6 things to cook for your French friends

I stopped making crêpes in France. In Chicago, they were always a crowd-pleaser. They somehow seem fancy to us, even though they’re just flatter pancakes. Julia Child’s recipe was my go-to.

IMG_3760

But in France, Julia Child isn’t remotely famous, and crêpes are a culinary staple that Frenchies all know how to make when they pop out of the womb. (Hyperbole? No.) This means that everyone has an opinion. You’ve used too much butter, or not enough. Your crêpes are too sweet. Why would you add fleur d’oranger, or rum? Hugo puts beer in his crêpe batter. (It’s very good, except for that one time we ran out of milk and added extra beer to balance out the liquid component. That just resulted in beer-flavored crêpes.)

Honestly, if I was nice enough to make you crêpes, I just want you to shut up and eat them. I don’t want to hear about how I made them wrong. I love to eat, but I’m not a gourmet cook like my dad. So I don’t make crêpes for French people anymore. They are in charge of making the crêpes.

Instead, I make pancakes. Snickerdoodles. Quesadillas. Sesame noodles. And no one gives me any crap about my cooking, which is just how I like it. Here’s what I cook to make my French friends love me more.

Chocolate chip cookies

sugar spill

It’s not like no one in France has ever tasted chocolate chip cookies before. But ever since I found this salted chocolate chunk cookie recipe from Smitten Kitchen, I bring them everywhere. And people are always happy when I do.

I had to get used to making cookies without an electric mixer – I either make sure the butter is close to room temperature so that I can cream it with the sugar by hand with a spoon, or I melt it, mix it with the butter, and put it back in the fridge for a bit. You really feel like you’ve earned your cookies that way.

Brown sugar is not as readily available in France as it is in the U.S. but you can buy it at Monoprix. It’s in a blue resealable bag and it’s called “cassonade douce.” (Don’t let anyone tell you that “cassonade” is brown sugar, because it’s definitely raw sugar, not the magical cookie sugar.)

Pancakes

It doesn’t matter if it’s brunch o’clock or if I need something to feed unexpected tipsy guests at 11 p.m. Pancakes feel good in bellies. They just do.

I rarely made pancakes when I lived in the U.S. but now, this Martha Stewart recipe adapted on Buzzfeed is my go-to. I like the tip about using yogurt or lemon juice to substitute for buttermilk. (Who has buttermilk in their fridge anyway?)

 Cupcakes

Cupcakes 3

So American, right? Cupcakes are kind of a trend in France… but many bakeries either don’t get them right, or charge an arm and a leg (or both). This chocolate cake recipe is amazing, and there’s a buttercream frosting recipe along with it. I don’t know if I would attempt the frosting without a mixer – I don’t have the upper body strength for that! It has been pointed out to me that frosting is not “très français” so now I just put a thin spread of it instead of a big swirl.

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

Sometimes I think I like snickerdoodles even more than I like chocolate chip cookies. You know how I like funny words. I always use this recipe. If I don’t have brown sugar on hand, I just use all white sugar. If I don’t have cream of tartar (and I never have) I just mix in some baking powder and baking soda. Nothing bad has ever happened.

Quesadillas

Quesadilla

Your French friends probably won’t know what quesadillas are, but their initial suspicions will be quelled when you stuff their mouths with cheesy tortilla and homemade guacamole. (They’ll call the tortillas “crêpes” or “galettes,” but nevermind.) I made these this week with Mexican rice.

Noodles

I am obsessed with noodles right now. This year I found the Asian grocery stores in Lyon. (They’re in the 7th, by Guillotière.) I can buy sesame oil, rice vinegar, and a zillion kinds of soy sauce. I can’t stop making these sesame ginger noodles, and I’m working my way through some new recipes from The Woks of Life. (Although Hugo has made it clear – “beurk! dégueu!” – that he won’t eat any more hoisin sauce.) I pair the noodles with my favorite Asian cucumber salad. Sometimes I drink the leftover dressing out of the bowl. Don’t tell anyone.

I’ve only included links to recipes I love and use on a regular basis. If I have linked to your site and you are displeased, please let me know via my contact page.

          Other useful stuff

IMG_4739I use “levure chimique,” a levening agent that is sold for super cheap in little pink sachets, for baking powder. It’s probably not exactly the same thing, but I don’t really care.

The baking soda in my kitchen is the orange Arm & Hammer kind and it came straight from the USA, but you can buy it in France – look for “bicarbonate“.

Do not accidentally set your oven to 375 Celsius. Sometimes ovens aren’t even in Celsius. They just have numbers (like, 1 to 10) on the dial and you have to guess.

French spicy and American spicy are two different spicies. (I’m kind of a spice-wimp, so French spicy suits me just fine.)

Links

Ingredients for American baking in Paris by David Lebovitz

My Pinterest, where I got all of these ideas in the first place. (I’ve divided the recipes into dessert, brunch, and everything else, because I’m compulsive like that.)

What do you cook for your French friends? Or if you’re French, what is your favorite foreign food?

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Renewing my visa in Lyon: 9 hours at the préfecture 

In Lyon, going to the préfecture is surprisingly like a transatlantic flight (minus the in-flight entertainment). You pack snacks and something to read, and then you sit in a chair until you lose all feeling in your ass.

(If you’re wondering what the préfecture is, it’s a big bureaucratic office that deals with things like immigration and drivers licenses. You go to your local préfecture if you need to renew your visa, or if you’re extremely masochistic, for example.)

Not all préfectures operate the same way. At some, you can make an appointment. Sometimes you can show up at 9 a.m. Sometimes you can make an appointment online. In Lyon, you wait in line outside the building to get a ticket, and then you wait inside the building until your number is called. They give out about 150 tickets per day starting at 8:30 a.m., and you have to come early to get one. Last year, that meant showing up before 6:30 a.m. This year… well, let’s just say that things have changed.

2 a.m. Alarm rings. I consider going back to sleep but instead I get up and drink a weird iced coffee. I think it’s been tainted by fridge smell.

2:30 a.m. I walk to the préfecture with an enormous bag filled with snacks, books, a cushion, and photocopies of all the documents I need to renew my visa. Plus a folding chair. I call my parents because it’s only 5 p.m. in California and they’re like, will anyone be at the préfecture so early? Is it safe?

3 a.m. I arrive at the préfecture and the line is already all the way to the end of the block and around the corner. There are about a hundred people ahead of me. The girl at the head of the line tells me she’s been there since 6 p.m. the night before, and at least thirty people are stretched out sleeping because they’ve been there all night. I set up my chair at the end of the line and get as comfortable as I can under the circumstances.

4 a.m. I’m glad I brought Calvin & Hobbes with me. I thought about bringing L’Écume des jours, but then I got real and reminded myself that this was not the time to challenge my brain.

5 a.m. My phone battery is already down to 30%. This doesn’t look promising.

5:28 a.m. The line is now so far down the block that I can’t see the end. I’m vaguely paranoid about not getting a ticket, but I think it should be fine. The people next to me are speaking a language I don’t understand. Ukranian? Only three hours to go…. until the préfecture actually opens.

5:29 a.m. I should have gotten fries on the way here.

5:46 a.m. This is when I GOT HERE last year. I’ve been here for almost three hours now.

5:50 a.m. A man asks which way to the end of the line. This means that the line is so long in both directions that he can’t tell where it starts. He sits down on the sidewalk and is politely informed that he actually needs to go all the way to the back of the line, because apparently he either doesn’t understand how queuing works, or he thinks we are all dumb or passive enough to let him cut in. Never assume that about people who have been in line since 3 a.m.

5:55 a.m. Three hours down! I can’t wait to go home and sleep later. And maybe eat a burger.

6 a.m. The street lights click off. I guess this means it’s officially morning.

6:30 a.m. A mosquito buzzes around my head. Seriously?! A mosquito?!

6:50 a.m. People are munching on pain au chocolat and I can smell the butter. #jealous

7 a.m. The line starts moving. We round the corner… and wait some more. Queuers step off the sidewalk to smoke their morning cigarettes. Blech.

8 a.m. I’m now all the way up to the employee entrance on the side of the building. There’s a steady stream of fonctionnaires coming in to work, sliding through the throng of immigrants outside. I wonder if they know how long we’ve been waiting.

8:45 a.m. I’m in! I set up my chair in the corner by an outlet to charge my phone. I’m ticket number E118… And they’re on number E019. Settle in and wait, part two. I eat my last cookie to celebrate.

8:57 a.m. A dude comes up to me and asks to borrow my glasses. He needs them to sign a paper. I try to explain that they’re not reading glasses and I forget the word for “near-sighted” because my brain is set in English/zombie right now. No one has ever asked to borrow the glasses off my face before.

9:16 a.m. omg I smell coffee.

10 a.m. They’re up to E055. Only 63 more to go. I just want to go to sleep. I look at the woman soothing her four-month-old. It must be tough to come here with a baby. There are a lot of families. A seven-year-old with a cast on her leg riding on her dad’s shoulders, a woman breast-feeding her baby, a blonde with a sequined top pushing a double stroller.

10:01 a.m. The people who wanted to borrow my glasses an hour ago have just finished at the guichet. No wonder it takes so long to bing-bong through all the ticket numbers.

11:26 a.m. E100! Only 18 more to go. I feel brain-dead but Josh and Chuck (of Stuff You Should Know podcast fame) are helping me stay zen. (With a podcast on road rage, ironically.)

11:39 a.m. The room is emptying out. There are less than 30 of us remaining.

11:45 a.m. Yes! E118, guichet 22. My turn!

I get a nice girl who is probably younger than me. Her supervisor is the dude with glasses who wouldn’t accept my dossier last year. I called her window a “guichet” but it’s really a glass cubicle. There’s a transparent wall separating us. It’s nothing like stepping up to the window to buy a train ticket, even though that’s also called a guichet. You don’t wait in line for half a day to buy a train ticket, even if you want to go somewhere really cool like Croatia.

I hand over copies of my carte de séjour, my passport, my justificatif de domicile, aka proof that I’m not homeless (my lease and electric bill, just to be sure), my last four paychecks. She compares them all to the originals and initials each page. I give them the attestation from the university that says they’re hiring me next year and my autorisation de travail from DIRECCTE, the department who gets to say, “Yeah, it’s cool if you work in our country,” or not.

Wait, there’s a problem. “No, this work authorization is from last year. We need the one from this year.” I start to panic. Should I have gone to DIRECCTE first? Did I screw this up? Then I remember I can’t get that form by myself – the university has to do it for me, and they won’t until September.

Another person is telling her that I absolutely need the one for this year, not last year. She comes back to the window. I’m shaking my head and internally freaking out.

“Don’t worry,” she says before I have a meltdown. “I’ll still take your dossier. You just need to bring in the form when you get it in September. You don’t have to come back early in the morning.”

She takes my fingerprints (“Uh, your right hand is the other one”) and has me fill out a form and sign my récipissé, the temporary document that says I’m legal while I wait for my new carte de séjour, my visa.

And then it’s over. All her coworkers have already gone to lunch. It’s 12:15 p.m. so I wish her a bonne journée and get out of there so fast I almost forget my chair. The line for the 1 p.m. tickets is already spilling out the door. (Afternoon tickets are for different orders of business than morning tickets.) The sun is shining but it’s not too hot. My adrenaline keeps me running just long enough to eat lunch and walk poor Tigrou the dog, and then I crash.

Today of all days, I give myself permission to do nothing but sleep, lounge, and Netflix all afternoon. Because I won my préfecture battle of 2015 and got my récipissé on the first try, dammit.

And it only took nine hours.

This was not my worst trip to the préfecture, even though it was the longest. You can read about my past adventures in French bureaucracy here.

Winning an epic battle with French lab billing

A great pastime, particularly among foreigners in France, is complaining about the bizarre inefficiency of the French system and all the frustrations that come with it. I’ve ranted about French bureaucracy a considerable amount, but all of these experiences that make you want to clunk heads together are the rule, not the exception. Everyone has lived them, even French people.

So I’m happy to present to you a France success story! I like to tell it because I get to rant for most of the story (ranting is only fun after it’s all over) and it still has a happy ending. Are you ready?

In January, I went to the doctor. She said she was going to do a test that would cost 7 euros once it was reimbursed in part by social security. Fine, I said. In France, the doctor actually gives you your lab sample packaged in an envelope and you have to take it to the post office to mail it to the lab yourself. Weird, but okay.

A few weeks later, I got a bill for 23.10€. I sent a check, because that was the only way to pay. And that was that.

Except that a couple months later, a scary collection agency note showed up at my door, threatening to fine me over 100 euros for not paying the bill, which I had paid. So I called them up.

“Um, actually I did pay this bill a few months ago,” I explained.

They insisted that there was no record of my payment.

“Fine, then I would like to pay it now. Can I use an American credit card? I’m having some problems with my French bank.”

“Yes, clearly you are,” the woman smirked condescendingly.

(My French bank problems are an entirely different saga, and do not involve a lack of funds to pay a 23 euro bill.)

I argued with her until she conceded to let me pay the original amount owed, minus additional charges.

And that was that.

Except that it wasn’t, because in May (remember, this all started in January) the laboratory cashed my check. They cashed the check that they had said they had never received, after sending a collection agency after me, months after I had paid the collection agency!

I only had the number for the collection agency, and naturally, this debacle was not their problem.

“You’ll have to take this up with the lab because they are the ones who cashed your check.”

“Okay, could you please give me their phone number?”

“I can’t share that information with you, but here is there address. You can write them a letter.”

I can write them a letter?! (Side note: Sometimes, in France, you will be told that the only way to accomplish something is to write a letter. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t.)

Thankfully, Google seemed to think it was okay to give me the lab’s phone number. You’re the best, Google.

So, in my best polite French, I explained that there seemed to have been an error.

“You’ll have to take that up with the collection agency, that’s not my problem,” the receptionist brushed me off.

“Oh no no no no nononononono.” My polite French got less polite. “I have paid almost fifty euros for something that was supposed to cost seven. Do you find that normal and correct? I did send the payment on time, and when I was told you had lost the check, I paid immediately a second time to resolve the issue.”

“We didn’t lose your check!” She was indignant.

I was confused. “Then… why… but… the collection agency?”

“I don’t know what my colleague did, but we didn’t lose your check. We sent you the reimbursement form, didn’t you get it?”

“Madame, the issue is not the assurance maladie reimbursement. The issue is that you have charged me twice and you need to reimburse me.”

Here, there was some hemming and hawing, and she put me on hold. Apparently, she didn’t share my view that reimbursement was obligatory in this scenario.

Finally: “My supervisor says we can send you a check.”

“Wonderful! When might I expect to receive it?”

“Bah, je sais pas madame! We have other clients, not just you. It won’t be tomorrow.”

“I understand, but could you give me an idea? A week? Two? I’ll be moving in a month.”

“You had better give me your new address. Ca ne va pas être demain!” she repeated.

“I don’t have it yet, and I really think that three weeks is sufficient time to send a check.”

“You’re moving in a month and you don’t have a new address? You’re really pushing it, madame.”

It sounds polite because we were calling each other madame, but the whole thing had turned into quite a spat.

“Look,” I said. “I am sure that you will be able to successfully mail this check in two weeks. In the event that I don’t have it before I move, I will contact you again. Will that work for you?”

“Yes. Au revoir.”

“Thanks so much for all your help and bonne journée!” I spit out sarcastically, sure that I was going to have to call and harrass her for the money in a few weeks.

But. BUT! Here’s the happy ending. Are you ready?

The check came in a few weeks time, and I cashed it. HOORAY!

The end.

Have you ever battled the French system? Tell me your story, or leave a link to your own rantings!

Stylish Packing for Europe: Guest post for Become an Au Pair

Ashley Fleckenstein of Ashley Abroad has lived in Paris and traveled the world, and is now based in Denver, Colorado. She has written many helpful posts about being an au pair in Europe and has also shared a few guest posts from other au pairs and expats.

So as a departure from my often-whimsical posts about weird French stuff, I wrote a guest post on packing with style for a move to Europe, in which I express my love of scarves and ankle boots.

Take particular note of the photo collage I made thanks to this tutorial from A Beautiful Mess because I was supremely impressed with my own artistic cutting and pasting abilities. I don’t have photoshop, so I just arranged the images in PowerPoint and took a screenshot. Bam!

                              Stylish packing for Europe collageNot too bad, right?  

You can read all my advice about looking stylish in Europe and packing for a long séjour abroad here. At the bottom I include links to my favorite posts on minimalist style and packing.

What are your best packing tips? What do always pack when you travel?

Working in France: Lectrice Q & A

Most Americans in France know how hard it is to get a visa and a job. If you don’t have EU nationality, a French spouse, or a rare and in-demand professional specialty, job opportunities are slimmer than the supermodels France recently banned, especially if you weren’t educated in France.

There are a couple solutions. You can work part time on a student visa while going to school (check), you can be a language assistant in a French elementary, middle, or high school (check), and, if you have the required education, you can be a lecteur or lectrice in a French university (check!)

(Other ways to live and work in France include being an au pair and getting your visa sponsored through the Franco-American chamber of commerce. If you’re Canadian or Australian, you may qualify for a working holiday visa.)

I’m about to embark on my fourth year in France and my second as a university lectrice. Here are some insights into my experience as a lectrice so far.

Continue reading “Working in France: Lectrice Q & A”

Two things you should never say to your French boyfriend

I’ve made my share of silly mistakes in French. I’ve progressed a lot in the last few years, but (much to my chagrin), I’m still not perfect. Sometimes just accidentally adding a single consonant to a word leaves les français giggling at my expense. (The word for down jacket is “doudoune” not “doune-doune,” in case you were wondering.)

Usually, my slip-ups just leave me subject to ridicule, but sometimes they get me in trouble. Here are two ways to accidentally offend your French copain or copine.

Continue reading “Two things you should never say to your French boyfriend”

The préfecture: it’s not over yet!

Well, at least I had the sense to put a question mark when I titled this post “The End?” of my battle with the préfecture.

Because of course it wasn’t the end. That would have been too simple.

In case you missed it, I went to the prefecture not once, not twice, but three times in order to finally get my récépissé, the piece of paper that gives me the right to stay in France until I get my carte de séjour, the official legal card. And they said something along the lines of, “Congratulations, you have shown great patience and determination in this quest and will now be awarded the golden récépissé. Come back in October for your carte de séjour (and in a year you can do it all over again! Bienvenue en France.)”

And silly me, I thought I could just come back in October and get my carte de séjour. Oh, so naive.

Continue reading “The préfecture: it’s not over yet!”

The préfecture: the end?

You’ve been holding your breath waiting for me to finish my story about the préfecture, haven’t you? If you missed it, I’ve already been once in Vienne and once in Lyon trying to renew my visa. (FYI, I have a job contract specifically for a foreigner like me which gives me the right to live in France for the duration of the contract, so it’s not a legal problem – it’s a bureaucracy problem.)

To cut a long story short, I flew back from Barcelona a few days early specifically to do this whole thing over, because who doesn’t love waiting on the sidewalk for hours while the sun comes up? I brought snacks this time.

Continue reading “The préfecture: the end?”

Coucou! (and other French mistakes)

When I was learning French and I went to France for the first time, I thought “coucou” was a term of endearment, an affectionate diminutive, like “sweetie” or “honey.” Actually, it just means “hi there!” So… I was just flattering myself every time someone said, “Coucou C-Rose!”

(Around the same time, I pronounced “gare” to rhyme with “air” instead of rhyming with “are” or “aarrrrg!” (…the pirate noise). This means that instead of actually saying “gare” (rhymes with “aarrrrg!”) I was really saying the word “guerre” (rhymes with “air”) without realizing it. THAT means that instead of saying, “I’m going to the train station” I was really saying, “Bye-bye, I’m off to war!” Olala. I’ve come a long way.)

Gare TGV Avignon
This is “la gare.” (I don’t think we need a picture of “la guerre.”)

Anyway, that is just a long-winded introduction to say coucou… to you! I just wanted to say hi and thank you for following my blog. I started blogging just recently because I wanted to see if I would like writing, and if I did, what I would like writing about. I wanted to see if I would like blogging as much as I like reading blogs. I wanted a place to share the stories of fun, funny, and weird things that happen in France and to share my photos because sometimes I take more than Instagram can handle. My family doesn’t read it, and neither do my friends. I’m just writing because I want to. And I’m glad you’re reading!

I’m writing this from the airport in Lyon (bravo on the free wifi, Aeroport de Lyon!) because… I’m off to Barcelona! I haven’t been to Spain since I was thirteen (um.. some time ago) and I’ve never been to Barcelona or this region of Spain before. I’m not sure yet if I’m going to blog while I’m there or not, but soon I want to share more about Montpellier and tell you about a tragic encounter with French bureaucracy… when I’m ready to laugh about it.

In the meantime, salut! (“Salut” is the French version of “Aloha” minus the island cool – it means both “hi” and “bye.”) See you next time!

The Préfecture: Hell in France?

The préfecture is not a popular destination in France. It’s the place where foreigners go to take care of bureaucratic nonsense like visa renewals, and it usually involves waiting in line for hours and dealing with cranky civil servants who hold your fate in their temperamental hands. Or so I hear – I’ve actually never been to the préfecture after two years in France. Well, not until Tuesday. On Tuesday I went to the préfecture.

It did not go well.

Continue reading “The Préfecture: Hell in France?”