Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Vas-y, Francky, c'est bon!

Oh my oh my... I still haven't finished talking about our vacation in France, but what can I do? I'll promise a post about St. Saturnin and La Fontaine de la Vaucluse, is that all right? In the meantime, be content with this:

Once upon a time, during assistantship days...

At my going-away party, all of the English teachers and some other colleagues gathered to celebrate. We had a really fun time, eating, drinking... and someone had brought a karaoke machine! I was able to sing a lot of the English songs (one of the teachers even played "Wild World" on his guitar for me to sing), but I was unfamiliar with the old French karaoke chestnuts like "Cette annee-la." By the end of the night, we were all pretty happy and silly. It wasn't just a goodbye party for me, but one of the other English teachers had recently been promoted and was leaving the school. He was one of the best teachers and I had really enjoyed working with him.

All of a sudden, I realized that nearly everyone was in the living room listening to that same teacher boogie down with the karaoke machine, laughing like crazy. I couldn't understand many of the words of the song (which is okay, because half of them are in Creole), but he was singing the girls' part: "Vas-y, Francky, c'est bon! Vas-y, Francky, c'est bon bon bon!"* It was probably the funniest thing I'd ever heard: an older man, with stylish clothes and graying hair, simpering about how sexy Francky was in bed... He was really hamming it up, too!

He ended up sounding (and acting) like this girl I just saw on YouTube:

If you'd like to hear "Fruit de la passion" in its entirety, feel free to watch Francky Vincent get it on. My favorite line? "Il n'y a pas que la fesse dans la vie... il y a le sexe, aussi!"**

*Go for it, Francky, it's good! Keep going, Francky, it's good good good!
**I'm not translating that for you ;)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Zoo and the Aquarium

You may remember that on Christmas day, when le Parisien was in town, we tried to go to the new aquarium in Montpellier, "Mare Nostrum." Unfortunately they hadn't published the right holiday schedule and it was closed. Finally we all headed back one day to check it out.

When we got there, the line stretched across the parking lot. Parents yelled at kids who ran away, heading toward the streetcar tracks or the movie theater. Le Pacha wanted to brave it out, but the rest of us decided that it would be too annoying to wait for over an hour to get in. Instead, we went to the Zoo, with its new greenhouse/Amazonian rainforest exhibit.

This was a great choice, since there were about two people ahead of us in line and it was a lot cheaper than the aquarium. It was warm in the greenhouse and there were plenty of interesting animals. Afterwards we watched the lemurs fight over their food before going back to the car.

We decided to check the aquarium one more time before going home. Since we arrived around lunchtime, the line was cut in half. We waited for half an hour or so, our stomachs grumbling, and then explored the aquarium. It was very nice, complete with penguins, sharks, and a little girl who wiped her nose on Belle-Maman's hand.

Afterwards we went to the nearby China buffet, making le Pacha's day complete.

Monday, January 07, 2008

La Maison de la Lozère

One of the most amazing gifts that Jube and I received was lunch for two at la Maison de la Lozere. Jube and I have been to some nice restaurants, but we aren't usually able to afford the really really nice ones. (One exception, of course, was the Manor House Restaurant where we had our wedding!) I was getting over my cold and Jube had just caught a watered-down version, but we were both able to smell, taste, and see. We were in for a treat!

We both ordered kir royal for our aperitif, which came with two plates of mises-en-bouche. The first plate was a savory trio shaped like desserts. They were: one cream puff with a vodka cream filling (chou a la creme a la vodka), a dark chocolate bonbon with leek filling, and a little hard-candy shaped mozzarella treat with poppy seeds and herbs. The three were served on an inch-thick rectangle of Plexiglas. The second plate of mises-en-bouche was a bit more substantial, including one salmon sushi and one carrot gelee. They were both very tasty!

By this time, though, Jube had begun to worry that we were only going to be getting tiny portions for lunch. Our first course proved him wrong. It was a marinated tuna steak served on top of a citrus gelee, with a small salad on the side, a candy-like rectangle of seaweed, and an "emulsion d'eau de mer" (a small amount of what looked and tasted like sea foam). The food was wonderful, and I was getting excited about our main course.

Jube chose hare, which was served wrapped in ham. His sides included a "croustillant de tete de veau" (a 3-d rectangle of fried meaty goodness) and a poached egg. I chose the fish, which was served with a sweet corn mousse and tempura-fried leeks.

At la Maison de la Lozere, every main dish is served with aligot. Aligot is a mixture of cheese (tomme de Lozere) and mashed potatoes. It is the regional dish of Lozere. (We actually made it once, and you can see the picture here.) Jube happened to grow up in the region, and he was used to eating aligot made by the peasants of Lozere: in a big pot with a huge wooden spoon. When the aligot would stick to the spoon, the peasant (probably smoking a cigarette with dirt under his nails) would push the aligot back down into the main mixture. It would be served by slapping the aligot into the bowl or plate that was offered.

It is served a bit differently at la Maison de la Lozere. The waiter or waitress picks up a serving of aligot held between two spoons. He or she then twists the aligot into pretty patterns while placing it into our single-serving bowls. Jube and I were both reminded of a Japanese steakhouse where preparing the food is as much fun as eating it. The aligot filled up any holes we might have had from small portions, and we were offered more (and we both declined).

For dessert, Jube had a plum crumble (mirabelles) and I chose a small turnover filled with bananas and mangoes. Both were served with sorbet, and mine was served with a sweet avocado puree. (In fact, the avocado puree was part of the reason I chose my dessert. In Nice I fell in love with the avocado ice cream sold at several of the artisanal ice cream stands. I have to say that the avocado puree was almost better!)

Afterwards our waiter offered us coffee, but neither of us took it. Mistake! I thought that our lunch was over, but how could I forget that sweets often come with the after-dinner coffee in France? Luckily, we were still able to eat the after-dessert dessert. It included a small glass of chocolate ganache, one coffee-flavored macaron, and one white-chocolate truffle. The macaron and the truffle were served impaled on sticks that protruded from another inch-thick slab of Plexiglas.

The food was wonderful, and I only wish that someday I can go back - and get coffee!

(Yes, I know there are no pictures! Jube and I were too embarrassed to get out our big digital camera. Rest assured: the food was beautiful, as was the restaurant. It is located in one of the medieval buildings in Montpellier, with vaulting stone ceilings and a view on a private terrace.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Christmas (the 24th and the 25th)

The next day, after waking up late, we headed to Montpellier for some last-minute Christmas shopping. We had already gotten gifts for everyone, but we wanted to add an iTunes gift card to le Parisien's bounty and pick up some wrapping paper. And of course, I wanted to visit my favorite town, get a crepe from my favorite crepe stand, and take some pictures.

Les Trois Graces, looking as beautiful as ever.

After we got home, Belle-Maman made us put on nice clothes for Christmas Eve dinner. Although Jube grumbled a bit, we dressed up and waited around for his relatives to arrive. They are always late, and everyone teased Belle-Maman for having told them to arrive between 8:30 and 9:00 - we knew they wouldn't get there before 9:15.

We had a wonderful Christmas feast, which included homemade foie gras (gorgeous and tasty); oysters (ick); little "oriental" (middle-eastern) meaty appetizers with salad; and fish wrapped in crispy ham with an orange cream sauce. Everything was wonderful except for the oysters, but everyone else seemed to enjoy them!

After dinner we opened up our presents. Le Pacha was initially quite disappointed... For some reason, he was convinced that "le Papa Noel americain" was going to bring him an iPod, when in reality the American Santa Claus brought him a polar fleece from Old Navy. He was further disillusioned when he unwrapped the package my mother had sent from the US to find an Xbox 360 - a box that turned out to be filled with food and candles. Happily, le Parisien had given him a brand new cell phone that triples as a camera and an mp3 player, so he ended up with at least a little bit of the electronics of his dreams.

The next day we woke up late again. As I stumbled downstairs, I noticed that the table was set with the nice china and silverware. That was when I remembered that Memee was coming for Christmas lunch, and we would have more gifts to open. I quickly dressed and was presentable in time for the aperitif - Beau-Papa's delectable pate en croute:
(How delicately he cuts it!)

For this meal, we had turkey with chestnuts and the Belle-Famille's favorite mushrooms, cepes.
As our first course, we had more of Belle-Maman's foie gras - you can see the only remains, the yellow fat, on our plates.

We ended the meal with a homemade buche de noel.
After lunch, le Parisien decided to take us to Montpellier's new aquarium, le Mare Nostrum. We checked online to make sure it was open, and then headed out. When we arrived, we discovered that there had been an error on the website, and it was actually closed. Many families stood around the door, complaining about the misinformation. We headed back to Gallargues, a bit disappointed but with the knowledge that leftovers awaited us at the house...