Friday, 31 July 2015

7 Quick Takes: Lisieux and French Parenting


As the canonisation of the Martin spouses approaches, there is one word all English-speakers must fear, and yet increasingly find themselves having to use - breaking my ears in the process - (because there is only so many times one can refer to "The Little Flower") and that is...

of course...


Now, in the spirit of charity, here is the final, definite guide on how to pronounce this word (it's ok, you can trust me, I'm French, this is my first language we are talking about).


(not "la-sor" or whatever people say as quickly as possible because they want to please, please, please be done already with this word hoarding more silent letters than an Irish first name).

And don't worry about emphasis, we don't use it in French (hence the quite poetic reference to my people as "shouting in whispers", because that's what it sounds like if you don't emphasise words).


The correct spelling is "Thérèse" (one accent up, one accent down) if you want to be super authentic, but I don't hear the Italians moaning about Saint Frances of Rome not being referred to as Francesca, so I personally don't mind.


If you feel pedantic, you can also refer to the "Martin" without the "s" at the end, because we don't pluralise proper nouns in French, but that may be slightly pushing it.

Now you are all set! Bring on the canonisation!


Although, we would really need more pictures of them together. Oh well!


I was re-reading Bringing Up Bébé last week, mostly because the last time I read it Jude wasn't born, and I wanted to see if I had started to bring him up as Pamela Druckerman says French babies are brought up. Mostly, it made me feel really homesick. 

I long for the place where no-one will wave a snack in Patapon's face at all hours of the day, no-one will want to know how I bring him up, or compare parenting philosophies, so long as he is reasonably amenable in public, and people think my needs are as important as those of my child. 

Also, as an aside, having my family around would help. 

Plus, summer is actually an option over there. (Don't even look at me English summer. I'm not talking to you anymore.)


Of course, I am not exactly missing the "Why are you still breastfeeding him? You need to cut the cord!" I was served for months until I did stop, nor the scrutiny over what I eat whilst pregnant. 

But this Anglo-American way of bringing up children baffles me, and I often just want to cut it out, and stay home, so I won't have my child marched back to me if he is straying for more than a couple of metres, or parents guffawing at me "He slept through the night at 2 months? Mwahahahahahahaha, wait until the second one is born!" (Why, people, why? Do you relish the idea of other people suffering THAT much? Is feeling your parenting choices are validated over mine THAT important?).

There is not accurate French translation of "Mommy Wars" because there is no such thing. 


Another thing the book brings to the fore is the idea that perhaps, maybe, we are making parenting a lot harder than it needs to be? 

And in any case, it is plenty hard enough without having to feel like every single thing your child does is a reflection on you, and an invitation for others to despise and criticise.

I wonder if this has to do with that strange contraceptive culture of ours, seeping into even non-contracepting mind-sets. The idea that YOU BROUGHT THIS CHILD ON YOURSELF NOW YOU WILL DEAL WITH IT! 
If children are a decision and a project, then your responsibility is indeed enhanced, and you HAVE to make it a success, whatever the cost (or what success means). The fact that Patapon is not a project or a "it", but a person and a "he" seems to go wholly unnoticed. In fact, parenting philosophies seem to be a lot more about the parents than the children.

I often find myself slipping into this mindset, and I need to remind myself that Patapon is not mine, he is God's and his own self. All I can and should do is help along.


Now, on a slightly less depressed note, and in the spirit of making life simpler for ourselves, Patapon wanted to share with you the path to contentment:

One bottle. One Winnie. One pillow. Done.

Although compotes are pretty blissful too.

Now you know.

Kelly's got all the other takes.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

John Oliver and the Crusades

So, I was watching John Oliver's youtube videos from Last Week Tonight. They're a good laugh, and I mostly avoid the ones where I know I am going to be offended (I DO try to inform myself on other points of view than my own, but John Oliver is not where I go for such things).

So anyway, I broke the rule, and ended up watching the one where he talks about the gay marriage vote in Ireland. It was as I expected, and of course, he took a stab at the Church, because - I paraphrase - Its victories for humanity included "the Crusades, forced adoption and a wildly successful paedophile exchange program". Guffaw.

The thing that gave me pause, actually is the mention of the Crusades. Of course, comedians like John Oliver bank on accepted ideas (even though these accepted ideas have little to do with what the public actually thinks, and a lot more to do - although they would be mortified to admit this -with political correctness). So I didn't expect him to use a properly contextualised, factually accurate and measured description of a historical event. Of course he was going to go with what one is supposed to think about the Crusades.

But it is still galling, especially to a historian, because it relies on impressions and tone rather than facts and research, whilst still being presented as an absolute everybody should agree on. 

So, the tone in which one must think of the Crusades is : bad, proto-colonialism, bullying of innocent Muslims (who were so much more advanced than their boorish enemies).

And this is just accepted. This is what a very complex situation is reduced to. No-one pauses to ask a few basic questions: so how did the Muslims get there? Who was there before? What happened to them? Was there any truth in the Christians' claim? Or even if these questions seem too arcane, how about the most basic of all: Who won the war?

Because the answers actually are: by conquest / Jews, Christians and Pagans / they gradually had to convert / yes, there was, Byzantium had been begging for help for decades (no, it didn't turn out brilliantly for them in the end).

And to the most basic question of all: the Muslims. 

See? Perfectly able to defend themselves.

This image of agressive westerners coming to uproot innocent non-violent natives under made-up pretexes invented by a power-hungry and calculating Church has next to no truth in it whatever. At best, you are getting confused with the nineteenth century (or the sixteenth). You are ignoring the context. You are swallowing propaganda whole without the smallest modicum of doubt, or attempt at verification.

The tone given to an event has nothing to do with history. Or rather, it does, but not the history which was taking place at the time. Here, it is coloured by post-colonialism, it is the forceful injection of later events into a Medieval reality.

Just like when English kids root for the Saxons against the Normans, they are actually using Nineteenth century concepts of nationalism in a context which had no notion of it.

Let's root for the guys who defeated the guys who defeated the guys who defeated the guys who were there before, but not the guys who DEFEATED the guys who defeated the guys who defeated the guys who defeated the guys who were there before. Makes perfect sense.

And the harm this can do is great. Because if you insist on judging historical events by the standards of our time, rather than theirs, not only will you be incapable of recognising the humanity of your forebears (and therefore only have contempt for them, and accept whole the idea that OUR time, is the best time, no need to look back), but also, you will put your own legacy at risk.

Because if it's ok to condemn great men of the past because of what we think now, it will be ok for your children to dismiss and condemn your opinions and actions, and by extension your whole person, according to standards you can't even fathom yet.

Sounds risky?

It is.

So stop it.

P.S: Of course I'm not saying all was great and good in the olden days, and we should not criticise anything. I'm just saying, we should always be aware it's more complicated than that.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

AMT 26/07/15 : Meat, Boring Sorbet and Handwriting a Million Pages

I can't believe this is the last AMT. Sadness.

1. What's your favorite grocery store splurge?

I'm going to be very boring here, and just say meat. Or fine fish (why do they not sell pike? or sole? what is wrong with you Tesco??). Because they are very much a splurge for us at the moment.


Although Simon would probably say "Children's books" (I have a problem) but that's not a grocery store splurge, right?!

2. How's your penmanship?

Pretty good, if I do say so myself! I like calligraphy, so that helps.

This is from Cyrano de Bergerac. Simon has had to learn it by heart, because, if you don't, my dad won't speak to you (ok, I kid, but a lot of the family discussions will go over your head).

But my normal handwriting is mostly surprising to Anglophones, because it is joined-up. I know. The very idea!

The thing is, French kids are still taught joined-up writing first and foremost, and you will find many children's books in France looking like this:

Ok, technically, this one is from the 1930s. But the other books are in Patapon's room and he's sleeping.

I think it is just prettier, I'm a big fan. 

There is also an argument about being able to write more quickly, and that's true too; in the crazy course I did for my degrees - crazy, I tell you, after three years of it you end up with six of them - we often had to write between 14 and 20 A4 pages in five hours for our essays (of which we wrote about a million), all by hand. So yeah, you needed to write fast. And legibly. And correctly. 

But also, it IS prettier.

3. Do you have a "Summer Bucket List?"

Nope. Summer is for summering. I have trips to France planned (because, duh!) but that's it. 

Besides, this summer, Simon has no holidays and he is in the placement from hell (the hospital itself is a very nice one, but the hours are long and his commute lasts two hours, so he doesn't see Jude during the week and barely sees me) so I am white-knuckling it until the new placement in September.

4. What's the best thing on the radio right now?

It's what seems to be on the radio a lot in my house (oh dear, that last Test Match of the Ashes, England... I'm still recovering.)

Otherwise, I like podcasts, but Fountains of Carrot, In Our Times AND The Read Aloud Revival are on summer break. I am going to have to go around the other Answer Me This posts, to try and see if there are some new suggestions.

5. Ice cream or frozen yogurt?

Sorbet. Ha!

Seriously, when I was in Rome with my friends (that time I fought the paramedics), we had millions of gelati (obviously) and my friends kept getting these really indulgent caramel-toffee-chocolate-all-the-cream-all-the-sugar mountains, whilst I just had sorbet. Because that's all I like (I am aware I am a weirdo).

Nope, not interested. (via)

The Italians just shook their heads in despair.

6. Have you had that baby NOW?

You have! Congratulations!

Visit Kendra for more.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Let's Talk About Mediterranean Vegetables, Baby

I know, catchy, right! 

So, whilst we were staying with Maminou, we encountered a bit of a problem.

You see, I was trying to be helpful, so I did what I normally do and more-or-less meal-planned for the week. We went shopping and bought all the necessities.

Now Maminou couldn't cope with this system. In her mind, you adapt the food to the day, not the other way round.

Too hot for paella, means no paella (which also means I can't share the super-secret family recipe for paella, because no photos).

As I mentioned before, Maminou didn't always have a fridge growing up, and (in Algeria in particular, but that was true everywhere) that meant you couldn't store that much, or for that long. So going shopping everyday, for just a few items, was just what you did.

Then again, French markets are pretty awesome.

Eventually, I just yielded to the Maminou system. And the upsides are many: there is very little waste because you buy only what you immediately need (and you can buy the actual number you want at the market, not one extra courgette you won't know what to do with because it was in the pre-packaged deal), all the food is really fresh, and you can adapt to the leftovers you have already in your fridge. Plus, you won't go far away for a daily shopping, which means you can support local businesses.

Win, win, win, win.

And the prices at the supermarket may be lower, but if you only buy what you need, and don't throw away as much, it evens out.

Now, obviously, I couldn't apply Maminou's system at home completely. For starters, we don't have a market that compares to the French ones, and I don't want to go food shopping every day. I just don't.

But adapting the system slightly has already helped a lot. I've changed from one big weekly shop to two. Which means I can adapt to unexpected leftovers (we weren't that hungry) or lack thereof (Simon went for a random 20 mile run/ we had some unexpected visitors), without resorting to freezing a lot of things (because my freezer is where un-eaten stuff goes to die, it is just delaying their inevitable trip to the bin).

I know that I may not find this quite so attractive when I have a newborn and  a toddler under foot, and that for mothers of many, doing one shopping trip a week is challenging enough already, thankyouverymuchIsabelle. I get it. But it is interesting.

Also, I like meal-planning and I am good at it, because I actually love to cook, and it's how I do hospitality (seriously, come over to our house, Simon will play some music for you and I'll feed you). So dedicating time to this aspect of housekeeping is not a problem for me. But I am aware it is not everybody's strong suit (just look at my garden or ask me how often dusting happens in my house - yeah, all the time <cough, cough> I dust all the time). So let's call it food for thought if not useful to everyone.


Once this little problem was ironed out, it still left us with lots of vegetables to find a use for (well, Maminou's ingrained tendency to want to feed crowds, even when there were only 3 1/2 of us, also didn't help).

So, here are some things to do, if you have a million (give or take a couple) Mediterranean vegetables hanging about in your house:


We just made lots of salads. Add some rice and call it a meal, leave out the rice and call it a starter. You can even keep the leftovers and add them to tomorrow's salad to make it even more amazing. It's a brilliant system.

I want to talk more about staples in another posts, and how useful they are in Maminou's system, but for now, take it as a given, we eat a lot of salad.

But we are not talking about any old salad:

Nom nom nom.

You start with tomatoes, eggs, and olives - ok, you don't HAVE to put the olives in, these are just my staples - (rice and sweetcorn as well, according to what you need to use up and how big a part of the meal the salad needs to be). But you can also add:


I don't about you, but raw onions don't always agree with me, and cooked onions are not brilliant for salads.

But Maminou has a genius way of dealing with this: she cuts up the onions, put some salt over them and leaves them for a couple of hours. Rinse/wipe. Done. And it is pretty delicious.


Super simple again, but Maminou takes the time to put them in little bundles before tossing them in boiling salted water so they are easier to get out, and I think they cook more evenly (I am personally sold mostly because they make me feel all housewifey set up like that, but I'm sure more knowledgeable people can explain why it is a good idea. Knowledgeable people, care to intervene?)

These asparagus(ses??) just scream "I know what I'm about", right!?


For them, you can add them to your salad raw, or cook them the Salade Juive way.

Grill in the oven until they look like this. Leave to cool down.

De-seed and peel really easily, thanks to the burnt-ness. (You want a bowl of water to regularly rinse your fingers, though.

Cut the de-seeded, peeled peppers in stripes, like so. (Although, this is technically a finished Salade Juive, but you can just add them to whatever salad).

Now, if you want the actual Salade Juive, you need to cook a few tomatoes the same way, peel them and add them to the peppers with finely minced garlic and olive oil. It's pretty awesome and somehow remarkably refreshing (seriously, we were in the middle of a heat wave, and these oven-cooked vegetables were just perfect.)

Look clever whilst making it, like so.

To make all this salad-ing appetizing, (apart from the Salade Juive, which is already flavoursome enough as it is), you need to add a nice bit of French dressing . French dressing is super easy to make (but mix them in that order or it will not come together):

1 tbsp mustard
2 tbsp vinegar (you can go all fancy vinegar, or all not fancy, it's still nice)
8 tbsp oil (or oils, once again, does not matter, but I prefer for there to be at least some olive oil in the mix)


We had a few more solutions, but I'll share those in another post.

Isn't Maminou a genius?

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Relatable Victim

I think I have found a new pet peeve (I know, I hardly needed a new one).

I was watching what claimed to be a history documentary on Srebrenica, following some teenagers going to visit the site on the 20th anniversary. I didn't finish, because the whole charade was a joke from beginning to end. 

Most of the documentary was devoted to close-ups of teenagers crying, a tearful daughter of UN forces officers promising she would do anything to not let it happen again, and a Muslim teenager insisting that "you don't hear about the dead when they are Muslim." All while the journalist/commentator bandied about big words without knowing their definition, and complained about the fact that not enough "awareness was being raised" about the massacre.

So, according to the BBC, raising awareness includes: not explaining the massacre or the context, not looking at the history much, but instead focusing most of their screen-time on the feelings of British teenagers. Even the mothers of the victims were only seen through the impact they had on the youngsters.

I feel very aware now. And mildly disgusted.

Apparently, we can only relate to the victims through the medium of people who are, you know, more "like us", so we can identify. Whereas, just showing what happened would supposedly leave us cold.

It reminded me of a Jewish girl in my class when I was in Sixth Form. We watched a documentary on Auschwitz, and another girl had to leave the room. At which point the first girl proceeded to complain that - I paraphrase - "how dare this not Jewish girl be more affected than me, she's not even Jewish, she hasn't got a "book of the dead" in her house like we do!" (I was a know-it-all even then, so I did point out that the fact that the people on the tape were human beings was probably enough for other human beings to react to their plight.)

But apparently, the BBC agrees with the first girl, not me, or the one who had to leave the room (without the help of more relatable people explaining to her what she should feel). 

As if that wasn't enough, the documentary also repeated the classic excuse of "if some good may come of it, then..." (finish this sentence as you may, I personally can't find a way to finish it that wouldn't be an insult to the victims).

This is a utilitarian vision of the past, the idea that we must "learn from it", "never again" bla-di-blah. But the truth is, we don't truly learn from history anything other than Man's fallen-ness and boundless capacity for evil. And the lack of intervention in Bosnia didn't help Syria or Libya. That's not how politics work. "Some good" does not come to redeem evil. 

Evil is evil, and if God allows some good things to come despite of it, it does not annul the evil or redeem it. Such a utilitarian mentality can only encourage more evil. Because there is only one very short step between saying "some good came of it" to saying "some good will come of it" and justifying evil actions "for the greater good". Which is how all evil actions ever are always justified.

I think I may have to start harassing the people in charge of history documentaries at the BBC. Either that, or turn off the computer, and, you know, not watch them (but then who will shout at the screen in disgust? No-one, that's whom.)

P.S: the idea of history as something we can learn from in order to not repeat mistakes is something used very often to justify its study. I think it's a mistake. History at best informs the present, but does not predict the future, and its purpose, like all humanities subjects, is a better understanding of what it means to be human. And I think that's quite enough.

PPS: if you got the Dumbledore allusion in "for the greater good", then I may claim you as a kindred spirit ;-)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

AMT 19/07/2015: Monty Pythons, Jumbotrons and NOT Driving

First, thank you so much for your prayers after the previous post, they are immensely appreciated.

Now, there isn't an appropriate transition from that post to this one, so...

1. What's currently on your To Do list?

Well, there is the usual "getting the house and garden sorted", and there's the pesky curtain I really need to finish (still hanging with pins in = not cricket), Jude also badly needs a hair cut (his THIRD one, would you believe it?! At this stage, his hair is basically a wonder of nature.)

The big one however is getting a placement sorted for him at nursery for next year, but as I haven't been given my hours yet it's a bit tricky (would you have a hypothetical place for a hypothetical 1 year old at some hypothetical point in the future for a hypothetical amount of time on some hypothetical day? Tough sell).

And I suppose there is this whole driving thing (Nooooooo! shan't, shan't, shan't!!!)

2. Better type of superhero: magic/radioactive powers? Or trauma/gadgets/hard work?

Well, I've started watching Daredevil (Kendra and her streaming advice are very bad for overall productivity), which I am loving, so I am going to go with the second one.

Word of warning: I do spend a lot of that show with my hand in front of my eyes, or eyes shut with fingers in my ears. Yeah, it's a bit violent.

I quite like Batman too, so it works (although "limitless wealth" does strike me as a bit magic power-y).

But yeah, Daredevil FTW!

3. Finding out if baby is a boy or a girl before birth: Good idea? Bad idea?

Well, we didn't want to know for Jude, but were told anyway. Similar for this one, except we weren't sure whether we wanted to know or not (my OB/GYN in France is a friend of the family, so yeah, free care, but he doesn't ask before casually telling us the gender, and for this one I didn't warn him in advance because I thought it was still too early to tell. Oh well...).

I can see the attraction of the surprise, but I like to knit gender-specific items, so I am torn. And for this one, we had a girl name all sorted for ages, but were really struggling for a boy's name so it was useful to know whether to keep torturing ourselves or not over it.

And no, I am not telling. I know, that's basically cheating. What can I say. Horrible person, right here.

4. Have you ever appeared on a stadium jumbotron?

I have no idea what you are talking about. Let's Google it.


Ok, so yes, I kinda have. When singing with the Youth Choir in Lourdes in the underground cathedral, we were on the jumbotron (although it was hard to see me, altos at the back and all that - very unfair discrimination if you ask me, we deserve the jumbotron just as much as the sopranos - ).

But that's about it.

The only live sport I ever attend is cricket, and they don't really use the jumbotron to show non-fancy dress supporters (and a supporter in fancy dress at a cricket match is already committing a very grave etiquette faux-pas, so there.)

5. Are you more book smart or more street smart?


I am really not street smart. I am the opposite of street smart. The world is a scary place, I need books to explain it to me a little bit so I am less scared. 

Yes I have lived in cities all my adult life.

No, that didn't help.

At all.

I can analyse you a mean written document though. 

Ok, I tell a lie, I am reasonably good at understanding people as well. But not at interacting with them. Even if I'd like to.

6. Have you had that baby yet? 

Well, no-one is really pestering me yet, considering the baby is due in January (the NHS says late December, but I don't believe them anymore), but just in case you ARE in a position where people start asking, here is a handy website to direct them to. 

Join Kendra for more! (and, Kendra, I am counting on the baby being born on the 22nd, so no labour yet, ok?!)

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Truth and Suffering

*** Word of warning: this post does not answer its own questions.***


When I was writing the post on breastfeeding, I was very conscious of two things, and one was (believe it or not) that breastfeeding should really be defended wholeheartedly and encouraged as much as possible, because most mothers who bottle-feed really could have given it a better go. 
But on the other hand, I had also to bear in mind how keenly judgement is felt when you're a mother (something I have fallen on the wrong side of many times before), and the real struggles some (few) women face, trying really hard and yet somehow, unable to breastfeed.

My gut reaction in this case was to err on the side of compassion. The idea being that, for the sake of the minority of women who are really suffering, I should assume that everyone has a very good reason, even when I know most don't. 

Now I wonder if I was wrong.

Because so many things are happening right now, which are objectively wrong, for the sake of protecting people's feelings.

Like saying, yup, you're totally a woman once we've grafted some boobs on you. Or, you love each other, yup, you're totally a family. 

But these people are SUFFERING! We need to do something about it!

Helplessness in front of suffering is something we, as a society, seem to be unable to accept. Even terminally ill patients should be able to DO something, and we do not seem to care much whether what they do is kill themselves or fund raise for charities.

We will tell ourselves and each other any lie, so we feel we can do something against suffering.

But is it ever acceptable to choose Charity over Truth?

How does one reconcile the two if not?

Of course I know that telling someone it's fine for them to bottle-feed is not the same type of untruth. But I wonder if it does not stem from the same feeling.

And, you see, there is some intense suffering going on in my family right now. And I REALLY wish I could do something, anything about it. I would bend the truth in a heartbeat if I thought it could help, even a tiny bit.

But maybe the answer is in the could. Maybe it never could help. They would find out, next doctor appointement. 

Just like Bruce Jenner will find out,  next time they check him for prostate cancer, calculate his BMI or give advice on his daily food intake. 

Just like this lesbian couple I know has found out, as their little 18-month old calls every man she meets "papa".

Maybe tampering with truth never helps. But what if it does, just a tiny bit and for a short while? What if we can give just a bit of relief?
I warned you before, I do not have the answer to this.

Also, I seem to be unable to pray at the moment, will you hold my family up, please?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Knick-Knacks and Easy Béchamel.

So, to start understanding Maminou, I think people need to see the setting.

You've got to imagine an old house in the south of France, where all the windows, doors and tiles were last replaced in the 1930s. There is peeling paint on most walls.

This is my great-great aunt, Henriette, in front of the house.

This is my grandfather's family home. It's currently housing its sixth generation of us for the summer.

This is my Dad's drawing of the front of the house

The house was built with an eye to keeping the inhabitants cool, rather than pleasing their eyes. It was only partially converted from the farm it used to be, so that all the living quarters are upstairs, whist all the ground floor is a giant, humid space used for storing anything and everything. 
When the evenings cool down, a toad or two will escape from the water tank there and make their courageous way through the bric-a-brac, into the delighted hands of an assortment of Maminou's grandchildren. 

All the taps and locks were assembled by some ancestor or other, often in a rather unconventional manner (you can tell the ones my left-handed grandfather was in charge of, as they open the wrong way round). The mosquito nets were made by my great-grandmother and great-grandfather immediately after their marriage (in 1928). She used her wedding veil (not that you can tell anymore).

87 years of keeping mosquitoes out.

You see, Maminou never throws away anything she can still mend somehow. And even then, she tends to simply exile them to the cellar with the toads. You never know when you might need a spare bit of wood to make a stair-gate. 

Mending the light switch of the lamp in the foreground.

She still mourns the piano which went to a different branch of the family when my great-grandmother died.

Without getting unduly attached to things, there is still a lot to be said for this approach. 

Yesterday, Patapon managed to grab hold of the children's bible we carefully chose some months ago, and tore out poor Moses in his basket. When I saw the destruction, I had this immediate urge to get a new one. This one wasn't whole anymore, it wasn't worthy of taking up prized real estate space on my shelves.

Then I remembered the old children's books my father inherited, and how, when I read them as a child, I was delighted to find the doodles of my great-great-grandmother along the pages. So the bible is staying, I taped Moses back in and will try not to get too sad that the pages still poke out a little.

If we want to truly fight the culture we are living in, I think we could do worse than simply keeping things. Not accumulating things, but just, not replacing them.

One tiny gesture of resistance to the planned obsolescence our crazy society thrives on. No thanks. I shall keep the torn bible.

Now, you have made it this far, so I am going to reward you with one of Maminou's simple hacks to French cooking: Béchamel. 

Back in Algeria, Maminou's neighbour was so overwhelmed by the perspective of making this sauce that she always brought the ingredients to Maminou's mum, and let her do it. Which is quite funny, because there is nothing quite as easy as a béchamel sauce.

Béchamel sauce.

It's the start of many sauces, it is the secret to a nice gratin (pour it over whatever you have cooked, sprinkle cheese on top, grill for a few minutes: voila, even more delicious) and to making vegetables a thing people look forward to eating. You can also add cheese to it, and use it as stuffing for toasties. 

Now, if you look it up in cook-books, I think there is a little bit of a conspiracy going on, trying to make out French cooking to be more complicated than it is (like you REALLY need a whole cook-book to figure it out). But French cuisine can be as simple or complicated as you want to make it: countless mothers have had to take a no-nonsense approach to it, just as countless reputed chefs tried their best to fancy it up as much as possible.


All this to say, if you want to pre-heat your milk, add onions, cloves, bay leaves and what-not to your béchamel, if you want to sieve it carefully, that's up to you, I'm sure it will be delicious.

If it sounds like too much work, here is the actual simple recipe:

Get the same weight of butter and flour.
Melt the butter over medium heat.
Add the flour in one go and mix into the butter until it comes off the sides of the pan (you need to be stirring pretty much constantly from now on).

Sorry it's blurry, Maminou moves fast.

When  it looks like this, add some milk (you can be extra careful and take the pan off the heat as you pour the milk in then put it back on, but I never bother. So long as you're stirring, it'll be fine).

Mix it in.

Repeat until it is liquid/thick enough for your purposes.

Add a pinch of nutmeg, some pepper and some salt (unless what you are using it with is already quite salty). That's it.

Or, you know, you can do the fancy cookbook way. Up to you. I, personally, do not enjoy sieving things. 

Here is a nice way to use your béchamel: 

Boil some peeled courgettes in salted water (if you can get the tiny ones from Nice, even better, if not, well, it will still be nice).

If you have some time ahead of you, salt them and leave them in the colander for a bit. If not, put some uncooked rice at the bottom of the oven-proof dish.

When tender, take out of the water, cut them in half and arrange them as a single layer in an oven-proof dish.

Sprinkle some shredded ham on top.

Pour out your béchamel until it covers everything.

Sprinkle with cheese. 

Grill for a few minutes. Done. Even my sister Banane will eat courgettes cooked that way.

Of course, you ideally want it away from the grill before it turns a bit burnt, but, for those of you with distracting toddlers around, it still tastes nice!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

AMT: 12/07/15 Frozen Winters and Lost Proposal Sites

1. At what temperature do you keep the thermostat set? Summer, winter, day, night?

Well, actually, owning a thermostat is quite a new (brilliant) thing for me. We used to have a very old copper boiler which we would just put on until toasty, then turn off until frozen and repeat the cycle. 

Not exactly economical, but a HUGE improvement on my previous flat which was all inefffective electrical storage heaters, with a little antiquated counter thing into which I had to keep putting pound coins (and nothing else) as a sort of pay-as-you-go, in order to keep the electricity on. It was hugely expensive, and a huge pain in the neck to get change at the ready. Most of the time, despite a teacher salary, I simply couldn't afford to have the heating on. Once it just ran out whilst I was running a high fever in the middle of winter (I lived alone). Oh, and that winter was the coldest in England for a decade.

Hi! I will not keep you warm, but at least I'll cost you a lot of money. (via)

Such fun.

So my point? Thermostat, I love you (and keep you at 20°C - or 19, if Simon's looking). 
Oh, and I don't bother about the summer. Because the summer rarely bothers with us.

Update: 19°C = 66.2°F (I really don't understand Farenheits, so I'm trusting Google on this one.)

2. What is your favorite frozen beverage?

I am not sure I am familiar with frozen beverages, the two things seem somewhat antithetical. 

I think I had a granité once (which may be equivalent to an American "slushy", but then again, what do I know).

Didn't like it.

3. Where do you keep your keys?

In my purse, which I hang behind the door. Simon, however, seems to need to have his keys on his bedside table, which I find very strange. Anybody else does that?

4. Have you ever really been lost?

Quite a few times. 
When I was a scout, we would do what we called "raids", which was basically sending the different patrols entirely on their own with a map and some food, to reach some forlorn destination in the middle of nowhere, sleep over there and find their way back. The first year we did this - I was about 12 -, I swear the way we were supposed to take was completely overtaken with brambles, so we ended up quite severly lost and had to  resort to getting to the nearest road with a sign and call the "Chefs" so they could rescue us. Not our finest hour.

I also like getting lost on purpose when I discover a city.

Technically, we were a bit lost when Simon proposed (he was wildly improvising as his plans had to be cancelled due to simultaneous flood and drought), we were walking completely at random in Oxford - which neither of us knew - I was wondering what was wrong with him - he found a bench and voilà. But I am not sure we will ever be able to find the spot again!

5. What is the last movie you saw in the theaters?

I think it was The Hobbit. The first one. 

Man, I need to go out more...