Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cooking is sensual

You eat to live or live to eat.

I fall into the second category. My mother was a gourmet cook, my grandmother a plain New England cook but meals at our house were always an important part of each day. Not only did we enjoy the food, it was time to catch up on the days events if not to discuss food, politics, books or whatever felt right at the moment. The table was nicely set and manners were taken for granted or else...

The pewter pitcher, which now holds my cooking spoons, forks and spatulas, was filled with ice water causing beads of moisture on the outside. I loved to run my finger down the pitcher creating rivulets.

Except for having to drink my milk, it was a wonderful time of day. My mother and grandmother did allow me to add Bosco to help me swallow the horrible white stuff. Mostly there was laughter.

As a parent as well as part of a co-operative where my daughter and I lived with two other adults until she was a teenager, our schedules were such that meals together usually involved a sacrosanct Friday night and weekends. Even when we were in process of renovating a house, good smells would override the paint odors as a stew or spaghetti simmered on the stove to be enjoyed at the end of the day. Sunday night before we started the next crazy week was especially meaningful because we could truly enjoy each other's company.

When my daughter and I lived on our own, sitting down to a meal was important not just for the food but for the conversation. Sometimes we did have "rude" meals where manners gave way to picnics in front of the television, but again "breaking bread together" was more than the sum of its parts.

Rick and I may get our own breakfasts and suppers, but the noon meal is a must with a properly set table and work put aside. Sometimes we opt for a restaurant, but more often I cook and he cooks sometimes.

Today, cooking was a joy. 

We'd been out to the shops to get the ingredients, chatting with the owners as we made our decisions on what would be best. It's chilly again and our cheeks tingled just a little. Even though we didn't buy bread, the smell of it baking wafted out on the street as we passed on the many boulangeries.

Once home, Rick went back to work, and I began to prepare lunch.

I seasoned the lamb chops with rosemary and thyme, browned them in local olive oil and added bouillon and balsamic vinegar that I reduced for a light sauce.

The peas were fresh and local. Opening them was like opening a gift. Some of the peas were tiny, some were oval. All were small enough to cook quickly.

To leftover couscous I added finely chopped fresh mint, left over chickpeas, cherry tomatoes and cucumber for our salad.

The smell of the fresh herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers as well as the cooking meat were part of the pleasure as was the colours and feel of the herbs being pressed into the meat. As the title says, cooking is sensual.

When everything was ready, Rick broke from his writing chores and we sat at the table and talked, looked at the new hibiscus and pansies blooming on the terrace.

The enjoyment of the routine reminds me that each minute of each day can be special, but it is up to me to make it so.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

No more supermarkets for me

Gone are the days when I'd rush into Stop& Shop and Purity and frantically push my cart around the aisle throwing things in from the ridiculous number of choices. I once counted 15 different types of oatmeal.

Even Migros and Co-op in Switzerland, although smaller, are impersonal, although choices are far more rational. A joke is you know you've lived in Switzerland too long when you think it is normal to have only one brand of anything on supermarket shelves. That is less true than a few years ago. Now Migros carries BOTH Coke and Pepsi instead of just Pepsi.

Food shopping in Argelès is different -- personal and fun.

Elisabeth is one of three green grocers. Where else when you bring an avocado to the cash register does the merchant shake her head and say, "Not good enough. Go get another?"

Her honey in a comb, the local fruits and veggies (origins are labelled) are good. If by chance she does not have what I'm looking for such as the day she would of fresh coriander, there's is another green grocer around the corner.

When there's time we chat, and rarely we might end up drinking coffee together at La Noisette.

Today when I bought potatoes as tiny or tinier then my thumb nail we exchanged ways to cook them. She does them with a little oil and garlic and I like to add sage. I'll try them her way and vice versa.

She flirts with "Rek" and gets him to use his French.

In Argelès there are six boulangeries because woe to the French family that doesn't have its French bread fresh from the oven at least once if not three times a day. This one tends to be our favourite for its cereal bread. Although bread is sold in loaves, baguettes and boules, they do slice it. Once it was mainly baguettes but now a variety of flours and shapes are available.

For years I'd used Michel's as my butcher. His fresh made mayonnaise I still believe is the best in town, but Rick encouraged me to try this one because of the young couple who are now running it. They are all smiles.

In both butchers, advice on how to cook it or meats cut to exactly way I want them is normal. And on the days they have off (for stores do close entirely one day a week and Sunday afternoons), there's a third.

All butchers offer prepared dishes. I did notice prawns in a salmon sauce, that I may want to try in the not too distant future.

This little grocery store has been here since I first came to Argelès in the 1970s. It was first owned by Jean-Pierre's parents, but now he and his wife Babette own it. It's less than 50 steps from my house and perfect for when at the last minute I realise I've forgotten an egg, a carrot or or or...

Jean-Pierre gives great advice about what wine to buy when I tell him I'm cooking this or that. He's never been wrong. He doesn't always choose the most expensive, but the one he thinks will marry best with the meal.

Babette is used to me shopping then coming back ten minutes later for the things I have forgotten.

They will retire at the end of June, which they deserve because they work hard. Jean-Pierre puts out his vegetables for the early morning shopped about seven and lugs them back in when the shop closes at seven at night. For their three-hour lunch break, for in Argelès shops close for three hours, they merely cover the produce with a blue tarp.

She knits and does cross stitch during the slow periods behind the counter. I watch her work progress.

They are also quick to help my good friend Barbara if her back is bothering and have been known to cat sit in a pinch.

Shopping isn't a chore anymore, it's an experience, a sharing of daily life in the village. And the best part, most of what I spend stays within the village and gets recirculated.

Finding the right name

Parents get to select names for one or more of the children that they have. Too bad it's limited to the offspring total, because naming people is fun.

I've one daughter. She still hasn't forgiven me for the second L in Llara, although I've pointed out that she can change it. I think she prefers to complain. I just wanted to make sure her name was original.

I still wish royalty was more original when they name their princes destined for the thrown. Louis1-15, Henry 1-8, George 1-7, etc. It makes it harder to remember which number did what and when.

Pet owners can enjoy naming Fidos or Fluffys. For dogs we had Kimm, Kaiser, Nikki, Albert, Amadeus (I wanted to name him David, but my daughter said that was a stupid dog's name and Ama did fit him better), Vixen and Mikadoo. For cats we had more choices since my brother had a tendency to adopt pregnant cats.

But as writers we can choose hundreds of names for our characters BUT...

They need to be appropriate. Thus the picture above of a grave in Argelès where I went to find names for characters in my novel Murder in Argelès.  My wonderful and talented housemate, Julia Schmitz-Leuffen did the cover photo for the equally talented Deidre Wait, who did the design.

Murder in Caleb's Landing's character names were easy. I grew up in New England. However, I couldn't use the name of the town Rockport, where I visualized the book taking place. My publisher worries about lawsuits. They don't worry about lawsuits from European cities. Caleb was the name of the man whose book I used for research. He had compiled a massive book of every document he could locate from the founding to Plymouth Plantation and Massachusetts and certainly sounded what could be a town's name along the Massachusetts North Shore.

Book names can change over the period they are written. The original title for Caleb's Landing was Underground Railroads. The story centered around both the pre Civil War war underground railroad and a modern one bringing abused wives to safety.

Since we were trying to establish the series, the underground title was thrown out and the series  became Murder in (city), a Third Culture Kid Mystery. So even titles become part of the naming process.

For Murder in Genèva and Murder in Insel Poel, I used the phone book. This time it helps to have the paper not on-line version. Again there was the Julia-Wait collaboration on the covers. And instead on "in" it was "on" for Poel is an island.

Murder in Paris, wasn't all that difficult. French names are all around me with friends, friends of friends, relatives of friends. Here's a secret on the cover, though. The skeleton on the cover photo was unearthed in the Corsier Port church and dates back to the 7th century. We never will know his name. In the novel it was a she and Madeleine.

I have done all the research for Murder in Damascus, which would have also taken place on the dig in Ebla, but the civil war has put an end to that. One of my Syrian friends, gave me a list of names for Christian and Muslims. Maybe some day that wonderful country will find peace and the book will feel be written. I want to apologize to the University of Rome professor who spent so much time with me. He'd done the translation of the 17,000 cuneiform documents found there including names.

Murder in Ely, which is almost under contract with a publication date of April 2015, was easy for the modern time with all my Brit friends, but what about the names come from the 7th century? How many Etheldredas do you know? I'll bet no one reading this was ever tempted to name their son Tonderct, Etheldreda's husband. Naming them Ethel and Tom wouldn't have been authentic.

Authenticity is another problem. You can't have an 80-year-Swiss woman named Tiffany or Madison.

Name lists helps. I discovered my mother's name Dorothy was the third most popular name in 1917, her birth year. It surged the year of the movie Over the Rainbow. I did give a Dorothy a minor role in Murder in Paris.

I wish I'd named Annie my heroine's love partner anything buy Roger. It is not pronounced like Federer's first name but has the French Row-shay. I'm sure most of my readers don't care. And his daughter Gaëlle requires two keystrokes rather than one for the ë, something I didn't think about during her creation.

Names of my mother's friends are now showing up in my younger friend's children.

In the novel I'm working on currently, Murder in Schwyz, I'm using popular Swiss German names.

Rick and I will never have children, but we are thinking about a dog. Thus another opportunity to name a breathing creature. Then again, maybe not, because our first choice would be a rescue dog, and she might be confused with a name change. It's okay. I can put a dog in my next book and name it whatever I want.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Switching channels

Easter morning...

I'm working on a list of emails to give to Rick for his thanks yous. We are side-by-side. I am working on the computer.

Cereal, melon, tea are in on the coffee table in front of us.

Rick is flipping through news channels.

France 24--Live coverage of released journalist hostages from Syria being greeted by Holland
RT--Ukraine/Russian crisis from Russian point of view
Al Jazeera--Algeria power struggles
NHK--work uniforms
BBC--special program on sculpture
CCTV--interview of an Olympic winner Stephon Marbury

At almost any given time by checking international news stations we may get an idea of what is going on the world. Emphasis on different stories and different points of view are fascinating.

I'll never learn about the world by just one source and definitely not from just one country.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I was ironing my pajamas when

Yes, okay, I admit it. I iron my pjs. They feel better. I also admit that I don't iron them carefully. 

Suddenly I wondered about the woman (and I'm sure it was a woman) who sewed them. 

How much was she paid? 

Did she have children and if so how many? 

How many hours did she work?

There's something about having clothing that has travelled the world from places where I never was to make me aware of a connection although very feeble with another person.

Unfortunately there's no way to check to see that the company who made my clothing is fair to the people it employees.

I'll never be able to sit down with that woman and have a cup of tea, compare our lives, talk about our children. If we did I would not want to say things that would show my privilege and I am privileged, because I can stand in a pretty flat, in a pretty place, with enough food and alternatives that I'm sure the woman who sewed my pjs will never have.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Her name was Florence

This was my grandmother, Florence Stockbridge Sargent, a name that reeks of New England Yankee, which she was. She could trace her family back to the Revolution. She lived like a Yankee with a strong moral code, made baked beans every Saturday night, was frugal. Torn sheets were mended, double sheets turned into singles, ironing board covers, rags. Sheet saving was only one example of her way of spending every penny twice.

When I met her some three decades after this picture was taken her face had changed. She never thought of herself as attractive, but I think she was quite pretty here.

She didn't like her name. When she was born in the 1880s it was a very popular name. Now in the US almost no one is named Florence. I don't know if she knew that it came from the Latin name Florentius or the feminine form Florentia, which were derived from florens "prosperous, flourishing". Florentius was borne by many early Christian saints. The name crops up often in France but with a different accent. Its popularity is increasing in Wales.

I christened her Dar, short for darling, and Dar she became to everyone including her childhood friends. She liked Dar.

If I had to name the most influential person in my life, it was Dar. Although she died on Good Friday 44 years ago, I would still love to be able to talk with her, listen to her wisdom, laugh with her...and eat some of her meals such as a good New England boiled dinner and the following red flannel hash.

What was her greatest lesson? She taught me how to love.

My name is Donna-Lane and I'm a computer game addict

Okay, so I've never found a computer game addict anonymous. 

I've loved games all my life from the tiddlywinks I played as a child, through the Saturday night games with my family (with the exception of Monopoly because I thought getting property and money boring).

My father's side of the family thought playing poker was the perfect activity after the Thanksgiving turkey or the Christmas roast beef before the apple pie.

Then came computer games. When I was first in Môtiers, that tiny Swiss village RB2 and I would go to the café where the kids hung out and play Tetris until our coins ran out. We were often the only adults. Then I bought my own game box.

Different games have come and gone. With Cubis I froze my shoulder the night I discovered it. Maybe if I had moved between 10 pm and 5 pm when I got up it wouldn't have happened.

The latest is the Letter Garden sorta a letter Tetris.

On a more serious note after playing, I'll dream the game such as S P I N  do I have an A, no but there's an E.

Maybe the game is affecting my brain. They say games keep you sharp. That's S H A R P. I wonder how many points.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

photos along the alleged river

Every summer for the last few years there has been wonderful photography exhibits along the beach...

This year along the river that runs through the village, there are photographs and information about the flora and fauna in the area. The information is in both French and English and the English is excellent.

Thus I learned about the love ant, the Massane, but I already knew that when the cork bark was harvested the tree itself looked as if it were bleeding.

Nice to see the village getting some attention.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I know it's stupid BUT

On Facebook there's a cartoon of a chocolate half eaten Easter bunny. His front half is dragging along and he's screaming in agony. 

I felt so sorry for the bunny that I'm not sure I will ever be able to eat another chocolate bunny again. 

Not rational because I eat real rabbit and I definitely can not imagine life without chocolate just not in bunny form.

Flowers with attitude

We had the copper pot in mind when we brought the daisies home from the marché des fleurs. Suddenly, there is a whole new row of buds and tiny flowers pushing themselves up. I can imagine buds saying "We can't see," and pushing themselves up higher and higher.

I've always been told that hibiscus flowers should only live a day. This flower is going its fourth. Maybe it's trying to be the oldest hibiscus in the world.