16 December 2009

Utter Sugar Cookie Fail Leaves Kitchen Wrecked, Cook Despondent

At approximately 1:13 pm Wednesday afternoon, the small town of Vesoul, France, experienced a rare phenomenon: an utter sugar cookie failure on the part of one of the town’s young teachers, Ms. Roberts.

This paper theorizes that the mistakes leading up to this epic failure were many, and varied, but Ms. Roberts seemed at a loss to describe exactly what when wrong.

“I wanted to make sugar cookies for my class’ holiday party. Well, I found this recipe online, it said “Easy Sugar Cookies” but that was so not the case.” 

Witnesses reported growing concern as Roberts opened what she believed to be the French equivalent of baking powder and dumped it into her mixing bowl.

“Um, yeah,” Roberts comments, “that may have been baking yeast…maybe that was why it came in those individual little packets….and looked like pellets….huh.”

Further failures included the refusal, on the part of the metal eggbeater, to properly spin, resulting in a doughy mixture that somehow seemed both too dry and too sticky, and a finicky toaster oven that both over- and under- cooked the cookies. A certain amount of toaster-oven negligence on the part of Ms. Roberts is also suspected, but has yet to be confirmed.

Authorities were alerted by Roberts’s cries after the fourth batch of sugar cookies came out burned and utterly useless. They arrived to find the kitchen (and Roberts) completely covered in flour, butter and sprinkles. Every large container was dirty as well as many seemingly unrelated utensils, such as the cheese grater.

The victims, approximately 33 ½ sad little sugar cookies, are known to be in seclusion, hiding their sad little sugar cookie faces. This paper managed to sneak an exclusive image of the cookies: their flat, dry texture can be noted, along with their completely pathetic toppings: uneven scrapings of chocolate and sparse sprinkles. “The sprinkles just wouldn’t stay!” Roberts wailed.

While this fail serves as a cautionary tale for readers, it poses serious problems for the future of Roberts’s teaching career. “Sugar cookies, are, like, so basic,” Roberts explained, “if I can’t master this, what will I do when I have to design a test?  Or [gasps] punish a student?”
Further training and short-term counseling are recommended for Roberts, and a hasty and discreet disposal is advised for the cookies.

14 December 2009

Mini Christmas with my fellow assistants and a little too much Vin Chaud (though, on the other hand, can there ever be "too much"?)

Yesterday, Sunday, we were treated to a rare sunny day, cold and very clear. The air smelled earthy and wintry and I ran around taking pictures of the deserted high school campus in the sunlight, trying to learn the Nikon's many/varied/complex controls.

Here are a few of the results. I was playing around with the two dimensional forms of the buildings and the rigid symmetry of the campus and trying to remember f-stops and apertures and contrasts and center-weighted metering and all that good stuff.

In the afternoon, we three Belin assistants went to a concert in the small village of Colombier about 10 minutes to the north of Vesoul for what we thought was going to be a classical Christmas music concert in the church there. It was, in fact, delightful. But it was two hours of delight on a hard wooden bench with very little heating. The local community orchestra was surprisingly good and they played a truly diverse program: A song from Pearl Harbor, one from Pirates of the Carribean, a medley of Broadway tunes, a Tchaikovsky piece, a medley of a French singers' work, four other compositions by American composers, a modern version of Greensleeves...if that isn't random than I don't know what is! What the majority of these numbers had in common was their connection with American composers/films, which, while fine, was slightly disappointing from a French cultural perspective.

On a related, but tangential note, I have been having great difficulty finding things to read in France. The English books available are either high school reading list classics, which, by and large, I am enjoying, but they do tend to be tragic/depressing/thought provoking. After a few in a row like this you kind of need something lighter! The other end of the spectrum is Nicholas Sparks/Stephen King mass markets, which, frankly, I have never liked very much.
I'm surprised to find it so difficult to find books written by French authors, but each time I go into a bookstore or library I see the same books that we had on sale in the Book Store when I left, just translated into French. I even saw a copy of Boulder author John Shors's Beneath a Marble Sky (Sous un ciel de marbre) in the tiny local library! This is truly frustrating, however, when I am looking for books to improve my French. I have never really wanted to read Confessions of a Shopaholic in English. Why would I want to read it in French!?! I am hoping my upcoming trip to Paris will give me a chance to visit the famed Shakespeare & Co. English book shop so I can restock my bookshelf!

We made a lovely group dinner last night. A green curry with red pepper, carrots, ginger, onion....and vin chaud, the traditional Christmas drink of the Alsace region, made with spice sachets and red wine. We exchanged our little gifts around my tiny sapin de noel (Christmas tree) and drank...three bottles of red wine! Among four petite females! And then we all had to be up to decorate the lycee with one of the teachers at 9am this morning....oh. oh. oh.

13 December 2009

Un troisième marché du Noel à Montbeliard!

Just got back from visiting my third Christmas market at Montbeliard, about an hour away from Vesoul. I took the Nikon with me, hoping to play around with the Christmas lights, but it was so incredibly cold that I didn't even take it out of my bag. I was afraid of dropping it and I knew my frozen fingers would never be able to work the tiny controls! So no photos, for this one, sorry!
Montbeliard is bigger than Vesoul, but smaller than Besancon. Everybody told us their Christmas lights and illuminated buildings were not to be missed. Katherin and I set off in her tiny car at about 3:45. It's getting dark here at around 4:40, so we figured we'd be just in time for the lights to come on, but it wouldn't be too cold yet. Right on the first, wrong on the second!
We are currently experiencing a cold snap, which the Vesuliens call something like a sacaille, though I can't find it in the dictionary. Anyway, even with boots, long underwear, three shirts and a sweater, my red coat, a thick scarf, hat, and gloves, I was DYING. It was probably only in the teens, but I think I am no longer cut out for humid climates. There was the occasional light breeze, too, which under the circumstances seemed very cruel.
This marché was quite large and I do believe everyone and their mother was there. It was difficult to move along the narrow corridors of the market because there were so many people! People shoving, kids screaming, holiday music blaring, the sounds of crepes and gauffres cooking, kids on tiny ponies winding their way through the crowd...fun, but crazy! At one point all of the people around me started moo-ing, I guess to show that they were annoyed by the slow pace of the crowd.
All of this being said, the market was quite fun to browse through for a while. Kathrin and I had hot chocolate and picked up some lovely little presents for Lupita and Pam. This market had many more booths that were fine-arts related, rather than kitschy, pseudo-old -timey crafts. We saw water-colorists, photographers, some hand-made journals that made me drool (I thought of giving them the Book store's email address, but the crowd pushed me forward before I could talk to them), handmade hats and scarfs in designs from the middle ages, home-made jams and jellies, jewelry, more jewelry, raku pottery, scrap metal sculptures of ducks.....bascially everything and anything that you find at places like that.
My favorite was a fabric vendor's booth that was oozing luxurious blends of silk, wool, and fine cotton in the forms of pashminas, wraps, and scarves. There was a delicate spicy scent from the fabrics and fairy lights in the booth and stacks upon stacks of material. The vendeuse was dressed in a floppy renaissance sort of hat with a colorful brooch on it, a black scarf wound around her neck and handknitted sweater. She had a timeless face and kind of reminded me of Lorenna McKennit, with long golden hair falling out of her hat. She talked to us for a long time about the fabrics and their history, all the while keeping an eye on some other customers--a middle-aged man and his wife (who was wearing a floor-length CAPE!!! I do <3 France sometimes....) who were evidently looking for something luxurious and colorful. I fell in love with several wraps that were all much too expensive for me--but managed to resist, I am happy to say.  Kathrin found three scarves for various relatives.
After about three hours, neither of us could feel our toes, so we made it back to the car, taking turns shouting "I am SO COLD" in English, French, and German.

06 December 2009

Marché du Noel à Colmar, France!

Again, apologies and excuses for not writing in a while. Teaching has been kicking me in the butt here for the last couple of weeks.

I did catch enough of a break to have a little fun this week! Thursday the other assistants and I went to an African Dance class, which was awkward and hilarious and awesome! It was the four of us--me, Lupita, Pam, and Katherin, plus about 8 older ladies. We began by stretching and doing some aerobic stuff. I had already done a kind of intensive internet-yoga class that morning, so I was starting to feel twinges in my back and my tush as we started laid on our backs doing pelvic thrusts up in the air...then to the left...then to the right...then pulses...;) We did some warm up jumping around and then started learning a new choreography--it seemed kind of difficult at first, but looked really cool when the teacher did it,  and all the ladies were saying things like, "Good Lord! I'll never get my body to do that!" and "Oh, now I've done it, help me up!" which was pretty funny. We all really enjoyed ourselves in the end and I'll think we'll start going regularly. It's good to be able to laugh at yourself at least once a week, I think...

On Wednesday we took off for Colmar after our classes to visit the marché du noel there (Christmas market). Colmar is about two hours north, near Strasbourg, and I think we had to traverse about a million roundpoints to get there. I am learning German from Katherin's GPS and I can now tell you that "fellassen" means "exit" the roundpoint...
We stepped out of the car in Colmar and I immediately thought of Disneyworld. Everything was incredibly picturesque--so much so that I wondered if I stepped around a corner whether or not I would backs to the buildings or if they would turn out to be two-dimensional!

All the shops and house in the old town were decorated with wreaths, lights, boggles, toggles, flowers, etc. The architecture was noticeably very different from that of Vesoul or Besancon--it's clearly an Alsatian town, and I found the wood-beamed houses utterly charming--like Snow White, spend-a-weekend-here charming, not like I-have-found-where-I-will-spend-the-rest-of-my-life charming. I say this because it was so touristy, and as with the two-dimensional feeling, part of me felt that Colmar was like Colonial Williamsburg or something--you could enjoy it for a little while, but it was like someone's idea of a perfect town, just a tad creepy. And, like Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, or Helen, GA, there were busloads of plump older folks there to stagger around taking pictures of each other near fake reindeer and buy "folksy" trinkets that were probably made in China.

Also at Colmar I heard Americans and British folks speaking to each other, the first I have heard since I've been in France. At any rate, we had a lovely time poking around the arts and crafts booths and drinking hot chocolate and mulled wine while Christmas music was blasted at us from speakers attached to the sides of buildings. It was very very chilly, so after a couple of hours we were happy to pile back into Katherin's tiny car and head north a bit further to Riqswihr, a village situated in rolling foothills covered in grape vines, nestled at the foot of the Vosges mountains. Some of the Vosges had snow on the tops, and this was the first time either of the two Mexican girls had ever seen snow!

The town---village, really, was at one time a walled city. Most of the buildings and houses on the perimeter formed a solid enclosure, tightly contained, with outer gates and passages that could be locked, shutting out the world.  We found a passageway from the parking lot and followed it up a stairwell and out onto the cobbled streets of this entirely pedestrian town center. Night was falling and a nearly full moon was shining through a web-work of clouds. Christmas lights were starting to come on and it made a very warm, glowing scene. We stood, mouths agape, taking lots of pictures. There were a lot of touristy shops here, too, selling pain d'epice and holiday cookies and potholders with "Riqwehr" on them...basically the french equivalent of the tshirts that say "Sombody who loves me went here..." but the architecture and atmosphere of the town itself managed to win me over all the same. It was so easy to imagine life there a hundred years earlier, three hundred years earlier... I think the whole town smelt slightly of cedar boughs and cinnamon.

It got pretty bitterly cold as we wandered through the small marché du noel, but I think we were all enjoying this first day where it really felt like Winter--and the first time its felt like the holidays for me!

Then Friday night we were visited by several other assistants from Besancon, Luis, who we stayed with during the Toussaints break, and two Irish assistants, Laura and Rebekah. We had a nice time listening to music and learning to dance salsa and generally being goofy together.

Saturday morning we were awakened really early by the arrival of two more assistants from Bolivia. We sat around sleepily munching croissants they had thoughtfully bought on their way through town and then we headed off to the market to buy ingredients for what turned out to be a "Boli-Cuban" International Cuisine Cooperation Experiment, the results of which  were delicious. I enjoyed talking to everyone and hearing about their experiences in France as well as life in their home countries. As always, I wished I had had a moment to read up on things in Wikipedia.
"Do you know much about Bolivia?" one of the guys asked me.
"We have the highest capital of any country in the world," he said proudly, and without missing a beat, "and we grow more species of potatoes than anywhere else on earth."
And like the true multi-cultural gathering that we were, we spoke French while making and eating the Boli-Cuban meal, with background music from an a capella German group called "Wise Guys." Yes, truly, life is good.