Five Minute Friday: Keep

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I’m back this week to take part in Five Minute Friday, where you follow a prompt and write for five minutes flat. I did it long-hand and cheated a bit by giving myself 10 minutes. I think it’s fair!

 

Ever since we decided to buy a house last December, I’ve been trying to work out how to trim down our possessions, what to sell, what to give away, what to keep. I was… optimistic in my ability to make efficient decisions.

I’m not exactly a hoarder but I am not a tidy person and I like to keep hold of stuff. It’s a lethal combination. I like physical books and Badgerman likes physical music, specifically CDs. Between the two of us we are a removal company’s worst nightmare. I still have diaries from when I was a teenager, literary horrors full of emotional outbursts which I have no intention of reading again, but physical reminders nonetheless of the person I used to be. A part of me wants to hold on to that.

I tell myself that I might some day need this bit of string or that old candle holder and I store it (badly) until that day comes. And of course, for the most part, the day never comes and in the meantime, clutter accumulates, until you want to move out and dear lord do you feel inadequate then!

Sometimes I wonder ‘what would I take with me in the event of a fire‘? The answer should never be belongings, unless your passport happens to be by the front door, but it’s a good question, isn’t it? Would I feel like I lost myself if it all went up in flames? I am not my possessions and I do not want them to own me, yet as I ponder what to do with them all, I can see how much they do in fact have more of a hold on me than I would like.

Grappling with Charlie

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I’ve sat on the news of the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo for the last week, unable to untangle a multitude of conflicting thoughts and feelings. That anyone can commit this sort of violence unflinchingly is not something you can easily get your head around, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can excuse such a barbaric act.

I knew I should say something, as a French national and as an expat but I’ve struggled to know how to express myself with honesty. However, I think it needs to be done, and so here is my attempt.

As the events unfolded, I initially felt quite remote from them, and that in itself was a strange experience. It could have been going on in the US or Japan or elsewhere in Europe, for all the emotion I felt, that is, not very much at all. Horror yes, and sadness, and ‘I can’t believe this is happening’, but I wasn’t more shocked or horrified than I would be about any other terrible world event. I felt numb. I didn’t expect it, and honestly, I still don’t know what to make of it. I guess it marks a turn in my sense of belonging maybe, the fact that I can see things happen in France and no longer identify enough that it is happening to ‘my people’. So there was that.

The supermarket attacks affected me a lot more. I was reminded of the 2005 attacks on the London Underground. At the time I was commuting into London every day, so I knew, like everyone else, that there was a risk attached, but what could we do? We still had to go to work. There was some anxiety of course, but then everything was so normal so people just got on with it, with life as usual. The situation in France has been quite different. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live in Paris during those three days of terror. Nowhere was safe; the attacks weren’t attached to any specific location or job type or people group; there was senseless killing of civilians just because, in as pedestrian and commonplace a location as a supermarket. It’s a wonder anyone ventured out of their homes, and that got to me more than anything else.

#JesuisCharlie?

It wasn’t long after #jesuisCharlie went viral that criticism of the paper and the hashtag appeared on the web. I thought it was too soon to take jabs at either regardless of whether any of the assertions were correct, with the situation barely settled and people’s emotions still so heightened. It was uncomfortable to find things to agree with; I should not have to consider these issues yet, was my thought.

My gut reaction, when #jesuisCharlie first appeared on my Tumblr page, was to reblog it immediately, which I did. Because no one should die for expressing an opinion, however offensive it may be. Ever. And so, #jesuischarlie, in support of the victims and their right to express their opinion free from the fear of reprisal.

This aside, my discomfort is real. Let me be clear, I do not condone what happened at all. I do not excuse it either. Let’s have none of that ‘they had it coming, they knew fanatics were on to them’. But what are we to make of the content of the Charlie Hebdo (CH) magazine? I was already aware of them, hence my discomfort. Their purpose, as a publication, is to criticise the powers-that-be through satire, and often through offense. Yet as we know, to get on with your fellow-man in the reality of daily life, you don’t go out of your way to cause offense. There is a fine line between your right to express your opinion free from retribution, and the natural consequence that you will end up being part of a small world indeed, with no friends aside from those who agree with you. In the real world, deliberately causing offense just because you can is not ok. With regards to the content of CH, people have accused the magazine of hitting ‘downward’ with their satire, and their supporters have argued that on the contrary, CH’s main nemesis was the far-right political party Front National and all that they stand for. True as it may be, it’s not immediately obvious in many of their work. It is my impression that in the process of pointing the finger at a religion, policy or government figure (and everyone was fair-game), there was a lot of collateral damage. It certainly looks like the magazine often portrayed the victims derogatorily to make the joke stick, and that seems rather wrong to me.

Criticism of Charlie Hebdo as a paper is not the same as supporting terror acts but in the wake of the attack, lines get blurred, accusations get thrown around, and I was so uncomfortable even just thinking about this, let alone expressing it. Is it still too soon? I don’t know. The CH cartoonists and their colleagues didn’t deserve what happened to them. Fanatics will jump at any excuse to commit the violence that boils within them, and they were sadly provided with one. I suspect someone else would have been the target if not CH, it was only a matter of time.

What disturbs me in the worldwide endorsement of #jesuischarlie is not that it shows support for free speech and for the victims and their families. And it sure expressed a willingness to stand united in the face of terrorism. I applaud that. But I am skeptical that aside from the big gesture, it will mark a change in people’s every day life. I am skeptical that a similar sentiment would have risen if the victims of the terrorist attack had been Westboro Baptist Church or UKIP. I don’t think we would have seen #IamUKIP or #Iam Westboro trend on Twitter. I doubt people would have taken to the streets in support of the victims. Maybe I am too cynical.

There is a history of casual racism alive and well in France that will not be easily shifted with unity marches. Franglaise Mummy wrote a post on what it feels like to live in France at the moment, which I would encourage you to read. The people at the other end of it are mostly Muslims and poor people of colour who live in the French HLM ghettos. The way people talk about them is similar to the way people in England view the travellers’ community. You don’t have to be a Daily Mail reader to have a negative opinion of them, you’re vaguely ashamed of it but it’s there and it is a common view.

My personal experience, which I now feel I will have to speak about in my next post to highlight the point, is that unless people take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for giving dignity, respect, friendship and love to the marginalized that cross their lives, or get out of their way to do so by doing practical things to help them feel more integrated and supported, talk of unity is, if not empty, certainly anemic. Lasting change has to be personal. We cannot and should not wait for the government to initiate the change. If we are in earnest about wanting to stand united, we need to be willing to take a risk and engage with the differences we so wish to protect at a personal level.

I don’t know that this post does the topic justice at all. France is in a complex situation and it is a clumsy attempt in the circumstances to try to make sense of it, especially when my own thoughts and emotions are in a state of flux on the matter. I hope it is clear that I don’t mean to offend the memory of the victims and the genuine horror of the situation by voicing some criticism.

Ready or not, 2015 here we go!

2015 fireworks

Our Christmas and New Year celebrations have been and gone, relaxed and low-key just as I like it. I hate feeling stressed on Christmas Day and took measures to ensure I was not rushed off my feet and was able to enjoy the day. And so I did. At one point, Badgerman took the girls to church and I found myself sitting down in between cooking jobs with a cup of tea and a Ferrero Rocher, with my folks on Skype in the background and singing away to Mariah Carey’s I don’t want a lot for Christmas’. For a short while, I was filled with wonder at how calm the morning was. It’s a rare treat these days. And while the holiday didn’t remain ‘calm’ it was enjoyable for the most part, even though I did miss the New Year fireworks because Luciole woke up for a feed 5 minutes before midnight. Timing child, timing.

Then we picked up some cardboard boxes (all hail freecycle) to start packing up the house, and this is what the dining room and office look like right now:

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I am slowly willing myself to packing away two boxes a day. I started in the living room and as Badgerman was whimpering about the mess and how bare the walls were without all our stuff on the shelves, I came to the realisation that this room at least already no longer feels like home. Our living space is not a place of rest but a waiting room for our stuff, and it gives a very odd feeling of displacement. And yet our mortgage application is still outstanding, so you know, let’s not get ahead of ourselves or anything. It’s hard to try and contain your anticipation when nothing is set in stone, yet you do have to move forward, right? We need to prepare the kids somehow, so Little Girl knows we are moving to a new house and is excitedly ‘helping’ to pack up. Even Luciole has joined in, throwing DVDs into boxes with gay abandon and what appears to my horrified eyes to be the strength of a bear.

And so onwards we go, looking ahead to an eventful (and expensive) year. Happy New Year everyone.

Raspberry and Lychee Chocolate Log

chocolate raspberry log

I’ve been threatening to translate this recipe from the original French for a while now, and so here it is. This is the third year I’ve made this delicious dessert for Christmas, although let it be known that it can be done for any special occasion and no one will think ‘why is there a Christmas dessert on the table?’ even if it’s in the middle of summer.

This recipe may look impressive but it is in fact very easy to make. The cake itself only takes 10 minutes to bake and is then filled and covered with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.

Raspberry and Lychee Chocolate Log

  • Serves 10 people
  • Preparation: 25 mins
  • Cooking time: 15 mins
  • Resting time: 1 hour for the chocolate ganache to set

Ingredients

cake ingredients

For the cake:

  • 4 eggs
  • 100 g sugar
  • 100 g flour, sifted
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 200 g dark chocolate (ideally around 70%)
  • 100 mls double cream
  • a handful of raspberries, chopped (I used frozen raspberries from the supermarket) plus four whole raspberries for decoration
  • a handful of lychees, chopped (most supermarkets have them in tins)

For the chocolate icing:

  • 100 g dark chocolate (again, 70% is preferable)
  • 50 mls double cream
  • 25 g glucose (for the shine)

or if you don’t have glucose (like me)

  • 100 g dark chocolate
  • 100 mls double cream

Method

1. Prepare the chocolate ganache:

  • Bring the double cream to the boil then take off the heat and incorporate the chocolate broken into pieces. Leave it to melt for about 5 minutes and mix well.
  • Once it has completely melted, add pieces of raspberry and lychee to the mixture, gently mix together, and keep aside in the fridge.

chocolate ganache

2. Make the cake:

  • Pre-heat the oven at 200°C.
  • Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Beat the yolks with the sugar until the mixture whitens, then slowly add the flour.
  • Beat the egg whites until they stiffen, then gently add them to the batter.
  • On a baking tray, lay some baking paper and spread the batter over it. Lay some raspberry pieces on top of the batter.
  • Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 200°C (keep an eye on it as you don’t want it to burn).

Making the cake

3. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, lay the biscuit out on a damp towel and roll it to help it take shape.

Messy but effective
Messy but effective

4. Unroll the cake and spread the chocolate ganache.  Sprinkle lychee pieces on top before rolling the log.

2014-12-24 the messy stage
tastes better than it looks I promise!

5. The icing:

Melt the chocolate and cream together in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water (also known as a bain-marie) and mix well. If you are using glucose, add it at the end away from the heat. Ice the log and decorate as you wish.

chocolate and raspberry log

Also worth a mention:
  • Lychees are not to everyone’s taste but they are actually non-essential to the success of this recipe. No one will be the wiser if you don’t put them in and you don’t need to adjust any quantities.
  • In summer, it also works very well with strawberries instead of raspberries.

I hope you like it!

Christmas Day Menu, Franco-British Style

Christmas lunch

Our Christmases are small affairs. Just us and the girls, with one or two extra guests for Christmas Lunch, usually people from church who have nowhere to go for the holiday. We spend a leisurely morning with the girls eating breakfast and opening presents, then our guest arrives and we sit down for lunch around 1.30-2 pm. The afternoon and evening are spent relaxing, playing with presents, sipping coffee, having seconds of dessert and watching the Dr Who Christmas Special.

Over the last three years, I have tested a few recipes to perfect a Christmas Day menu that both suits a small party and my French sensibilities and I think I have finally settled it. The key is to make it as tasty and stress-free as possible without losing ground on either.

Breakfast

I wonder at anyone who can muster the energy and motivation to cook anything for breakfast, even if it’s just scrambled eggs and bacon. If this is you, I am in awe.

Canapés

I always get everyone to help with these, guest included, because I would otherwise not have time to do it all and it’s a long time to wait for your lunch without something to munch on. Just like Christmas Eve, I think there’s something slightly decadent about eat-as-you-make-them canapés, especially when they are in the form of:

  • foie gras and/or mushroom butter on toast
  • smoked salmon and cream cheese on toast
  • This year, I am also going to make bacon-wrapped dates, which people are raving about despite the fact that they sound weird, so I am just that little bit curious.

Starter

  • Coquilles St Jacques: scallops served in their shell in a creamy white wine sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and cheese – these are a typical French Christmas starter. I had an intense craving for them last year and found them in Tesco, which is a good thing because I couldn’t bear the thought of making them from scratch.

Main

  • Roast duck – I’ve never been a fan of turkey (my parents always cooked a capon), and anyway turkeys are way too big  and expensive for us, whereas a duck will feed six and provide the fat for the roast potatoes. I have always done Delia’s super simple Roast Duck with Cherry Sauce (I looked everywhere online and couldn’t find it but it’s both in her How To Cook collection and her Christmas cookbook) and I will carry on until the end of time, it just cannot go wrong.
  • Rosemary and garlic roast potatoes, without the chipolatas, although, wow, that sounds good.
  • Sticky shallots Brussels sprouts; I add lardons because everything tastes better with lardons.
  • Roast carrots and parsnips: I do these from frozen because of my history with burning parsnips; I don’t want to see Badgerman cry at Christmas.
  • Pigs in blankets (chipolatas and streaky bacon)
  • Stuffing if I can be bothered

Dessert

  • Chocolate, Raspberry and Lychee Yule Log: yule logs are the traditional Christmas dessert. The French recipe is here, but I will be providing a translation very soon, I promise, because no one should be without this recipe. It is so easy to make, very moreish and makes a very acceptable cake for special occasions other than Christmas
  • Probably some trifle too, or I will get lynched.

No Christmas pudding or Christmas cake in our house. The British love affair with fruitcake baffles me when there are so many tastier alternatives.

Merry Christmas everyone! I would love to hear what your favourite Christmas food tradition is, especially if it is a bit alternative.

Thoughts on England, France, Food, Parenting and possibly more

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