You may be wondering if I cook French these days. The answer is yes and no. I do experiment and use mostly french ingredients. We eat differently here - lots and lots more bread and cheese! I have a few french recipes our whole family likes too. But, whenever we are invited over to a party or playdate, I usually choose to bring something very American (usually brownies) because that's what they want and because I feel confident making them. Of course, they are not exactly the same as I make back home - but still kick any other brownie's butt. This time, instead of superbrownies, I decided to make Jeanne's cheesecake brownies (mostly because we had some cream cheese). Unfortunately, I dropped the bowl of cream cheese topping, losing about a third. I have never seen such a large trajectory! As you can see, some even ended up on the ceiling. My children, of course, took this accident as manna from heaven and started eagerly licking every sugary cream-cheesed surface they could reach. Since our opportunities to eat this are so few - I didn't have the heart to stop them (no one is sick so I guess it's OK - builds immunities right?). In the end, there was still plenty for the brownies and they came out pretty well. (Not to my standards, but I am dealing with French stuff here!)
We had really been looking forward to riding the train out to Regis's place. He lives in the Haut-Doubs. This is about a 40 minute drive from Besancon. The reason for this is that his wife, Marie (an architect), works in Switzerland and this location is a nice compromise. Apparently, a lot of people in the Haut Doubs do this. Seems like the best of both worlds since the cost of living in France is low and the salaries in Switzerland are high. It is very close and the border crossing is a non-issue. Plus, it is absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. Spring may be sprunging around here - but not where Regis lives. It was really fun to get on the train and go (in only an hour) from slightly greening valley to frostiness to a bit of snow to deep deep drifts. We were relieved since we brought our snowsuits along in hopes of one last sledding adventure with his family. He lives in a newer development in a small village - his wife designed the house, shown here, which was super comfortable and just full of natural light. They have 2 children, Anne, age 8 (pronounce it ahhhhhhnn or have Callie yell at you) and Marc, age 5 (don't forget the french r on this one either!). The kids played for a while and then we had rabbit for lunch. Regis told this great story about how, in the olden days of France, the peasants were not permitted to eat birds or fleet footed deer that leap since they touched the sky and were, therefore, close to the heavens. If they got caught eating such animals, they could be imprisoned or even have a limb severed. Therefore, the peasants got good at eating rabbits - which dwelt low to the ground (I wonder if this is why they eat snails too? How about frogs? They do leap - seems like a grey area). I have been too afraid to try rabbit and was happy it was so delicious - all the kids ate it too. The key, they said, was getting a good rabbit - not the kind from the supermarket. Guess I'll have to check the boucherie sometime soon.
Then we were off to hit the slopes. It had snowed several feet the week before but the sun had been working on melting since. This made the snow super, duper soft - and exceedingly hard to walk in. I can't really decide if it was harder for us adults, who were heavier and therefore sunk deeper, or for the kids who, when they broke through found themselves in snow over their knees, at times. All I can say is, I've never had such a hard time in snow - or seen such a gorgeous clear day! It was amazing how empty it was, so close to their house. It was also great because it was quite warm - I always hate the "I'm freezing" aspect of being out in the snow. But, after struggling on for about a half an hour, Regis choose to leave and get some snow shoes for the grown ups. I have never tried them before so that was really fun - it did help but it certainly wasn't as easy as just walking on a road or something. We finally made it to the hill, an extremely steep bowl shaped section in what must be some gorgeous pastures in the summer. Well, it was actually kind of amusing, riding the sled down that hill - it did go down - but it was like watching a slow motion instant replay of sledding. What should have taken 10 seconds took about 45 - and they stopped as soon as they hit bottom! Then, they had to, somehow, make it up the hill again. You couldn't even roll down the hill. The snow was so soft we couldn't get momentum going. Plus, the snow was so wet, we were getting soaked. After about 5 attempts, we gave up and headed back home - walking most of the way on the road. The kids had a hard time making it to the road and did some whining but honestly, I was impressed at how strong they all are (I include Anne and Marc), especially Griffin - he's not 4 yet and we only carried him a small portion of the journey. Once they made it to the road the grumbling stopped and they happily skipped home, singing songs, attached to each other by the ski poles we had used with the snow shoes. Once we got home, they unbelievably played a bit more in the backyard snow and Regis showed us this strange parasitic plant that grows on the trees around here. I forget the name in French but it makes the trees look like they have giant puffy balls popping off of them. I have seen them and often wondered what the problem was! I suspected from his description it maybe was the plant we call mistletoe because it has white waxy berries and there is a tradition of kissing under it. Of course, I checked this out online and learned that I was.... right! Hooray! Besides the info that Regis provided (in ancient times, the Celts used to squeeze the berries to make some sort of hallucinatory drink - yum) I also read that "the sticky juice of mistletoe can be used to trap small birds." Apparently, you can chew up a bunch of the raw berries until they are sticky (but don't swallow any - poison) and then rub the results between your hands to produce long sticky strands you can drape over likely perching spots. The birds get stuck - you get dinner- nice! (This info may come in handy someday, like, if Armageddon comes). The fringe benefit of preparing this trap is you're so stoned you won't even care that the world has come to an end!
We had a lovely dinner and put the kids in bed. A quick note on a French custom - their kids eat dinner in their pajamas. At first, I'd only seen this in one place - but now it's several families. I guess this is so the kids can go straight to bed after a late-ish supper. But, I wonder, what happens when your kids spill all over themselves? Are French kids inherently neater? But, no matter, no giant spills this time and, after all that adventuring, they were ready for sleep. Callie, by this point, was inseparable from Anne and spent the night wrapped up in her arms. We stayed up late, (for us, that's 11pm) chatting. Mostly Marie and I listened to Andre and Regis talk about work - it was fun for me to listen to someone who works with him and hear another perspective. Marie and Regis both speak English beautifully and I really appreciated spending time with people I could converse with. I also worked on trying out my French-and embarassed myself so badly I ended up crying in frustration. So, after that, we mostly just spoke in English! The next day, we all went over to a local Fromagerie and farm. This was such an amazing experience it deserves it's own blog and, it will get one!
After lunch we packed up and headed back for the train station. All the kids were so sad to leave, I think they wanted to move in permanantly. As we were driving away I had this exchange with Griffin:
G: Mom, I'm sad
G: Mom, I'm sad
M: Oh, why Griffin?
G: Because I don't want to leave this place.
G: Because I love beautiful places.
M: I love beautiful places too! It would be fun to stay. But I am excited to go home on the train. Do you want to go on the train?
G: Oh yes, the train will take us home to the real France
M: But this is France, Griffin!
G: No it's not, this is the Switzerland-France - We live in the real France.
M: Oh, OK! (best not to argue)
According to Griffin, only our house and it's immediate neighborhood is the 'real france'. Anywhere else is something else entirely. We've tried to explain to him about, Besancon, towns etc... to no avail. He is also convinced he is French - and claims he only speaks a little English. Go figure!
Well, I, for one, am very glad we got to see Switzerland France. Stay tuned for the fromagerie section of our adventures.