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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cooking in Paris

For two years living in Paris I was happy to eat in restauarants every night, except the times I managed on fresh baguette, delicious cheese and yummy ham all from shops mere steps from my home. Oh what a trial it has been to eat well in Paris! Finally this year I thought - maybe I could cook something.

Let me remind you here that I am dating a restaurant owner. And I decided to cook for him, in my kitchen the size of a table. Easy, right? Oh and without an oven. Think soup, stew, sauteed things.

It all went pretty well, with the exception of the salmon which was overcooked and the spinach which was overcooked and a few things with spices he doesn't like. But he was grateful and I was enjoying myself, finding replacements for things like beef broth and baking powder and sour cream.

One day I was looking through the very detailed manual my landlady left me on every aspect of the apartment, and saw directions for the combined microwave-convection oven. Wait a minute - this is also a convection oven? How the heck does that work? Today was my day to find out.

  The instructions say, "if you are using the square dish and the rack  you should let the round tray in the oven".

Okay, here we go, I am only doing convection so I need the rack. Do I need the square dish? Don't know. And do I just let the round tray in the oven by itself or should I help it in? And how does this work, since the instructions say to put the round tray on the bottom, the rack on the bottom, and the square pan under the rack? Can everything really be on the bottom?

Okay I guessed and put the square pan and the rack on the bottom and "let" the round tray out.

Next, "Set temperature, time and press depart".

Temp should be 250 Fahrenheit. What is that in celsius? And how  do I adjust for convection vs. regular oven? I have 9 pages of instructions but this topic seems vague. Hmm let's just pick 160 celsius.

Can't set the time because this is something that should cook all day and I don't see that option. Okay press depart. Depart. No button here is called depart. Maybe I am supposed to depart and when I come back it will all be cooked beautifully? Hmm I will just keep pressing buttons and see what happens. Okay that made a lot of noise for about a minute. Next try I made it all work for 20 minutes.

Does 20 mins in a convection oven equal 4 hours in a regular oven adjusted for fahrenheit, latitude and language translation? Let's see.

Not even close to cooked.

Back to the stovetop method for this beef stew, where it turned into a delicious concoction.

Back to Math/Chemistry/Engineering/French classes for the cook!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Seeking a Common Language Part 4

Learning French is complicated. There are many subtelties to the language, including context, formality, and of course the humour factor. And that all makes sense. But the whole feminine/masculine thing, which I accepted while learning grammar in school has become very confusing to me.

Let's start from the top. La nez, un oeil, le peau, la bouche - I do not see the logic. How does a body part become feminine or masculine?  Seems to have nothing to do with the gender of the person, the purpose, or anything at all really. But I will tell you what tops these visible body parts.

Breasts are masculine.
Male genitalia are feminine.
Female genitalia are masculine.

Yep, men say "she" when they talk about their penises. Isn't that bizarre? What could possibly be feminine about a penis?

Think about it. When someone was making up the rules for the language, they said,

"Let's be very logical and refer to objects by the gender that seems obvious".

And then the next person (likely an elected politician) said

"Wouldn't it be more fun to be totally random? Kids in school will be looking for the pattern, the rule that applies to help them determine the gender of the noun, and the teacher will explain that this is one more case where the exception is the rule".

Can you think of another explanation?

You might aso enjoy my previous attempts at mastering the language:

Seeking a common language part 1
Seeking a common language part 2
Seeking a common language part 3

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's on your list?

Ever since the movie "The Bucket List", it has become a thing to talk about our own bucket lists. If you only had a short time to live, what would you hurry up and do?

Me? What's on my list? Thanks for asking!

On saying I love you: I don't think there is anyone that I love that has not heard it from me directly, but maybe I could say it more often. Now that I know there is zero risk in telling someone, I like to do it as often as possible.

On seeing people I love: There are friends and family I would see if I could. Not to say goodbye, but to laugh and have even more fun.

On travel: There are places I want to visit: Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Tuscany, Seville. Wait how much time are we talking about? I have a long list.

On eating and drinking: There is food I want to eat and wine I want to drink. But I can do that while I am traveling. And of course I will finally listen to Susan and eat my dessert first to make sure I have room.

On adventure: There are adventures I want to have, including scuba diving and swimming with dolphins. Swim in one of those fabulous pools I have been seeing suspended high in the air with transparent bottoms. Ride a water slide so big it scares me.

But you know what? If I just keep living l am I believe I will do all this and more.Who needs a death sentence to live large?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What will you say when joy calls you?

Friday the planets were aligned. At least for me. Late in the afternoon there was a text from Janice inviting me to the Paul Freeman/Chris Izaak concert. Would I like to go?

Me: Yes

My colleagues at work: Where is it? What time? How much does it cost?

Me: Don't know. Don't care. It will be fun.
Thank you Janice!

I was so rewarded for my spontaneity.
LocationLe Grand Rex the largest cinema, theater and music venue in Paris with 2800 seats.  It is art deco with beautiful statues all around and stars on the ceiling.
Time - 8PM, so just enough time to change out of my business suit into more fun clothes and even enjoy an apero with my friends.
Cost - free! Yup 8 rows from the stage and free. An evening with great friends, a beer after the concert with Paul - what an excellent finish.

And the concert - oh la la. Paul warmed us all up with his songs and charisma. Chris Izaak had us all on our feet by song number 3. All but one young woman in the row ahead of us. She was with a woman who might have been her mother, and apparently felt it was more important to sulk than to enjoy the show. So while her mother and the rest of us rocked it out, singing and dancing like the fun people we are, she sat in her seat, barely looking at the show, sad or sulking or something.

I looked at this young woman and thought: she has no idea what she is missing. Here is this little opportunity to open up and let the joy pour in, and she said no thanks. While the rest of us were refilling our tanks for the day we might need to give more joy than we receive, she chose to stay on empty. At least she looked like she was on empty.

And you know, without knowing she gave me a gift. A reminder to never say no to joy, never to be so committed to my position that I miss such an invitation. So thank you young sad woman and I hope next time you join the dance.

Friday, October 5, 2012

It's Time

I have a very strong memory of these words;

"Okay Melanie - it's time for me to take your pilot chute now". And just thinking the words today makes my heart race.

You see, almost 20 years ago I was at a party. A conversation with my client's wife (who became my friend believe it or not) went something like this

Her: I would love to skydive some day.
Me:  Me too!
Her: Let's do it together
Me: Yes let's!

A few days later, she called to let me know she had arranged the skydiving session for us that Sunday.

Me: WHAT????
Her: Yes, won't it be fun!
Me: Er yes I guess so
Her: You don't remember that we agreed to do it?
Me: Yes. Some day right?
Her: Oh. I thought you said SUNDAY! I booked it for Sunday.
Me: Oh crap. I mean okay can't wait.

Sunday came sooner than soon. Following what seemed a rather brief introductory explanation of what to do when all hell breaks loose and your parachute doesn't open because you didn't let go when you were told or weren't lined up properly or are in a spin with the lines all tangled up around you (basic advice is pray), we climbed inside a little old Cessna and headed up up up into the blue skies. And up. And up. Okay you get the picture.

True I did wonder if the little old plane would make it. True that I was glad I was already wearing my parachute. But after some time had passed, in that moment, hearing the words

"Okay Melanie - it's time for me to take your pilot chute now"

I WAS SCARED. And excited. But mostly SCARED.

"Okay and now you just need to climb out the door with the wind racing past faster than on a dog's face hanging out the passenger window and grab hold of the strut."

Right. No problem.

"Okay, now look at me. And let go"

Well actually I was feeling like it would be a nice time for a chat, further instructions, anything really that would allow me to hold onto that little old plane just a bit longer and do anything but let go. So I turned to look into the jump guide's eyes in order to convince him to please please please let me back in.

I swear to God he hypnotised me. Right there and then. In seconds. He must have, because the next thing I knew I was hurtling through the sky feeling more alive than ever before.

You want to know what relief feels like? It is what you feel when your real parachute opens and slows you down enough to collect your wits.

Okay, so I didn't really collect my wits. But eventually the ground crew came over my radio to remind me that my work wasn't yet over. I actually needed to reach up to pull down my steering cords in order to do anything useful like bring myself safely to ground. Which I did, once I had stopped cheering and whoo-hooing all over the place.

And when it was time to land? Well that is what regret feels like. I was sorry it was all over so soon. Before I had time to fully experience it.

As you can imagine, I am reminded of this adventure when I feel scared. When I am being asked to step up to the podium and do something I have never done before. And yes, when I realize I am so busy paying attention to stuff that I am missing all the fun parts.

And then I remember my only regret that day: that it was over.

So if someone tells you

"It's time"

Go for it! And enjoy the ride.