is like our Fourth of July, in Paris. He was parading around, shaking hands a little less forcefully, while still defending his dear boy Donald Jr from the “Witch Hunt” of “Fake News.” One glaringly inappropriate, if not sexist, remark to Brigette Macron, the First Lady of France, stands out. Looking her up and down he said:

“You’re in such great shape,” then Mr T turned to her husband Emmanuel Macron, nodding approval and delivered one word, “Beautiful.”

Maybe he hasn’t seen many 60+ year old women in his tower, after all he’s traded in trophy wives a few times. We have a lecherous ex-Miss Universe owner for a President who is running our country like a reality show. To quote Olivia, “Let’s get physical, let’s get into physical. Let me hear your body talk.” Is that transparent enough?

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I know it sounds a bit bizarre, but we are home from the South of France by way of meeting an old high school friend in Heathrow Airport courtesy of Facebook. Edie and her husband Steve had been traveling around Great Britain and we’d been following each other’s exploits – she kissed the Blarney stone, I made a quiche. You know how these things go. Facebook envy, it attacks when we least expect it…it’s what started us out on this journey; my vicarious following of a Facebook friend and her buddies hunting for mushrooms in Italy!

After a grueling day of travel in three airports in three countries, covering about 4,500 miles and traveling through many time zones, I had to roll all over the floor with my deliriously happy dog…then I turned on the TV last night to watch Bill Murray receive the Mark Twain Prize for Humor on PBS. I figured it would be better than a jolt of CNN after such a long news-free sabbatical. I missed the run-up, but caught his surprisingly sentimental speech, which actually took place at the kennedy Center last October, before the election. http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/watch-bill-murray-accept-mark-twain-prize-for-american-humor-w446373

Remember those happy Camelot days? Before Mr T (BT), when we thought anything was possible for our country, when we had a statesman, a gentleman for a President, and a First lady who actually lived with him and they seemed to love each other? Government may have been clunky at times, but it worked and was moving toward a brighter future for ALL Americans. After Macron’s victory in France, I was feeling pretty bleak about our state of affairs.

And on our last day in St Remy, I met a delightful, older (probably 80+) British woman who was traveling alone. I helped to translate a store clerk’s French for her – it seemed she had taken a bus to this town and the clerk thought that with the rain and the hills in the next town she should rest at the local cafe. It was too hilly and slippery the clerk said to this elegant, grey haired lady with a cane. Then my fellow traveler turned to me and asked, “Are you an American?”

“Unfortunately,” I replied, “I am.”

She looked me straight in the eye and wagged her finger at me and said in her proper British accent, “No, no, you must be proud to be an American! I am sure you are referring to Trump?” And I shook my head resolutely. In fact, I nearly cried. Some people you meet in passing bring out that Ann Tyler moment for each of us. Then she took my hand and told me that he will not last forever, that my people are smarter and stronger and there will be change. That everything changes.

So I sat with Bob at a cafe for an almond pastry and deux cappuccino and I told him her story. And we talked about how Europe takes the broad, balcony view; because of their history, maybe Brexit will be just a blip on the larger screen.

And as I was falling asleep in our own comfy bed, in that place between reality and dreams, I thought of meeting our friends at Heathrow, like the movie Love Actually. And I thought about Bill Murray’s speech, talking about the trampoline in his heart. That love is like that, it bounces out to touch others. People beyond continents and time.

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Choosing to paint, to create for your life’s work is never easy. So many artists were only discovered by the art world late in life, or even after death. Today we visited the small town of Arles, where Van Gogh lived for a short time. He had been committed to an asylum on the outskirts of town, where he painted “The Weeders.”

The museum devoted to Vincent was small with less than a dozen of his paintings. But the exhibit that grabbed me, that caught me by the throat was about an American woman artist I had never heard of; someone who was from my home state of PA. Her paintings and a video of her life drew me into the Flapper’s world. One that was less than kind to passionate women. 

Alice Neel was a portraitist who lost her first child and her second was taken away by the state. She had a compulsion to paint and her brush strokes had as much fire as the Dutch man in the other room. You could feel the pain of her subjects. 

And when she said in an interview that she always felt guilty for painting – and not keeping house as women were expected to do – until the Whitney exhibited her work when she was in her 80s, my heart skipped a beat. 

She was a sweet, beaming grandmother at that point. And when they wanted her to stop her slide show, she peed on the floor. 

On purpose. 

How many women artists have we lost over the years? How many more have I never heard of? I am in love with Provence, even in the cold and the rain. You have won me over! Maybe this beach house idea is misguided?

Here is Andy Warhol with what looks like surgical scars. 

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Another day, another market. For me this is the best way to travel; visit vintage and farmers’ markets, climb up medieval cobblestone hills with lavender wind in my hair. No laundry, no cleaning, no schedule and three cooks preparing delicious dinners every night. 

Bob just jumped into the pool because the sun has returned. Provence is warming up, the rain has stopped and it looks as if Liberty Egalite and Fraternite will win this election – the French people are voting today for inclusion, for freedom, for Macron! Tonight we will all eat cake because it’s Catherine’s birthday!

Catherine is a recovery room nurse with a golden retriever at home, who looks just like our villa dog Flash. Only Flash is a brilliant black with a white stripe down his chest. 

Tomorrow is cooking class! Ratatouille and bouillabaisse are on the menu along with an evening of wine tasting in Luberon.  I’ve never actually had to cut up a whole fish, head to tail, so wish me luck. 

And desserts? Mais oui for lunch and dinner! I’m afraid I may never eat another American strawberry again, they are so sweet here. I’m also afraid to get back on a scale when we return home. Our fabulous tour hosts are Marco, Claudio and Suzanna of https://www.whatscookin.it/

They pamper us, they drive us, they delight us every day. Barbara is teaching me about truffles because I’ve always wondered what the whole mystique is about; the smell, the tree roots, the dogs. And I’m proud to say we had some freshly grated on eggs this morning because this area is actually truffle heaven. 

I bought a couple of grams in a small shop that looks like an abbey – they are dried December truffles that smell like chocolate. I’m hoping my cousin Kenny the chef will give me a recipe or two. I was thinking of maybe sprinkling them on a white pizza? For now I must hide them from fearless Flash. 

We will light a fire and turn on the TV tonight to see the official results. Macron needs more than 60% to govern well. I am falling more in love with France every day, the language, the people, the cuisine! 

Maybe I can talk Bob into buying some inoculated filbert trees for growing truffles? I hear that TN terrain is ripe for the special symbiotic relationship it takes to create such a gastronomic delight. I wonder if Ms Bean could be trained…

Cheers to learning new things! And to my French friends for fighting fear and voting for Love. We needed them during our Revolution and we still do! 

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I hear small pieces of news from the states, like a dream I cannot remember all the pieces. Did Mika and Joe get engaged? Did Congress actually dismantle the ACA? Did somebody win the voice?

But I woke and forgot these snippets of memory to listen to coffee being ground and birds singing. My back is still tender, so after a rainy, magical walk around Aix yesterday we have decided to hang by the pool today and worship the sun. There is a medieval city across a field of wild thyme, and depending on our mood, we may take a stroll after lunch. 

Some people travel to live, and some live to travel. Like food, one can let it consume your life. And I have never been a good traveler, I’m more of a stay-at-home, non-traveler type. Maybe it was Nell and her agoraphobia, or maybe it was my semi-homeless upbringing, never feeling at home with one mother or the other, always between two families.

But our new “family” for this trip is a happy and healthy bunch staying in a secluded villa. It all started on Facebook with one of the Big Chill’s sister. Barb is a retired physician and organizes groups of friends who love food (check), love to cook (check), and love to hunt fungi (um no). Well at least I’ve never gone foraging for mushrooms, and wouldn’t know a real one from a poisonous one, but this group does. We are eleven Americans, nearly half in health related fields.

This is a different kind of trip. No traipsing through the forest on a fungi treasure hunt, just visiting open-air markets and sightseeing in the South of France. At the end of each day, our chefs have prepared fabulous meals with local ingredients. For instance, this area is known as Luberon and it is famous for wine of course, and melons! Last night we had melon ice cream for dessert and it was the freshest most delicious ice cream I’ve ever tasted in my whole life!

We are too early for the fabulous fields of lavender- that happens the end of June and early July, so as Bob likes to say, “We must return.” Because soon Bob will be getting his wings back, and I know he will want to fly away whenever and wherever the Mistral wind blows him. 

Today we miss the flower and farmers’ markets, the Roman ruins and the wine tasting at Chateauneuf du Pape. Maybe tomorrow we will be ship-shape for our trip to Avignon. I will stretch and I will swim, getting stronger every day. But right now, reading by the pool would be divine. On Sunday the French will decide their future, so who knows? Maybe Bob and I will be stranded here in Paradise. 

I had better brush up on my French, n’est ce pas?  

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