31 March 2010

Au coin de la rue du conseil et rue sans souci

Someone made this:

And a little bit to the right of that, there is another stone that says this:

But what's the last word in the phrase with "douceur des mots devenus ..." Is it dérons? débons? ???? And what does it mean?

30 March 2010

The Best Neuhaus Easter Eggs

Lichfield my darling darling darling gave me my ballotin of chocolate goodness well in advance of Easter this year, so I have had plenty of time to research which colours are the best. The results are in, and I can now reveal THE BEST Neuhaus Easter Eggs in plenty of time for you, me and everyone to get more while supplies last.

The contenders are:

dark green: dark chocolate with vanilla cream

dark red: dark chocolate gianduja*

gold: milk chocolate with caramel

light blue: milk chocolate with speculoos

light green: milk chocolate with praliné of almonds

light pink: milk gianduja*

orange: dark chocolate with praliné biscuit

purple: pure milk chocolate

red: dark chocolate with strawberry

silver-grey: pure dark chocolate

silver-white: pure white chocolate

turquoise: dark chocolate with praliné nougat

yellow: milk chocolate with crème brûlée interior


In Third Place, for consistent satisfaction every time, it's silver-grey, pure dark chocolate.

In Second Place, for a delightful change, it's the newcomer, in yellow, milk chocolate with crème brûlée.
And in First Place, because I have to lean back and close my eyes in pure pleasure whenever I eat one, it's the gold, milk chocolate with caramel.

I would also just like to say thank you to all contestants, it was a difficult decision but someone had to do it.

* Gianduja is a (smooth) blend of hazelnuts, almonds, chocolate and sugar - a cousin of Nutella, you might say.

23 March 2010

A week of very dull lunches, for which I am ultimately rewarded

It was a long week last week. First there was the cauliflower soup and tomato couscous...

... sitting there like two old friends, one with a handle, one with a spoon. But they didn't have much to say to each other, it turns out. And why is it that every time I make couscous, I think I'll like it, but I never do?

Things improved slightly ...

... with the creamed spinach with pasta and chicken. The chicken was good (recipe in this book) but altogether it was just a bit... functional. Or was it me, wishing I was elsewhere?

Maybe it was.

Maybe I was wishing for something more like this:

Yes. That's what I was wishing for. More of this, please.

22 March 2010

So fast, so fast

Child, your mittens tug your sleeves.
They lick your drumming feet, the leaves.
You come so fast, so fast.
You violate the past,
My daughter, as your coat dances.

from To My Daughter in a Red Coat by Anne Stevenson.

19 March 2010

I won a book!

Last week Eco-Libris, the blog that plants trees to make up for trees used for books, had a giveaway of Fiona Robyn's new novel, Thaw (the one that she has made available to read free on line, one day at a time for three months -- I mentioned it the other day).

Well, I entered the giveaway, and I won!

I've been reading Thaw online and am so pleased to get a hard copy. You may also know Fiona from a small stone, the blog over there on the sidebar....

Thanks, Eco-Libris! Thanks, Fiona!

17 March 2010

Our building on fire

Quite a wake-up call this morning. We heard the neighbour's dog barking, and a lot of banging around from our downstairs neighbour, but it was 7 am and thoughts were more or less "what the hell... it's too early for this." Then another neighbour rang: "Do you know there's a fire? there's smoke coming out of a window." "Um no... we heard the dog barking but.... OK, we'll be right down!"

The scene on the street

I did not have presence of mind (alas) to whip out the camera until after the flames were put out, but there were flames, big ones, licking out of the fourth floor window right under our apartment.

No one was hurt. The little girl in the fourth floor apartment is pretty shook up, but she's all right.
Her bed, however, was brought out by the firemen and it was in cinders. Aren't mattresses flame-retardant? You could see where the foam and cloth had burned away, except on one end, all the way down to all tangle of metal springs. (That's the wooden frame in the photos above and below.)

The fire department was very thorough, very professional. One neighbour, though, said that when she had phoned them they answered in Dutch, and got very flustered when she replied in French. But surely you call 100 no matter what language you speak? Maybe soon we'll have the standard voice tree even for emergency services: "Si vous voulez continuer en français, tappez un. Voor het Nederlands, druk twee. If you just want someone to get the hell over and put out a fire, don't yell at me, I just work here....."

16 March 2010

The point of boredom (of a certain sort)

Wasn’t Newton sitting underneath an apple tree staring into space, and Archimedes wallowing in the bath, when clarity struck? In my own insignificant way, I think I have always understood that doing nothing is the key to getting somewhere. As a writer, it takes a while to convince others that you are working hard whilst appearing to be lying on the sofa staring at the ceiling, but once this is accomplished it can be very useful, especially if you are enjoying staring at the ceiling and hear, “I’m sorry, he can’t come to the phone at the moment, he’s working” – which suggests a genius on the cusp of a plot breakthrough rather than someone deciding whether to have poached or scrambled eggs for lunch.

- Colin Bisset from La Vie d'Ennui in Philosophy Now

15 March 2010

Lovely little francophile blog

I was googling for Petit Marseillais products the other day – you know, the ones with the stripy boy logo

and found a lovely little francophile website and blog. The website is called Basic French and sells all kinds of French products to a US audience – things that are "beautiful, functional and typically French." I can vouch for that ... you can buy Cif on that site (the French equivalent of Soft Scrub) and Côte D'Or chocolate (that's we use!) and tisanes (herbal teas) from the supermarket chain Carrefour (not sure why those are there, to tell you the truth, when you can get Celestial Seasonings). But anyway. It's a sweet little site for any of you curious Americans out there.

The blog is called I Heart Lyon, and is written by Carol, an ex-New Yorker, who lives (as you might have guessed) in Lyon, with her two daughters, and runs the Basic French business.

Personally, I was tempted to try to get this cute t-shirt, but sadly she's only got it in small kids sizes....

12 March 2010

My hometown makes the newspapers yet again

The last time, it was the Economist, in a surprisingly positive piece titled Detroit's emptiness: The art of abandonment. Yesterday it was the Guardian with Detroit: the last days.

"Terminal decline": an apparently fascinating subject. But when I was growing up, in the 1970s, people spoke of a Detroit "renaissance." My parents took me downtown to see the Renaissance Center when it was first built, in a rare trip into the city (we lived in the suburbs; as far as I know my mother has never willingly crossed the city line – the famous 8 Mile Road – since 1967). The "RenCen," to me, was the height of sophistication: it had shops, an indoor waterfall, glass-walled elevators, a rotating rooftop restaurant. In between the shops and the rooftop restaurant were hundreds of offices, full of great views for all the Vice Presidents, Senior Partners, and assorted Head Honchos (Head Honchoes?). One 4th of July I watched the annual fireworks from up there. When we came back home from dinners out in Windsor, Ontario (where we often went to eat at the Old Fish Market), the RenCen dominated the city's skyline. Remember the film with Harrison Ford based on a book by Scott Turow – "Presumed Innocent," maybe? There are a couple of good shots of the RenCen in that film.

However, I don't really think Detroit ever had a "renaissance." It kept itself going, somehow. But the run-down wig shops on Woodward Avenue, next to the empty bulk of the old flagship Hudson's department store, said it all....

The Guardian piece is really just an ad for a film, Requiem for Detroit? (the question mark is part of it), directed by the author. It was commissioned by the BBC and will be shown on BBC2 this Saturday evening.

11 March 2010

Your life in six words - CONTEST

Teresa at The Chocolate Chip Waffle is running a Six Word Memoir contest. The winner gets chocolate - six words for chocolate!

The deadline is coming up, so don't delay....

09 March 2010

At the bus stop

When I go with Clover to the bus stop in the morning, we often meet a sister and brother who also go to her school. The sister is a bit older than Clover, about 12 years old. The brother is younger, maybe 7, in first or second grade.

Clover and the girl talk together in their slangy, schoolkid French. But the brother does not join these conversations. He sits on the bench of the bus stop, if he can, and stares. It's impossible to tell what he stares at. I can't read him.

Clover told me that the sister told her that the brother makes her life miserable. The sister is in charge of getting him to school, but the boy resists, won't put on his shoes, won't walk properly. He makes them late. He hits her and pinches her, hard. The parents don't do anything when she complains. They don't believe her, or don't want to believe her.

This morning they come to the bus stop all in a rush. The girl is out of breath, and furious. "He forgot his cartable!" She tells Clover. "Can you believe it? His cartable!" She glares at her brother, who had found his place on the bench. "We had to get off the bus, go all the way home, and then back here." She looks up at the sky, as though heaven might help her. The boy says nothing.

A woman, sitting on the bench next to the brother, tries to make light, announcing that she has forgotten her glasses today. No one responds to this woman.

The bus appears at the other side of the intersection. I say good-bye to Clover and she and the sister move down the sidewalk to where the bus doors always open. "Come on," says the girl to her brother, who's still on the bench. The boy does not move. The sister waits a few seconds, then turns away, turns her back on him. At that moment, I think, she is finished with him. Finished. I look at him sternly but as usual he is not looking at me or anything.

The bus pulls up to the stop. All the other kids line up to get on. Slowly the boy gets up from the bench, cartable in hand. One of its zippers is open and a flap hangs down, like a dog's tongue, obscuring the cartoon characters on the front of it. I imagine him, picking it out at the store, begging to have it. Insisting on the one with those particular characters.

He drags this cartable down the sidewalk, and is the last to board the bus.

08 March 2010

Oh! Risotto

I got a little distracted last week by a wonderful aubergine in coconut milk. Robert and Liliane, that's your fault, not that I'm complaining. I'm sorry to say, however, that aubergine in coconut milk does not photograph well at all. Not even in the fabulous natural lighting of my office window, where I take all these photos with my mobile phone camera. So you're getting the risotto.

It isn't as pretty as the pretty dirty rice, is it? Oh well. You can't have everything. I've been eating this for weeks now, in the continued chill of this seemingly endless winter. And why not? It's good, it's cheap, and it warms me up. And I need that.

Oh! Risotto

  • olive oil/butter
  • 1 onion, chopped so very very finely
  • 2 celery stalks, also chopped very very finely
  • 350 g (about 2 cups) risotto rice (I use Gallo, because I like the little chicken on the box it comes in 500g boxes)
  • 1 glass white wine
  • about 1,5 litres (about the same in quarts, or 6+ cups) stock (I use Marigold bouillon), HOT. It has to be HOT.
  • 3-5 tblsps grated parmesan (although I have been known to spike this with gruyère)
  • optional - about 100 grams lardons or a few slices of bacon, diced

My Method

In a large pot or saucepan with straight sides, heat olive oil and/or bit of butter and add onions and celery. Let get all soft and the onions golden, but do not burn. This may take longer than you want it to, but be patient.

Crank up the heat and add the rice, stirring so that the rice is coated with butter/oil. Let it really get good and coated. Add the white wine, cranking the heat up further so the wine boils away. Then, add some hot stock – about a cupful. (Most recipes will say something about a "ladleful" but I make the stock in a pyrex measuring jug and don't see why I need to dirty a ladle.) Stir everything around. The stock will boil and the rice will absorb it. Lower the heat a little, now, to about medium. You are going to add stock, a little at a time, and you don't want it to boil away too fast. Neither do you want it to take forever. What we're looking for here is a happy medium, simmering-yet-lively, level of heat.

Keep adding stock to the rice. You do not have to stir all the time, despite what others will tell you. They are mistaken, or have too much time on their hands. Stirring is good, and useful, but you can get away with stirring for a couple of minutes right after you add more stock (each time you add some), and towards the end of each round of absorption. In between, you can do something else (and it does help, I think, to be doing something else while the risotto's cooking. Otherwise it is very tedious. )

Repeat adding stock and stirring. You can add a peeled whole garlic clove to the pan, if you like, for more flavour.

While this is going on, fry the lardons or bacon. Get them nice and crispy. Drain off the grease.

The risotto should be done in about 20-30 minutes. The rice should be cooked through but still "al dente".

You may not use all of the stock, it depends on the consistency you prefer.

Add the lardons/bacon and the parmesan, keeping some of each to sprinkle on top if you like. Taste-test for salt and pepper.

I used to be tempted to add frozen peas to this, but the girls prefer the peas to be on the side, and I've come around to their way of thinking. What you want here is pure, unadulterated creamy risottoness.

05 March 2010

"Publishing a volume of poetry ...

is like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo."

This is a quote attributed to Don Marquis (an American writer I'd never heard of before) in the comments section of The New Math of Poetry.

I'm sure he meant it as a reality check but to me, that's a lovely little image. One day I hope to have a little collection published and I will wait for that feeling – a gentle floating downward, maybe buoyed here and there by breezes.

And after reading that article, man! how glad I am that the UK's poetry world is so different from the US's. And how fortunate I am that the UK poetry world is where I submit. I wouldn't get involved with that US MFA BS for love nor money.

02 March 2010

On-line novels are where it's at!

Just to let you know, we're taking a short pause here with Odete, Jaqueline & a Little Bit of Hope by Andrea, basically so that Andrea can catch her breath. We'll resume in a couple of months. In the meantime, if you've gotten used to reading a fiction online, I just heard that Fiona Robyn is posting her new work, Thaw, on-line, one day at a time for the next 90 days. The posts take the form of the diary of Ruth, who is "32 years old and doesn't know if she wants to be 33..."

Start reading here, with Ruth's entry for the first of March.

(via Scott Pack)

01 March 2010

What women need

Losing my hairdresser has made me think about things – not very deep things, all of them, mind you, but important things. Necessary things. Things, in fact, that women need in order to get on in the world of today. What women want, I'd say to Freud, is like the sea: constantly changing; and it isn't that we're never satisfied, but that the goalposts keeping shifting. What women need, on the other hand, is more constant. A good hairdresser, for starters – and preferably one that doesn't leave you high and dry without saying a word. But also
  1. a good bookstore
  2. a secret bolthole
  3. three really good recipes (one starter, one main course, one dessert)
  4. a couple of off-the-beaten-trail places to shop, whether for clothes or shoes or furnishings, that you don't tell anyone else about
  5. some good friends (obviously)
  6. kids are optional though, as are dogs and cats
  7. and men, although having a good one around is pretty wonderful
  8. notwithstanding number 7, a bicycle.

By the way, that's the order in which they came to me – it doesn't signify order of importance. Maybe today I'd put the bicycle first. Tomorrow, maybe the bolthole. Have I left anything really obvious out? I do that sometimes. Let me know, will you?