Saturday, March 31, 2007

Happy Birthday Steph!

Yay! Today is Steph's birthday! To celebrate, he's wearing two sweaters and currently has a thermometer wedged under his tongue. Oh dear.

His request for this birthday was to make my favorite family recipe - Ragu sauce. In honor of his birthday and the memory of my dear old Dad, I'm going to share it with you today, including Dad's own commentary. Enjoy!

Click "Tell me more!" to read the recipe!

Fred's Old Time Ragu
"Now That's Italian"

In order to really appreciate this recipe you must spend two weeks in Italy during the wine making season. Your entire time must be spent stomping grapes until your feel are stained the same color as some hockey team's mascot. If this is not feasible, you can use your toilet bowl filled with grape Kool-aid.

Now that you're in the right mood, let's begin:

  • Tomato Puree 26 oz cans, 2 ea
  • Crushed Tomatoes 26 oz cans, 1 ea
  • Cubed Meat, 1 pound
  • Chopped Meat [aka ground beef], 1 pound
  • pork (spare-rib or Chop, mostly bone), 1 ea
  • Grated cheese, 1/4 cup
  • Grated cheese, 1/4 cup
  • onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon
  • garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon
  • egg, 1 ea
  • bread crumbs, 1/2 cup
  • six pack beer, 1 ea
  • olive oil, 4 tablespoons
  • olive oil, 1 tablespoon
  • medium onion (finely chopped), 1/2 ea
  • garlic cloves (finely chopped), 6 ea
  • oregano, to taste
  • sweet basil, to taste
  • thyme, to taste
  • rosemary, to taste
  • parsley, to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
(Notes: here are some changes we've made in France. The first time I made this on my own, Dad was here to help me out. For tomatoes, I use large cans of whole tomatoes and squeeze them as I add them to the sauce. This time I'm going to use two 2kg bottles of puree with 2 cans whole tomatoes - yes this recipe is constantly changing! Dad often added a few links of Italian sausage - or what Americans know as Italian sausage - and since this is something I've never found here, we cook up a few merguez and toss them in. Instead of using separate herbs, we use a generous portion of Herbs de Provence. Of course, for grated cheese, always try to get your hands on some Parmesano Reggiano!)

Take all ingredients plus 1/2 can of water (Leave out the Beer) and put into a pretty large pot. Place on low to medium heat, stir occasionally. Open 1st can of beer and begin to drink. After you finish the beer stir again. Repeat this step until you complete the six pack. By this time you should be sleepy so turn the heat down to low and sleep several hours. When you awake your ragu will be done. The following is the alternative or long way method of preperation:

To prepare the sauce properly you must be prepared to spend several hours toiling over the pots and pans.

  1. Chop 1/2 medium onion and garlic cloves finely.
  2. Remove Pork and Cubed Beef from packages and remove excess fat. Cut beef into smaller cubes, approximately 1/2 inch each.
  3. Place pot on stove and set heat to low-medium. Wait 3 to 5 minutes then pour in 4 tablespoons of Olive Oil. (I personally don't do this, as the temperature on our easy-bake oven is difficult to control.) Place pork, beef, onion and garlic in pot. Turn heat down to low and stir. Put cover on pot and saute until onion and garlic are quite cooked.
  4. Add the three cans of tomatoes, open first, use a small amount of water to rinse out cans and add to sauce. Add 1/4 cup of grated cheese and each of the spices, its too difficult for me to measure, so you must use your judgment. Whatever you do, don't add too much in the beginning, you can't undo and you may be sorry! Stir, then cover. Continue to stir every fifteen minutes until done, approximately three to four hours.
  5. Prepare meatballs - In a large mixing bowl put the chopped meat, one egg, 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of grated cheese and each of the spices including onion and garlic powder. Again you must do according to taste. Mix thoroughly. If mixture seems too dry, add a small amount of water, if too moist add bread crumbs. It's better if it ends up on the dry side.
  6. Roll into small rounded shapes, similar to head, and place on a steel rack. The rack should then be placed on an aluminum foil covered cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees (Fahrenheit) for about 1/2 hour. Be careful to not overcook. When you feel they've cooked long enough add to sauce. Remember, the meat will continue to cook in the sauce.
  7. After three hours or so start checking the cubed beef. If it tastes dry, it's not done. When beef is well cooked, Ragu is complete. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

on being suburban

I have to pass through three villages to get to Troyes. Before and after these villages are fields as far as the eye can see - and that's pretty far when you live on a plain - interrupted only by a farmstead here, a cluster of trees there. Some of these fields are already green and others are brown with churned earth.

new years day
New Year's Day 2007, a field in Haute-Marne

Last summer, we were driving our houseguests, all residents of Paris, from our house to Troyes for our anniversary party. One of my guests, from the Upper Midwest, sighed and said, "It reminds me of home." Another one, from Kansas, sighed and said, "Me too." And I was silent, because it didn't remind me of anything thing at all.

I am neither a city girl nor a country girl, though I am certainly comfortable in each environment. Maybe I get the city vibe from my mother, who was really a Long Islander but had no fear of negotiating any metropolis that got in her way. Dad was born less than five miles away from the family farm where his mother grew up. It hasn't been a working farm in some fifty years, the barn was pulled down when I was a kid (One of my favorite memories is my one ride on the huge red tractor, Dad at the wheel, my sister and I standing behind the seat and holding on) and the fields have been reclaimed by overgrowth and pine trees, but we still call it "The Farm."

No, I am of that class that city folk and country folk despise - The Suburbans. We were Country Club people; Dad played golf and I lounged at the pool. We lived on wide avenues in big ranch houses surrounded by vast green lawns. Yeah, it was paradise; I didn't know it then but looking back it's obvious. I'll never forget getting on the bus one morning and one kid, noting the street where I waited, said, "You must be rich" and I laughed until I cried because seriously, if we were so rich why did Mom make us buy clothes at Wal-Mart? No, we weren't rich, but we weren't exactly hurting, either.

But my point is, there are no fields in Suburbia, unless it's the baseball or soccer variety. If there was any farming at all, it was groves of oranges and grapefruit, and even those were far away from where I lived, where nature was carefully cultivated for taking a long walk with a stick and a small white ball.

storm's edge
May 19, 2006 on the bus to Troyes

Yesterday, I passed countless fields waking up on a misty morning. On these drives, it's all I can do to keep my eyes on the road. My eyes are distracted by how much the wheat in this field have grown or the tractor working his way across his field just on the horizon. I feel like I've landed on a whole new planet. Sometimes, when the weather is warm and it's the end of the day, and I'm driving home alone, I roll down the windows and shout with joy. I am intoxicated by the fact that I am surrounded by fields that have been cultivated for food instead of for pleasure. The air is warm and clean and my heart is full to bursting. All my worries of learning a new language and integrating myself into a new culture slip away and there is nothing but blue skies and green fields and me.

May 1, 2006 colza field

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

i can take a hint

Well, thanks to your overwhelming response to my last post (*crickets*), you can be assured that I won't bother you again with such trifles as yarn or needles or wool or anything to do with knitting altogether.

Lucky for me, I've been invited to join the fabulous knitting divas of KNOTs! If you're are a knitter (albeit a silent one!) or are interested in knitting, please come check us out!

And, to the relief of most of you, I will have a good old fashioned fish outta water post for you tomorrow. Dispatches from France will finally get back on track!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

yet another knitting post

Yes, I'm aware that I am in grave danger of turning this into a knitting blog, and I assure you that this is not at all my intention. Luckily, I may have another outlet for blathering on about my new obsession at my disposal soon, so please bear with me. If you're not at all a knitter, please go on down to the end of the post - I could still use some great advice!

It's finished!

I don't know how I did it, but at 11:00pm Friday night I actually finished up this sucker! I left the weaving to do in the morning and laid my weary head to rest. I cannot believe I flew through five skeins of yarn in less than a week! I have to tell you though, knitting with such a short deadline really sucks the fun out of it and I'll be sure to avoid that in the future whenever possible.

Papa's scarf

My mother-in-law really liked the dishcloths I made. I'm so glad these went to a good home - they're really fun to knit but I'm more of a sponge person than a dishcloth person.

When my father-in-law came in and settled into his armchair, Steph prodded me on to present the scarf. "J'ai une p'tite chose que j'ai fait pour ton anniversaire*," I said smiling as I presented it. "Une p'tite chose," he repeated, as he unfolded it. "Une p'tite chose, eh?" he laughed as he unfolded it again to its full five feet in length. He thanked me and set it aside, and it was over in an instant, but I think he really liked it.

So now I'm moving on...
Click the photo to see a bigger version

This is a swatch of yarn that I'd like to use for my next project. This is Patons Classic Wool Merino in "Denim Marl" and was destashed to me by my knitting guide. I've got three skeins of 223 yards each. I've been thinking about using it to try my first project in the round. My first thought was to try a placket neck baby sweater, but I'm afraid that with 100% wool it may be too itchy for a wee one. Then I thought maybe I could try my luck with an easy hat, but then I thought that it may be too itchy for delicate heads such as my own.

So that's where you come in: what do you think this yarn should be when it grows up?

* "I have a little something I made for your birthday."

Update: Late last night I thrust the swatch at Steph and asked him if he thought it would be too itchy for a baby, and he said no, but what the hell do we know? If anybody out there is familiar with Patons Classic Merino, could you please tell me what you think? Thankee!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

a short note

Dear Mom and Dad,

Happy Anniversary. I didn't forget! :)

I love you and miss you, and Steph sends his love.

Love forever,


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

You asked for it, you got it: WiP Wednesday

Papa's scarf - WiP
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
Well, here it is! This gorgeous thing is going to be a gift for my beau-pere, if I can get it finished in time. This pattern comes from Stitch and Bitch Nation and is called "Mom's Sophisticated Scarf," but I've made an executive decision that it's suitable for papas as well. I'm using Berroco's Pure Merino Heather, which I bought in Boston. I really wanted to use the pattern's recommended wool (Karabella Aurora 8), but when the shopkeeper told me she didn't have any, she pointed me in this direction. Despite its being a bit thicker, when Carrie and I spotted this color, we both fell in love with it. I don't know if you can tell in the photo, but besides being this lovely purpley/dark blue color, it has some gorgeous flecks of raspberry in it as well. Plus, it's so soft and lovely to work with! I was concerned about how it was going to size up, but it's clocking in at 9.5 inches wide, which is two inches wider than the pattern, so I think we're doing alright.

The real challenge is that I'm one and a half skeins through, with three skeins to go, and I've got to try to finish this up by Saturday. Yeah, this Saturday. My father-in-law's birthday is Sunday, and we just happen to have an appointment in Troyes on Saturday morning, so it seems natural to be able to give it to him then (plus my mother-in-law's ballband dishcloths, since her birthday was at the beginning of the month). I'm making myself crosseyed with all the fevered knitting, but after a disastrous mistake last night while watching tv, which resulted in frogging about five rows, I've learned to walk away at least every hour or so and do something housewifey. Who knows, maybe I'll get it done, and maybe I won't, but I don't mind a challenge now and then!

Oh - and yeah, I'm using circular needles, only because I happen to have circular needles in the right size, but not straight ones. I actually did my misty garden scarf with circular needles too, and I confess I like doing straight work on circular needles - I'm so clumsy that, with this method, I don't have to worry about catapulting needles across the room!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


The last couple of days have been full of pacing, chain smoking, binge eating and staring off into space. And that's just Steph.

We have finally made a decision about what we want to do and how we want to get there. There will be quite a lot of work in the future, but for now my work is to support my husband, because in order to get where we want to be, he has to drastically change his career path, starting immediately. The biggest change won't really happen until next year, and that's if everything goes perfectly, but they say that even a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step, and Steph made that one yesterday.

Yeah, I'm still playing my cards close to my chest, but I'll explain everything when the time is right. The main reason I wanted to write this is to put down in words that my husband is taking a huge leap of faith, stepping way outside his comfort zone, and he's doing it for us, and I've never been more proud to be his wife than this moment.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

knitting freak

Seriously, though. I'm knitting like a madwoman. I'm actually scheduling my day around taking time to knit, and I'm spending time thinking of things I can do while I'm knitting. Don't worry, I'm sure it's Newbie Obsession and it will calm down. Eventually.

I wanted to show you my latest finishes. I was thinking about picking out a day of the week to do a WIP (work in progress) post, but what do y'all think? Would that bore you to tears? Anyway, here's what I've got:

Steph's scarf
This is the first project I started! I finally got it done a couple of days after I got back, and passed it over to Steph. He immediately threw it around his neck and wore it for the rest of the evening. The wacky part was when he was reading in bed - he was still wearing it! I asked him what was up, and he said, "You made it for me and I'm going to wear it!" And he did - all night long. And then he wore it the next night, too! He says it's going to be his inside scarf. I'm telling myself that it's because it's so super soft that he wants to relax with it, and not because he doesn't want to be seen in it (it is, after all, my first project - not exactly perfectly gorgeous up close).

Ballband dishcloths! These were actually really fun to make, and they're super quick to do. The colors are probably not ones I would have picked out myself, but they were gifted to me, and I hope the person who gifted me doesn't mind knowing that I'm probably going to gift them to someone else! I'm thinking about giving them to my mother-in-law as a belated birthday present, because she has a reputation for being a fanatical cleaner. These will certainly brighten up her kitchen, and if she doesn't want to get them dirty, I can even see her using them to set hot dishes on.

Meanwhile, I've just started working on a scarf with the gorgeous soft wool I brought back from the States. My father-in-law's birthday is also in March, so I'm thinking that if I can knock this one out a little quick, I can present them both at the end of the month (hopefully I'll have a little leeway, since both gifts are handmade!). This scarf is going to be really nice, I think, with a basketweave pattern, but I just realized that it begins and ends with six rows of seed stitch. Here's a question for you knitters ('cause if you've read this far, you must be one) - do you think a seed stitch is going to look too feminine on a man's scarf?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

a surprise outing

When Steph came home from work Tuesday evening, he managed to shock me so much that I was sure his evil twin was standing before me.

"If I'm not too tired tomorrow, maybe we could go out for dinner."

Now, what you've got to understand is that this, coming from the self-proclaimed "bear who prefers hibernation all year long," whom I have to beg to just come outside for a walk, nevermind meeting up with actual people, was paramount to asking me if I wished to revive the Concorde to go visit my sister for the evening. For a few moments I was too shocked to say anything more than "Really?" and "Sure!"

But after the shock wore off, I realized that there must be some other reason. I remembered vividly an evening approximately two years ago, when Steph came home from work one evening and said, "Tonight is the annual dinner in a nice restaurant for my department - we have to leave in half an hour." Er...

So, not wanting to be caught off guard, I asked if we were going to be meeting other people. Eventually I got the whole story out of him - his colleague was performing a two-man show in a bar in Troyes, and Steph thought we could make an evening out of it. Dinner and a show? In the middle of the (sacred) week? I couldn't believe my luck!

Well, you should know us better than that.

Actually, it turned out fine; we went to a restaurant we've been going to a lot lately in the historic district (and ate the same thing I usually order - I don't know what's come over me! I figure the added bonus of eating out [besides the obvious pleasure of not having to cook] is eating things you don't normally make at home, and I blew it, but it was still good, anyway...) and since the restaurants were mainly empty, we took our sweet time getting to the bar. We had a nice little stroll around the shopping district before getting to our destination, which was packed. Where the hell did all these people come from? They must have been camped there for a while (we obviously had stumbled into the current Troyes hotspot) because there was no sign at all of all these people out in the streets who were now crammed into a tiny bar with a small stage set up at one end. There was nowhere to sit and there was nowhere to stand without being in the way, so after taking a moment to assess the situation, I left it up to Steph if he wanted to stay (I could have gone either way, honestly), and since he decided that his colleague had plenty of support without his, we hit the road.

Not to waste the evening, we swung by the cinema to see if any good movies were playing, and there were - but we had missed all the start times by as little as ten minutes. There wasn't even anyone in the ticket booths, so no dice. All not being totally lost, we thought we'd pop into the bar next door and have a quick drink before driving home, but alas, the bar has turned into a fancy sit-down restaurant. By that time we could finally read the writing on the wall and headed home, where we watched a few episodes of season four of La Maison Blanche (maybe you remember it better as The West Wing), which had arrived while I was out of town.

It was still nice to leave the house during the sacred work week, and I made sure to tell The Bear I thought so.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

stuck in to scanning

Dad's 30th birthday
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
Man, this is going to take ages, but at least it's fun work. I'm working on scanning the photos I brought back in my suitcase. It's been two hours and I've only scanned about two and a half pages of pictures! I love looking at photos of my parents when they were newlyweds, plus I've found a few photos that were hidden behind others that I've never seen before. Anyway, I'll be sharing some of my favorites on my flickr feed, if you're interested in the fashions of the early 1970's.

In other news, I learned today that, contrary to what my grandmother says, honey does, in fact, go bad. Yesterday I finally saw strawberries at the grocery, so I picked up some oatmeal as well so I could make my favorite breakfast. Unfortunately, I realized too late that oatmeal with strawberries with crusty old honey that I've had since last Spring only makes a big bowl of nasty goo. I'll run out later to restock my honey supply so I can try again tomorrow.

Monday, March 12, 2007

a bit of a ramble

I've actually been quite busy these last few days. The interesting thing is that, unlike usually, it is a busy-ness of my own doing, with a kind of "take the bull by the horns" attitude. It's a nice change, really.

The first few days back were spent mostly getting over jet lag and unpacking and just spending time with the hubby (this often involves a couple of computers but we're nerdy like that). Friday night we went to my brother-in-law's home for dinner, where we ate fish ("So, do you like fish?" Steph: "Yes!" Vivi: "Er...") but in a totally new (to me) way that at least made it entertaining. It was kind of the same idea as raclette, only it was a dish of boiling bouillabaisse which you dipped a morsel of raw fish into and helped yourself to the steaming veggies on top of the contraption. Way healthier, but not nearly as fun as raclette. Anyway, that was a good visit, and I seemed to have benefited from my three weeks outside of France as I was actually able to spit out a real conversation.

Saturday was just a lovely lazy day that went by way too fast, and then Sunday we had guests! Doc and family came by for an afternoon visit, and lucky for us the weather was perfect! Blue skies and just cool enough for a cardigan, we took a saunter down to the park and had a good chat while Doc's oldest took command of all the playground. After a snack and a chat around the table, we sent them on their way with promises to return the favor next weekend.

Today, Steph headed back to work after his two week winter break and I got down and dirty with some cleaning supplies and a sponge in the bathroom. Nothing like chemical fumes to say "Welcome Home!" I'd love to bitch about having to clean, but the truth is it was kind of nice to get myself in gear so fast (what the hell is wrong with me?). After lunch, I absconded with the car and went grocery shopping in Troyes. I had just enough time to put everything away and knit a little while watching a tv show that I may or may not have downloaded (thanks again Flare!) before going to pick up Steph from work. I think the continued gorgeous weather got the better of Steph, however, because I passed him walking home! Well, he looked like he was having such a nice walk that I passed him on the way back and let him finish up his walk! Meh, don't fret, it's only a fifteen minute walk in the first place, it was good for him!

The wackiest thing of all is simply this: I feel really, really good. Ever since I came home, I've felt like I'm really ready to make a plan of what I'm going to do with my life here and I'm even taking steps to achieve it. Maybe I just needed to get this business of Dad's house behind me, or maybe it's just as little as this beautiful weather we're seeing right now, but I'm looking towards the future with a hopeful heart, ready for the work that lies ahead. I've got tons of little crafty projects lined up to keep me entertained and while I'm making plans to take over the world take control of my future, I'm taking pride in the little things I do everyday to make this home a happy one. I am HAPPY!

And then I look at the calendar and see that it's only five months since Dad died. Then I kind of feel guilty for feeling like this. Is this even normal? What the heck is wrong with me?!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

the fastest day ever

Man, today just flew by. I slept about 12 hours last night, thanks to jet lag, and of course now I'm not tired at all. But I digress - Today I caught up on some of my internet obsessions (blogs, photos, webcomics), went to the grocery and the post office (my mirror is already here!) and unpacked some more. Here's a few of the things I brought back:

My first finished knitting project!
misty scarf
I started it the day I arrived and worked on it an hour or two every night, which was cool because that was mostly "hanging out with Grandma watching tv" time. I got it done just in time to wear it to Boston!

The best surprise ever!
granny squares
I found these granny squares while unpacking a mirror that had been boxed up for ten years. Mom had used knitting for packing materials! She was so resourceful. Heaven only knows how old they are, but they were done in good old acrylic (!!), so they're not falling apart anytime soon. I'm gonna have to do some research on granny square afghans so I can learn how to put it all together!

More yarn stash!
new stash!
I bought Stitch and Bitch Nation while I was over there and I picked out a few projects that I could buy yarn for and bring home with me. Here you see big ole skeins of wool that will one day be a messenger bag, and some really lovely soft Merino wool that's going to become a scarf with a basket weave pattern. The needle case comes from my new friend Lenore's store, Rave Knits (I've linked her Myspace page since the web site seems to be under construction) in Concord, NC. By the way, if you're in the area, She has got an incredible array of yarn in her shop, not to mention that it's a really comfy place to kick back and knit - I highly recommend it. If you stop by, be sure to tell Lenore that Vivi said "Hey!"

And finally...
rainy Boston
I uploaded some Boston pics! So I arrived in Boston on Thursday afternoon, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and all was well, albeit cold and wet, on Friday, as we ran some errands in the rain and I snapped photos from the comfort of the car. But we made a fatal error in our choice of meals for lunch, because either my won ton soup or the crab rangoon tasted really fantastic on the way down, but hurt like a bitch on the way back up about six hours later. We had managed to make it to Windsor Button to buy the yarn before I started feeling wonky and it went right downhill from there. Saturday morning I felt well enough for the drive to Salem (woo witches!), armed with Gatoraide, and we did manage to do a little sightseeing, though I had to take numerous breaks (for sitting down; my digestive tract was in too much shock to do anything else). We made it back to Boston to visit the Coolest Vintage Store Ever (and it's probably a damn good thing I felt so bad or I would have torn that place apart, it was so damn awesome!) before going to a really amazing restaurant called The Blue Room (where I ate exactly two leaves of lettuce and a piece of bread. This sucked most of all because Carrie had made the reservations before I arrived and we all really wanted to go). Anyway if you're looking for a great restaurant in the Cambridge area, check it out - it's definitely a casual chic kind of place and the menu was super interesting. Finally, on Sunday, I managed to eat a pancake or two before we went to Harvard Square for a last round of shopping and a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art (of Divine Fart mural fame). It is absolutely criminal that I forgot my camera in the car, because while photos are expressly forbidden in the galleries, it was an unbelievably gorgeous afternoon and the museum offers some spectacular views. Ah well, maybe one day I'll get a second chance. Then it was straight to the airport, back to NC and of course now here I am.

As always, you can click on the photos to be swept away to my flickr feed, where you can see more photos of Boston. Now I've got to figure out how to tire myself out so I can get back on a decent sleep schedule!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

and now back to our regularly scheduled program

Yes, I'm back home! The last few days have been an absolute whirlwind. Boston was great, but thanks to a nasty bout of food poisoning (it's gonna be a long while before I can look a plate of Chinese food in the face again), we didn't get to do as much as we had hoped, but catching up with my oldest friend in the world was totally worth it all. Then it was back to North Carolina for packing and tying up loose ends, and here I am, jet lagged but happily reunited with Steph.

Over the next few days, I'll be unpacking and sharing with you some of the goodies I brought back - this time comfort foods had to be set aside to make room for more important things, like tons of photographs to be scanned and organized, plus a few other surprises. Then there's making the rounds to say hello to the inlaws, checking in on all the blog action I've been missing and getting the house back into order. I've definitely got a full plate! Best of all, for the first time, I really feel like I've come home.