Tag Archives: friends

The Travel Buddy Checklist

3499_10100229988228615_847782171_nIt’s a new year! New resolutions, new to-do lists, and twelve whole months full of open calendar just begging to be filled.

Being back in the motherland means I have many more people to visit, and old friends who could be new options for travel buddies. This could be a real blast… or it could end in near fisticuffs when we find out that we are completely, utterly unsuited for bus-hopping and sightseeing together.

Enter, stage left, the Travel Buddy Survey.

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La Maison Forestière

A nearby forest-bound sculpture garden.

The more idyllic the scenery, the harder it is for me to take pictures. That was the case this week when I visited one of my fellow teachers in Hennezel, France. It’s home to less than 450 people and completely surrounded by woods, but somehow cozy anyway. My host’s husband is a forestier; something like a woodsman or a forest ranger, who spends most of his days walking through the woods choosing the best trees to cut down while allowing the forest to prosper. Their house is a “maison forestière” heated entirely by wood with vegetable patches against the lean-to, and blossoming pear trees and lilac bushes.

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Easter in Epinal

The weather has turned cold, rainy and cloudy again, which is only fair for early April in the north. It made my arbitrary attendance of Easter Sunday service in the 12th-century stone basilica a little chilly, though.

One of the first pictures I ever saw of Epinal was of the basilica, when I was doing internet research from Pennsyvlania. The basilica between the years of 1940 and 1944, when Epinal was maimed in skirmishes with our now-friendly German neighbors, and blown up by Americans in 1944.

Sorry, Epinal.

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I Won’t Be Home For Christmas

It’s here. The moment I’ve been nervous about since September. By tomorrow morning most of my friends will have trained or planed home to other parts of France or Europe, or even back to the States. I will be in Epinal until Dec. 21, which happens to be exactly three months after my arrival and what many people would pinpoint as the end of the “honeymoon period” of culture shock.

Christmas 2010

I’ve been terrified that the timing and the fact that this is my first holiday season away from home would be a one-two punch to my happiness and health in France. Not to jinx myself, but I think I was more prepared this time around. I could be facing a rough week, but so far I’ve been busy menu planning for Paris and the worst I’ve done is break into my aunt’s Christmas present because I have no wine in the house. (Don’t worry, it’s replaceable). And there’s a promise of snow over the next few days, which is perfect timing for a lady who has no place to go but out into it. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! I’ve also been able to do a lot of things here that I am thrilled about, such as reveling in Christmas markets, tasting chestnuts actually roasted on an open fire, and seeing Christmas in Paris.

That said, there are definitely things that I will be missing. Continue reading

More Music

If circumstances were different, my extended family could have been the next Von Trapp Family Singers. Summer family reunions with my mother’s side of the family always involved at least one night crowded into a lodge hall or outdoor gazebo, armed with guitars and MacDonald Family Reunion songbooks. It turns out that this was good training for travel. Continue reading

Ham City

Last night we had a conversation over dinner about France being the classic, revered old-world haute cuisine, but no longer the top of the heap. The new giant, in my (Spanish) host’s opinion, is Spain. Clearly there’s some bias there, but I have to say that I am wowed, and am learning a lot in a very short time.

Last night’s dinner was at home, and simple. Rioja, salad, sliced bread, cheeses and dried meats. This was referred to as “cold cuts,” though I’ve never seen anything less like a cold cut in my life. And they key ingredient is the ham.

I’m in Salamanca, the Castille region, which is known for producing the very best ham in a ham country. In the market of about 20 booths, 12 to 15 sell dried meats, and all of those sell the iconic jamón ibérico legs that look about like a caveman club, and can cost up to 300 euros. The reason for the price? First of all, it lasts for months. Second of all, these black pigs are carefully raised, fed almost exclusively the acorns that grow in the region, and they run around happily in a field until killing time. The jam is then dried and cured for months or years.

It’s amazing. Not salty, not honey ham or slimy, not dry like sausage or chewy like jerky. It’s tender and has a robust flavor, and would pair as well with a fancy tapas dish as it did with our coffee table picnic. I don’t even EAT ham in the United States. This ham is so good that you can sign up for classes to learn how to cut it properly, but you’ll have to shell out 400 euros to do it.

Sadly, I cannot transport this magical treat to all my friends in the States. What I DO suggest is having a ham party worth spending $200 to ship some ham for a bunch of people. Or if you’re in New York, you can buy it at shops like Murray’s Real Salami and try it at the table at tapas joints like Pata Negra, another name for jamon iberico. Full rumor list here.


It’s Good to Have Housemates

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Sunday dinner porch sit. Let me be clear that I cooked none of this. All I did was buy the chicken and the eggplant, and wash the dishes. Hopefully I can make up for that with some rainy day baking … Continue reading