french food

I love food.  It is so much fun to try crazy new things because you never know when you might discover one of your new favorite things (ex: I now love eating beets!).  You also learn a lot about a country and its culture through the food.  So naturally over the course of my semester in France, I kept an open mind when it came to food and always tried a bite before I refused anything.  This led to me discovering many delicious foods and a few odd ones here and there.

Here is a summary post of some of the highlights of my french food experience:

Things that I loved/liked/would eat again
tapenade – Evelyne and I first tried this olive oil spread after we purchased it fresh from the market in Aix. Then it became a regular part of my life in France.
brandade – This was another item that Evelyne had me try from the market, it is boiled cod with garlic, potatoes, and anchovies all mashed up together in a spread.
fromage au chèvre – Goat cheese is extremely popular in France.  Although I don’t normally like cheese, I enjoyed the extremely fresh and creamy cheese smeared on a piece of baguette.
fennel – Evelyne served this veggie as a crudité before many dinners.  My best description of it – an anise (black licorice) flavored cross of celery and onion.
beets – This was another crudité served before dinner.  I had not eaten many beets before, but I loved the way these tasted – all that was added to the cold beets was a little bit of olive oil, vinegar, salt, and garlic.
pain au chocolat – my absolute favorite pastry (highlights were in Cassis and in Paris)
Orangina – we have that in the states, but it is definitely not as popular as in France.
violet tea – Evelyne and I would have tea time around 4 pm on the weekends, and we always brewed some violet tea.
parisian falafels – Never have I ever eaten such a delicious pita filled with green falafel balls and other delicious veggies.
frambosier – a delicious cake that was made of meringue, raspberries, and vanilla cake

Things that weren’t my favorite
pâté – None of the meat spreads really pleased my palate.
hearts of palms with mustard sauce – We attempted to add this to the pre-dinner crudités, but then decided to stick to fennel and beets.
any stinky cheese – If it wasn’t melty or extremely fresh from the market, it wasn’t my favorite.  Neither was the smell that the refrigerator had for the entire week after it was purchased, despite that it was wrapped in foil, placed in tupperware, and sealed in the bottom drawer.
grilled squid heads with olive oil – One bite was enough to know.
foie gras – I was given a taste of this duck spread on a baguette one night as I was wrapping up some homework before dinner.  After the second attempt at liking this French speciality, I had to resort to Evelyne’s not super popular but sometimes used method of getting rid of food – flung out the window.  Hopefully some happy french pup enough those three bites left.  Needless to say, I didn’t ask for seconds of that appetizer.

Memorable Meals 
tarte tatin – Evelyne’s upside down caramel apple tart that is heavenly!
home-made pasta sauce  - Evelyne made a mean tomato bolognese sauce.
the jarred italian arrabiata sauce
raclette
– In the past I had eaten raclette, but that was the German way.  I didn’t even know there were different ways to eat this melty cheese meal, but I soon found out that in France you just melt the cheese in the little machine and then you pour that over your assortment of potatoes, meat, and veggies. Instead of making a little dish of various things and then melting the cheese directly on top of it (the German method).
tarte tatin aux eshallots – I tasted my favorite restaurant’s version of the upside down pie as an appetizer, but it was caramelized shallots covered in melty goat cheese.  Imagine French onion soup in pie format and better.
thé/café gourmand – You must get this for dessert whenever you eat at a French restaurant.  It is either a tea or an expresso with miniatures of all of the desserts offered that night – so you get a warm drink AND you get to taste all of the desserts that you were deciding between!
menu grec – my friends and I loved to frequent this little greek shop where we would get these delicious pita sandwiches!
any of the fish dishes I tried at Drole d’Endroit (my favorite restaurant in Aix)

There was plenty of other delicious food in between, but those were some of my favorite dishes and favorite stories related to food.  Meanwhile, I’ve been re-adjusting to my American food – Brunton Dairy chocolate milk, burgers, Chipotle, macaroni and cheese, home made dinners…

the beginning of the goodbyes…

This might be one of the more difficult posts to write because it’s all about this past week and how things are starting to wind down and come to a close here in Aix.  It’s not a simple thing – to live here and adjust your life to being abroad and now suddenly be expected to just fly home the day after finals end.

Last Friday, Evelyne invited over our neighbors from upstairs for a little dinner party.  I thought they were just coming over for dinner, but no this was a real dinner party.  Complete with a table cloth, 3.5 hours of not moving from my chair, multiple bottles of wine, and so much conversation all in French.  She made aloutttes sans tete, which is some sort of stuffed meatball things with a delicious sauce served over pasta.  They were talking about what the meat was and I didn’t full catch exactly what it was and I’m not sure I want to understand what it was cause I heard something about turkey feet in there… (In the future, there will be  post that I’ve been adding to all along that talks about my foodie experience here in Europe!) Then there was something hilarious at dinner about a plate, and everyone laughed at that for a few hours. Once 11:30 pm rolled around, the neighbors realized that I was nearly falling asleep at the table and we all cleaned up and moved our tiny circle table back to the kitchen where it normally sits. What a night!

Sunday morning I ran a 10k through Aix with one another one of my friends here in Aix.  What a pleasure it was to run a race through my city.  It wasn’t as large as the one in Paris, but it had just as much meaning to me.  Nothing beats a little runner’s high on the Cours Mirabeau! And that evening one of my friends had us over to her house to spend some time chatting before the craziness of the end started.  She has a beautiful balcony from her apartment, where we stood in awe of the sunset.

Classes ended officially, but before finals began, we had the final exhibition at Marchutz.  It was one of the best nights I’ve had in Aix.  Basically, our professors hung up what they thought to be our best work inside the studio.  Then the students set up a “salon de refusee” and we displayed the artwork that we all loved the most in easels outside the studio in the garden.  Once everything was all set up, crowds of people arrived to have a little snack, a glass of wine, and a look at what we have been working on all semester.  There were students and professors and administrators, I was surprised at how quickly it got crowded!  Then things started to die down a little bit, and the only people that were left were the Marchutz students, our two professors, and a few close friends of Marchutz students.  At this point in the night as per tradition, pizzas was ordered and the music was turned up a little bit.  We all ended up hanging out in the studio dancing and enjoying one last night together.  The entire night we danced to Django Reinhardt, our professor’s favorite dancing music.  I LOVE it, and if you don’t know his music you should definitely check it out – he’s a jazz guitarist.  I’ll always think of  that night when I hear this music, which is now a regular go to choice for me.

Today, I took my art history final and felt great about it.  Then my friend Amelia and I made a spur of the moment decision to go see Gatsby le Magnifique this afternoon.  It was so spur of the moment that we really did sit down for Gatsby le Magnifique, and when we realized Toby Maguire was speaking the fastest french that I’ve ever seen an American speak (sans subtitles), we got a refund for our money and ran to the theatre next door to see the VO (version original) which just happened to start about 15 minutes later.

Now I have two more finals left on Friday, a dinner date with Evelyne tomorrow, and a significant amount of packing to do before Will arrives on Saturday. Thanfkfully, I don’t leave Aix directly following my finals, instead Will and I will spend five days exploring and enjoying Aix to the fullest.  Then we’ll stop in Paris for two days to make a day trip to Giverny, the garden where Monet painted.  Will will head back to the states and I’ll be off to Germany to visit my dear friends there before I fly home.  I expect the next few weeks to be a little bit busy soaking up the last little bit of provence before I leave.  I’ll be sure to eat a pain au chocolat in honor of each of you, and you’ll be sure to hear from me as soon as I land back on American soil.

the calanques

Last weekend, my friend Elizabeth and I set off to check off something that had been on our bucket list for this semester since the first weekend – visit the calanques of Cassis.  Cassis is a little harbor town just about an hour from Aix, but it isn’t just any harbor town.  It has these series of white stone cliffs with trees on them called Calanques that jet out from land into the sea.  They are beautiful! And we had been talking about hiking them all semester long!

So we took a couple of early morning buses to make our way there, and started the trip off right with what I deemed to be the most delicious pain au chocolat of the semester.  The chocolate was melty, there were millions of layers of flaky dough, and the outside even had a little crispness to it.  Then we explored the town a little bit before we set off on our hike through the calanques.

It is a little bit of a hike to get to the start of the calanques, and then there are a few points where it is a little scary to those of us like me that are a little bit scared of heights (lets be real, i was pretty scared).  But we continued on slowly – both because I was a little scared and we had to stop and take photos every five minutes.

After we rounded the peak of the second Calanque, we spotted our picnic spot!  A beautiful little beach right in between two Calanques.  It was less crowded than the city beaches because you have to work to get to the beauty, and then from there you can enjoy the peaceful beach.  We had a little picnic lunch and took a dip in the clear turquoise sea.

Note:  all beaches in France are fair game to be a “topless beach”, even the once that you have to hike one hour to get to.  Its always a little surprising when you forget about that  and set off for the first day at the beach!

After our afternoon on the pebble beach (which might be prettier but it is definitely less comfortable than sand), we hiked back to the town just in time to grab an ice cream cone – exactly the perfect way to finish off a day at the beach!

oh la la

oh la la.  On average, I hear that little saying at least twice a day.  It is not just for the little french grandma that you think of when you hear oh la la.  Everyone says it.  Just the other day, those cool 16 year old boys who just dropped their lighter said oh la la as I passed them in the street.  And today, I must have heard it about 50 times (and that is not an exaggeration).

This morning, I had my final goodbye painting session with mount sainte victoire.  I would have never thought that I would have ever been this emotional about a mountain, but I am currently still recovering from the fact that I won’t be painting mount sainte victoire (at least until my next visit to Aix).  I will miss all those precious hours that I spent painting in front of that mountain.

After I finished my final painting session, Evelyne and I jumped in the car and hit the road.  We had been talking about going to the beach for a while, and so we decided to throw an adventure in on a Thursday afternoon, cause Pourquoi pas? (why not?) We drove down the highway to Toulon, which is only an hour away from Aix.  I jumped out of the car and dipped my toes in the turquoise mediterranean once we got to the beach.  Then we continued to drive to Evelyne’s petit frère and belle soeur’s house (literal translation: little brother and pretty sister, meaning: little brother and sister-in-law, but i just love that they use the word pretty). Of course, we got lost a little bit and drove around Toulon for a bit.

When we arrived at their house, I was blown away by how perfect it was.  It had a great little enclosed garden in the front with an office in the garden, then an outdoor terrace with glass and lots of windows (almost like a greenhouse), then an adorably decorated petite house.  We spent the afternoon chatting with Evelyne’s fantastic family, where I probably heard oh la la said about 40 times between Evelyne, her belle soeur, and her belle soeur’s mother.  I loved it.

Sidenote:  I had the most delicious salty caramel ice cream at their house in Toulon this afternoon.  Just as her belle soeur said – she would be waiting for us with the most delicious ice cream in the world. And to think I didn’t believe her earlier today…

Before we left, we had to all “faire la bise” and Evelyne’s brother gave her a little mini herb garden growing kit. She insisted that her hand wasn’t green, but it came home with us anyways (I’ll be keeping an eye on it until I leave next weekend).

As usual, Evelyne and I had a great little drive home where I told her how much I loved seeing her family again and that the quick stop at the beach was refreshing!  Then it started to pour down rain during our drive home.  I’ll never forget that moment when we turned around a mountain and directly in front of us stood my mountain – Sainte Victoire!  Maybe another reason I won’t forget that moment was because Evelyne’s favorite Rihanna song came on her playlist – we found love in a hopeless place – and we both sang along. Haha :)

a day in the life of van gogh

I’ve always been a big fan of Van Gogh.  There is an art history class here at IAU that is all about Cezanne and Van Gogh.  I’m not actually in the class, but the professor is also my painting professor and I know the majority of the class well.  Therefore after asking if I could join the class for an excursion, I became an honorary member of the class.

I was able to join them on their day trip that would include many pit stops to see the various sites that were important in Van Gogh’s life.  First, we made our way to Arles, where we sat in the grass in front of Van Gogh’s motif that featured a draw bridge.  Our professor brought out large reproductions of the painting, and then we discussed it thoroughly with the actual sight just in front of us.  What an amazing experience.

Then we went on to the Alyscamps, which is an ancient roman road that leads straight to Rome and is lined with ancient sarcophagi. Again, we pulled out the Van Gogh and took a look in real life.

Finally, we went into the town of Arles, where we saw the hospital where Van Gogh stayed after he cut off a portion of his ear.  There is a beautiful courtyard that has been restored to be exactly the way that it was when he painted it.  On our way around the city we saw a number of other motifs – a bridge, the starry night over the rhone, the night cafe.  And we even passed an ancient roman colosseum!

Our next stop was the Abbey Montmajour, but sadly it was closed.  So we continued on to St. Remy, where we could have some more time to explore.

In St. Remy, we visited the asylum that Van Gogh voluntarily checked himself into.  It is still in operation today, and there are patients in the wing that Van Gogh once stayed in.  They have art therapy there, just like Van Gogh used his painting as a way to cope with his illness.  But we were able to visit a replica of his room, and we saw the view that he painted so many times.  He painted great masterpieces through those barred windows!  Eventually, he was also allowed out on the grounds to paint as well.  There are some amazing gardens full of irises (which he painted!), a beautiful cloister,and olive tree fields.

I was incredibly thankful to spend the day with a great group of my fellow students (a mix of both art and non art students) and one of my favorite professors! It was breathtaking to see the actual places where Van Gogh painted his masterpieces!

flowers and friends

Janie and I continued our spring break adventures when we took a little airplane from a teeny airport just outside of London over to Amsterdam.  We had big plans to meet up with our good friend, Danny, and see the tulips (it just happened to be peak week, and I just couldn’t wait to go see the beautiful tulips!).

After a little bit of trouble speaking Dutch and getting off at the wrong stop on the bus and having to walk a little bit farther to our little apartment (because every bus stop name started with s and ended in dijk), we got settled into an adorable airbnb apartment just on the outside edge of Amsterdam.  It was a high tech bachelor pad – as seen by the selection of a million action movies, lamps where you could choose the color of the light, and the simple fact that all of the mirrors and shelfs were located so high up on the walls that I could barely reach them without a stool.  Janie and I had a long day of travel, so we decided to return to our summer fun of cooking together and just enjoy some down time together.

Our first day in Amsterdam included many of the museums I had been looking forward to!  Sadly, we chased the Van Gogh Sunflowers all across Europe, missing them by mere days (they were in London and left the day before we got there to go to Amsterdam for the opening of the new Van Gogh museum which happened on the first of May).  But we got in quickly to the Rijksmuseum (great dutch art!) which has also been newly renovated.  I was blown away by the beauty and the details of the dutch artists.  We were able to stroll around and soak in all of the masters – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh… As we walked out into a rainstorm after our visit there, we saw that the lines had grown so long that we were not even allowing more people into the museum!  Talk about good timing!  Then we decided to stroll through the city, stopping for some frites along the way to meet our friend Danny at the Anne Frank House.

We had a couple of plans set in place to find Danny in case if we had trouble (student life without international phones is tricky).  But we found him!  We ended up sitting in a cafe for a couple of hours at the beginning just chatting because we hadn’t seen each other in so long.  Reunions are my favorite. Then we walked through the Anne Frank House, which is always such a moving experience especially because of how much I have studied her diaries throughout my time in school.

That evening we spent chatting up a storm like we usually do, swapping abroad stories, and fondly talking about our home-y college on the hill. There’s nothing like a DU reunion.  It didn’t matter where we were, just that we shared some time together.

The next day was spent adventuring to Lisse, a smaller town outside of Amsterdam, where Keukenhof is located.  Keukenhof is this huge flower park, located in the midst of fields and fields of tulips.  It took a couple of buses and some team work to get there, but we made it along with a bunch of other people! It was peak week and it also happened to be the one day of the year when they have their own version of the Rose Parade with floats covered only in flowers, vehicles with huge flower arrangements on them, and marching bands! So we toured the flower park, explored through the canals and fields of flowers, and then watched the parade! Our little trio then made our way back into Amsterdam and spend one last night together before the next reunion in the fall!

It was such a lovely weekend in Holland.  I was extremely happy to see all of the tulips, and if you can imagine – I was even more excited to see some of my great friends from Denison! It re-charged my batteries to be reunited with friends.  In fact, it was a fantastic theme for my spring break!

happy lily of the valley day

Or French Labor Day. Or May Day. Or just May First.

Whatever day you want to call it, I had a great one. Evelyne explained to me over breakfast that for May 1st, everyone gives each other Lilies of the Valley or Muguet to wish each other happiness.  Okay, maybe its more like the women buy each other Muguets.  Anyways, you can find a million people selling them today and even earlier this week.  It’s just a tradition that comes with their labor day here, along with having the day off!  Which lead to me  finding out that in French you don’t say that someone has a green thumb, rather they have a “main verte” (a green hand). Also, Evelyne is convinced that I look like Gigliola Cinquette, an Italian singer.  She is telling everyone we meet now.

And today we had big plans.  It was Evelyne’s grandson’s first birthday party.  So we drive out to her daughter’s house where nearly the entire family is assembled to celebrate the little one’s birthday.  It was so sweet!  There were so many lilies of the valley over the house because everyone brought them for each other, another sweet part of the day.  I spent the afternoon getting to know all of the fantastic people in Evelyne’s family.  I had already met a majority of them, but there were some new faces.  We talked a lot about the differences in American and French culture.  And silly things like the fact that baby showers are just now becoming popular in France as a result of American TV series.

Then the strawberry cake was cut and the champagne bottles popped.  The little one blew out his candle, we toasted to his health, and everyone sang happy birthday in French. That table set for 18 people was full of happy, chatty family for the rest of the afternoon.

After about one hour of goodbyes (we need all that time to faire le bise to all 17 other people, and some people two times just because), Evelyne and I started on our way home.  We drove past the Mediterranean with the windows down playing Evelyne’s playlist of – Rihanna, Italian singers, Arabic music, Adele, and U2.   Evelyne apologized for not staying at my side all day, but I assured her that I had a great time and she should not worry about that – especially around her family!  On this first of May, I couldn’t have felt any more thankful to be included as a part of her family here in the south of France.

 

the remnants of a birthday cake

the remnants of a birthday cake

a french family pizza party

It’s great how quickly this place has become a home to me.  After traveling for a couple of weeks, it was refreshing to return back to Aix.  It really felt like home to me.  It’s not a replacement to my real home, but it is another home.  Through this study abroad experience, I have gained another family, new friends, new skills, new experiences, and plenty of laughs.

The other day our little Aix apartment was bustling.  The day turned out to be a little family reunion at our place.  It was an impromptu kind of event, which are normally the best.  Since we had a bunch of people at our house unexpectedly, Evelyne decided to order some pizzas.  Only in France is the special at the pizza place – buy five pizzas get a bottle of wine free (not a two liter of coke, like in the states).  Of course, we went with that option.  I think we have enough pizza to last the next four months (not really, but it was a lot of pizza for the number of people).

The mini family reunion was cute and simple.  Everyone just sat in the living room catching up and sharing stories.  I could understand most of what was said, even though everyone was speaking rather fast.  After I said a few things, the family from out of town said that I was going to be leaving Aix with a southern French accent.  I didn’t really know the difference, so we spent a few minutes comparing the different ways the people in the family say “pain” (bread).  There is a difference!  The family from out of town couldn’t get over our accents, and they said that it reminds them of vacation and they just love hearing it.  I’m happy my french will continue to have Aix roots.

I’ve explained in the past how in France everyone does the kiss on either cheek (known as la bise).  This quickly becoming one of my favorite things about southern France.  But have you ever thought about how long it takes for a family reunion to wrap up when everyone has to faire la bise? Let me tell you, it takes a long time.  But its not awkward now that I remember which way to go first (normally i kiss the other person’s left cheek first and that usually works).  At the end, Evelyne’s brother was leaving and he was getting called out for forgetting to kiss her. Man, was I glad I remembered everyone.  Or else, it is very impolite to leave without the kiss.  Don’t worry, he came back in to give her a kiss before he left.

Next french family adventure – Wednesday is Evelyne’s grandson’s first birthday party and we are invited.  I’m looking forward to seeing the adorable little one, eating some cake, and more family adventures!