Saturday, December 30, 2006

More recipes to come

Friends have been asking for recipes of mine, so I will try to post them shortly. If you're looking for a particular recipe, just use the search engine at the top of the screen.

Recipes to come:
- my Ohio Thanksgiving mashed potatoes (my best)
- roasted tomato tart (borrowed from a good friend)
- olive tapenade
- roasted red pepper and eggplant quiche
- crepes
- and more!

I will most likely revise just a little bit my simple roasted red pepper soup recipe (my most requested recipe).

Free Mozart sheet music online!

This is the good stuff! The Mozarteum in Salzburg has scanned the entire opus, I think, of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's music. You can brush up on your German or choose to read the site in English. I might print out some four-hand piano duets since I've misplaced my own book. Anyone want to play?

http://dme.mozarteum.at/mambo/index.php

Caroline's delicious and easy cake accident

I had a lucky accident when revisiting my old gateau moelleux recipe recently. I left out the butter! I was very scared of the result, but it turned out to be a deliciously moist sponge cake! And now that I've researched the American equivalent for one "sachet de levure chimique," you Americans will have more success with this now! (Other cooking conversions at: http://www.beyond.fr/food/convert.html. An English-French dictionary of food terms is also linked to that page.)

3 eggs
10 tablespoons sugar
10 tablespoons flour (plus about an extra two for dusting pan)
10 tablespoons milk
a little over 2 teaspoons of baking powder (or one sachet of levure chimique)
half cup of orange juice (I prefer flash-pasteurized, no pulp)

Preheat oven to 356 degrees F (180 degrees C). Prepare a square or round cake pan by greasing interior with a little butter and dusting with about a couple tablespoons of flour (bottom and sides). In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer. Add sugar, mix. Start boiling milk in pan on stove. Once you see the milk begin to boil, toss flour and baking powder into bowl. Mix quickly. Milk will be frothing very high in the pan. Add milk to ingredients, mix quickly. Pour into cake pan and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and pour orange juice slowly and evenly over top. Cool to room temperature (or refrigerate) before serving.

[Note: Basis of recipe found at http://www.linternaute.com/femmes/cuisine/recette/305946/1089259993/gateau_moelleux_pommes_poires.shtml.shtml]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

No holiday dieting required!

Wow, for some reason, despite the fact that I haven't been going to the gym regularly for several weeks and that I have been eating more Christmas desserts than necessary, I am down to the goal weight that I set for myself privately in August. Now I remember the original reason for getting in shape. I certainly wanted to get pregnant again (let's cross our fingers) but didn't want to do it while I was still hanging onto the extra weight from the previous pregnancies. I knew it would be impossible to lose later. Why not work my butt off (figuratively and literally) now instead of working four times as hard later? I think if I was still in the States I might not feel as much pressure to stay in shape. Subconsciously, or maybe more often consciously, there's a need here in Paris to "keep up" with everyone else's flat tummies and slim thighs.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas. I gotta go, but can't wait to tell you about my latest passion of cooking for crowds.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Not really Christmas-y, but...

I think this is a great image. Yesterday, Maylin was in a fantastic mood. I was busy in the kitchen when she called to have me look at her. She had one of my dishcloths around her like a cape. While she shouted out in a low, boomy voice "I'm Batman! I'm Batman!" she ran through our narrow corridor towards me, jumped over Leo's rope toy (Batman flying), and continued to speed towards me until she was right in front of me. Big smiles. I could sense Maylin's feeling of power and her sheer enjoyment. I'm so glad she's not entirely a girly-girl.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Like babies?


baby feet 2
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Yes? Then you'll love my newest set of photos on flickr. I had a gorgeous little subject visit me for several hours yesterday. I think you'll fall in love with her just as I have. Unfortunately, my apartment was very dark that day (as are most of these winter days), and I didn't want to use flash (I don't prefer it in general since I don't have the right equipment now, and I didn't want the poor baby to go blind) so I made some of the photos black and white, where grainy-ness is okay. Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

So much to write about, too little time

Hey, I'm still here in magical Paris. So much to tell you...I want to go more in depth, but that'll have to be later. Now, you just get some bullet points.

- Fish/La Boissonerie (6th arrondissement): not your typical seafood restaurant, delicious, light, great wine, reasonable prices, good service, a favorite of Anglophones
- La Derniere Goutte (6th): wine shop owned by Fish restaurant founder, an American; will stop by for wine tasting some Saturday
- went to a club for the first time in ten years; danced for two hours straight
- Hotel d'Aubusson (6th): has bar with live jazz (free entry) every Friday and Saturday night; great service; an opulent smoking room with grand fireplace
- didn't go to gym last week because not feeling great; might not go often this week in order to catch up with friends; back into routine in January, I hope
- volunteered to sell cheese at a Christmas market to help out a friend; stay tuned for more cheese adventures
- Maylin's teacher was really excited to tell me that Maylin spoke to her again and sang songs with the group (Maylin reports having sung "Jingle Bells" in French -- wonder what the lyrics are?)
- adopted two large black beetles after returning from Ohio; Maylin named them Mr. Black and Mr. Black; John named them John and Paul
- goldfish Nemo still alive (in January, will be one year anniversary of his arrival)
- still don't feel like singing opera again
- I think I might be able to get Maylin into ballet in January -- she no longer shows interest in studying cello
- Maylin can write her name all by herself!
- Maylin knows nearly the whole alphabet; she writes almost as often as she draws
- finally discovered some great second-hand clothing stores in Paris (2-3 euros per item)
- frantically making Christmas decorations for tree since all we have is a few metallic balls and a string of lights
- am still reading "On Beauty" by Zadie Smith (trudging slowly because of limited time); enjoying it once I got past being totally jealous of the author who has written three other novels, I believe, and is a year younger than me! when was the last time I was jealous?

Have a merry little Christmas! Sorry for not e-mailing, but hoping to catch up in the new year!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Happy Holidays to everyone!

I'm trying to get Christmas cards out but have had quite an adventure with photo printing today (future blog entry), so who knows if they'll actually happen? At least you can see the whole family (minus Leo -- oops, I forgot) online thanks to the timer on my camera. Tripod would've been nice -- gotta ask Santa for that one. Have a great holiday season. Stay healthy! I'm starting to feel a slight fever coming on...ooh, need some more vitamin C.

Thanks for all your love and support throughout the years. Friends and family -- that's all that really matters, isn't it. Keep in touch!

Mademoiselle Butterfly

Yesterday was the Christmas party for kids at John's office. First, Maylin enjoyed the talents of the balloon man and a magician. Then she got to shake Santa's hand, and even managed to pat him on the back when he turned around. She was anxious to get her present (all employees' children get this wonderful benefit -- parents choose from a catalog) -- a little produce stand, complete with plastic fruits and veggies, a basket, and a shopping cart. But maybe she was most excited about getting her face painted at the end by a wonderful artist. Maylin waited so quietly in line after three other children, and then sat beautifully still for the face painter. I was stunned by Maylin's serene beauty.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A prolific little artist

Maylin is drawing like there's no tomorrow. She makes at least two to three drawings per day and has been posting most of them up on the wall. She is done with her bedroom walls, has filled a large space in the dining room, and is working on the kitchen (since the fridge is completely covered). I have little doubt that she will become an artist or designer someday. Her favorite theme is the family portrait with stick figures of Mommy, Daddy, Maylin, and Leo -- often with a sun and a flower or tree. Not too long ago she also included strawberries. She continues doing abstract work with fanciful shapes, but she also likes to do monsters. Photos of her work to come!

Beautiful French out of the mouth of babes

I cut my daughter’s hair this weekend and was curious today if her classmates noticed. One of her girlfriends indeed asked if she went to a hair salon, and Maylin told me that she replied, “Non, ma maman a fait ça à la maison.”

Last week, Maylin’s teacher gave a glowing report of her work. I am so proud of Maylin! “La maitresse” said that Maylin understood everything in French, was very obedient, and did her work very carefully and conscientiously (unlike most of the students in the class). The teacher was very excited to tell me that Maylin, who is probably the shyest student she has ever encountered, actually said three words to her! Maylin had a scratch on her face (from dog Leo) and was asked if her boo-boo happened at school or at home. “À la maison” (at home) was her answer. It’s amazing how three little words can bring so much joy to a teacher.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Simple roasted red pepper soup

What do you do when you buy four red peppers? Well, this time I decided to roast them. Makes them super-sweet and oh so flavorful. Then I thought I could make a pasta sauce with it. I've done that before (very nice), but I wanted to do something different, so I blended them instead, added some hot chicken broth, and voila! A beautiful, elegant, delicious soup. Can't be easier than this! Here's my recipe:

Roasted red pepper soup (serves 2-3)

4 red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
salt
pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven at 400 degrees F. Slice red peppers into thin strips. Place in bowl. Toss with some salt, pepper, and about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil. Spread evenly on large baking sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes. Three-quarters of the way through cooking, rearrange the peppers a little on the sheet. Remove after baking, blend in food processor or blender, and transfer to a bowl (or a saucepan if you want to keep it warm on the stove). Bring chicken broth to boiling on the stove or in the microwave (why not?). Add to blended peppers and whisk until of uniform consistency. Season to taste (not necessary if you seasoned properly in the beginning). You're done!

For a more classy soup, I would push the blended peppers through a sieve to remove the skins before adding the broth. I'm sure you could make many variations on this basic soup by adding a fresh herb (choose wisely) to the roasted peppers before blending, or by adding cream for a richer soup. Instead of cream, you could add some olive oil as a lighter option. But in fact, the soup tastes delicious without any extra lipids.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Jumping jacks throw French women for a loop

Now I have firsthand experience of this strange phenomenon I heard of through an expat friend. The jumping jack-stumper. Once in a blue moon, one of the gym teachers will toss in a few jumping jacks into the mix during an exercise class, throwing off 85% of the French women completely. They stand there dumbfounded rolling their eyes and putting their hands on their hips with the expression of "do you expect us to do that?"

Okay, jumping jacks may come second nature to the rest of us, but only because we grew up doing it in school. I have memories of everyone standing next to their desks doing jumping jacks, cherry-picking (stretching upward right?), and touching our toes. If our teachers were smart, we didn't perform this pleasant ritual right after lunch.

Anyways, if you can imagine yourself as a space alien, watching someone do jumping jacks, you'd think, what kind of drug are these people on? In fact, maybe you'd be intimidated by people waving their arms AND legs up and down at a clip and feel threatened enough to take out your XWQBK%$# Phaser Gun Model 200XT.

I think if the gym instructors just took the time to teach a proper jumping jack we wouldn't have a room full of people feeling like idiots. In slow motion, ladies. WHILE JUMPING, bring arms over your head as legs come into a wide stance. Afterwards, WHILE JUMPING, bring arms to sides and legs together simultaneously. No, it's not that hard, as long as you remember to jump -- but when do adults ever jump these days? Something that comes so naturally to children, may be almost impossible to fathom for adults. So here's a note to French public education officials: start injecting jumping jacks into the daily school routine or you're going to fall behind the rest of the world!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Size 7 to size 2 in 12 weeks!

No, it's not a caption to some poorly taken before and after photos of a woman who went through the latest fad diet. This really happened to me! I've been wearing my new size 2 corduroys and jeans for the last five weeks so I could have told you earlier, but I wanted to make sure I truly did get back down to a size 2, with the test being my old, postnatal jeans (can you imagine I was thinner before Maylin? I've forgotten what that's like). Previously I was too scared to try them on, but to my relief, they went on without my sucking in my belly.

On my birthday, July 28th, I was seriously a size 7. After three pregnancies, it's no wonder. I don't think I looked really overweight by American standards, but by Parisian standards, I was a little pudgy around the middle, rear, and thighs. First week of August I started working out to my exercise videos at home and eating lighter. I had filling breakfasts (peanut butter and banana sandwich on one slice of whole wheat bread or two fried eggs and a yogurt), eliminated most of my white carbohydrates (and didn't miss them much fortunately -- what, no baguette anymore???), and kept snacks out of the house except for nuts, popcorn (to air-pop), fruit and yogurt. Lunch and dinner usually consisted of a meat or fish and veggies. Desserts were only off-limits if I was full after eating the main course. I would stave off hunger pangs in between meals with a banana, and then go on to another fruit or drink water if I still felt hungry. To this day, I have stuck to this regime.

I go to the gym on the average of 5-6 hours a week and am very conscientious about my exercising. It's very disappointing to see people make the effort to go the gym but then do the exercises half-heartedly. I'm thinking, what's the point then? In my weight-training classes, I continue challenging myself by lifting more weight each visit. In my dance classes, I fill each movement with as much energy I can muster. In my bodysculpting (I call them "torture") classes, I don't let myself give up even when half of the class has. I extend my body as fully as possible, to the point of mild discomfort, in my stretching classes. "No pain, no gain" is partially true. To challenge your body, you need to experience some amount of discomfort, but I do not believe in pushing yourself to the point of inflicting pain on yourself which I think may be an 80s way of thought because John sometimes works out to the point of nausea. For me, that's too far. It's important though to know how differently your body feels when it's being challenged from when it's not.

I haven't lost a lot of weight (eight pounds in four months) but I think it's because of gained muscle mass. My muscles have never looked better! My forearms, strangely enough, are the shapeliest they've ever been (I've never noticed them before). And everything's nice and firm, just the way my husband likes it.

No, my body will never look like the one I had in college (darn), but at least I'm fit, healthy, and full of the energy I should have always had. This winter so far I have not been seriously sick (unlike the last ten-plus winters -- knock on wood), I can function at nearly peak levels with even five hours of sleep (I try to sleep at least seven), and I'm in a better mood for my family because of this newfound energy. I can be the best mom and wife possible now!

A personal best: one book a week

I can't believe it. I just can't believe it. I've never read this much in my life! Maybe it's peer pressure. I have to keep up with my friends, who seem to all be avid readers. I have piles of books in the house begging to be read. Read me, read me, they call. But the piles get taller and taller as I accumulate books from a rummage sale in the eleventh arrondissement, a book swap that I organized with some expat friends, and weekly book relays among my school-mommy friends.

I don't mind having a whole bunch of unread books around. My habitat has always been like that. I've always been a book collector whose reading pace has never caught up with her collecting pace.

Reading is inspiring, uplifting, entertaining, enlightening. I love it. And even more importantly, I am able to experience different styles of writing and am learning to distinguish the good from the bad and the just plain ugly. This is part of my schooling required for writing a book sometime in the future.

I've just recently learned that the most highly recommended books are the ones that are humorous or are "page-turners." Their recommenders say the same words all the time -- doesn't matter who it is: "It's really funny," or "I couldn't put it down." Those books are the ones that are truly entertaining. But they're not always the ones that are the best written. The most impactful book I've read so far (I'm just about to start Zadie Smith's book, On Beauty, tonight, so I can't include her in the race) is still "Beloved" by Toni Morrison. It's so beautifully written -- elegant, poetic. But I don't feel comfortable recommending it to people because it can be a real downer. It's the strength of the protagonist that inspires me, that makes me realize that if she can survive what she went through (even though she's fictional), I should be grateful for what I have and make the most out of my life and the gifts I've been given. Hmm...I was reading this book about the same time I started turning my life around, taking control of it by exercising regularly, eating better, taking daily vitamins, helping friends, hanging with friends, and doing fun, worthwhile projects. So maybe this book really did have a profound effect on me, or was it just coincidence?

I'm ashamed to say I haven't been reading any books in French, aside from Maylin's bedtime stories which require me to translate Petit Ours Brun (Little Brown Bear), Babar, and Barbapapa, just to name a few. Well actually, yesterday, I did do some French reading outside of bedtime, but they were still children's books. Maylin dragged me to the children's book section of FNAC and I ended up doing translations for over an hour and a half, probably to the astonishment of the eavesdropping French patrons. Who knew there were so many children's books in English at this store? Non, ca n'existe pas! It's just me, nearly getting a headache from trying to make heads-or-tails of several unfamiliar colloquialisms. Fortunately, Maylin didn't notice when I just skipped over those parts nonchalantly.

Monday, December 04, 2006

My little beauty


My little beauty
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Doesn't Maylin look like a doll? I took this photo at the National U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, a few days before Thanksgiving with my brand-new 85mm lens. Doesn't it do great work? I decided to upgrade from my 50mm which was perfect for me in the beginning (it's super in the bright summer sun) but I felt I needed more when I found I wasn't too happy with its autofocus in low light and its sometimes rough bokeh (blurry backgrounds). I still have a lot to learn with my camera and this lens as I had little success in some very low light situations, such as Thanksgiving and other family visits (why didn't I use my point-and-shoot modes? kicking myself really hard now). What a pity. Anyways, check out my museum photos on my flickr site. I'm pretty proud of these.

In the mood for romantic music

I bought Disney's Little Mermaid animated film on DVD last month and discovered an amazing short animation in the special features section of the DVD. It's a beautifully-done version of Hans Christian Andersen's moving tale, The Little Match Girl. It's set appropriately to the third movement of Alexander Borodin's String Quartet No. 2 in D major. This touching 5-minute film and equally touching musical piece combine masterfully to produce tears in my eyes everytime. I discovered that I happened to have the exact same musical performance done by the Emerson String Quartet on CD. If you're interested, it's on the Deutsch Grammophon label along with Dvorak's amazing "American" Quartet (which I've played before) and Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1. The entire CD is stunning. The Emerson String Quartet is one of the best ensembles around with numerous recordings under their belt.

I recently acquired a CD that I had been looking for for a few years. I'm sure it was readily available, but I didn't know the title, only the performer, Jacqueline du Pre, a brilliant British cellist who was in the middle of a stellar musical career in the 60s-early 70s when her abilities began deteriorating after her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. I was introduced to her by the young cellist whom I was supposed to accompany on piano at a recital, but I ended up succumbing to my old habit of inadvertently double-booking myself and had to back out. Anyways, this CD is put out by EMI Classics and has a recital of the most romantic short pieces written/arranged for cello. The Delius cello concerto is also included, but it didn't impress me. If you want some romantic, slow evening music, I would highly recommend this album. The recital pieces include: Maria Theresia von Paradis' Sicilienne, Robert Schumann's Three Fantasy Pieces, Mendelssohn's Song without Words in D, Gabriel Faure's Elegie in C minor (my fave), and the somewhat overplayed The Swan from Camille Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals.

Another highly romantic recording from my collection is a very inexpensive CBS Great Performances CD with Leonard Berstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. It contains: Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, op.11, Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Fantasia on "Greensleeves," a movement from Tchaikovsky's first string quartet (on the first CD mentioned, also), and the Adagietto movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor (with a slightly overdone final cadence). Warning: This CD might be a little schmalzy for trained musicians, but great for amateur ears.

If you're in the mood for romantic piano, you can't go wrong with Chopin's Nocturnes. Unfortunately, I've played them so many times that their romance has worn off for me, but if you're not familiar with them, you'll discover some gems. Some Brahms Intermezzos will hit the spot, too. My favorite is No. 2 in A major, opus 118.

By the way, you don't need to have a partner to feel romantic. I think I've felt the most romantic when I was single -- particularly in high school when my hormones were raging and unrequited love was the norm (my being self-cloistered in an all-girls school).

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Paris dog poop shuffle

Here’s what you’ve all been waiting for…the choreography to a brand-new dance called the “dog poop shuffle.” It doesn’t work that well in the States (especially in Salt Lake City, Utah, and mostly definitely all the way in Singapore) because you need some requisite props, but I guess you could use your imagination. Okay, here we go!

1. Start with feet together on the sidewalk at the beginning of a block, standing in an upright position.
2. Walk forward with great care, always scanning ahead for unsightly obstructions. Keep a steady beat.
3. If you approach the obstruction with enough time, swerve around or step over it (with grace). For the more physically fit, jump over with knees towards your chest.
4. If you notice the annoyance last-minute, stop all forward momentum and hop on one foot away from the annoyance.
5. If you’ve succeeded in passing the obstacle without dirtying your shoes, do a full, 360 degree turn on your heel and clap your hands together.
6. If you foolishly dirtied your shoes (you’ll have to do better next time), perform the “stiff-legged scrape” which involves straightening the knee on the maligned side and dragging the sole of your dirty shoe along the ground for four beats. Hop on the clean foot, while lifting the dirty foot behind you. Take a glance at the sole. If it’s still soiled, repeat the “stiff-legged scrape” for another four beats. If the bottom of your shoe is clean, but there are remains behind your heel or between the heel and the ball of the foot, move towards the curb to perform the “pump” which entails attaching the tainted portion of the shoe to the curb’s edge and doing an up-and-down, pumping motion. If you are lucky enough to be blessed with a puddle of rainwater alongside the curb, I would recommend the “swish.” I’ll let you figure that one out.
7. Repeat these steps until you have reached the end of the block. Dancers with pristine feet are allowed to carry out a handless backflip at this point. Others can slump their shoulders forward and drop their heads, in shame.

NOTES: Perform this choreography with extreme caution in these cases.
(1) During or after rain: ground is extremely slippery and obstructions start spreading outwards covering more area, requiring you to make larger movements.
(2) Autumn: the golden and brown leaves provide good camouflage for the offenders – therefore, increase awareness!
(3) Rainy autumn day: avoid if possible.
(4) Nighttime: ditto.

Be a puppy

[Written offline November 30 due to internet problems.]

I was coming back from the gym today and passed by a Schnauzer puppy on a happy exploration with his owner. The curious guy had a light, cheerful step with a bit of puppy floppiness. I immediately realized that as of late, I am very much like a puppy. But I think I’m off-leash. I have this youthful joy (especially after exercising) these days, and I am becoming more and more curious. I’ve always been curious about people, but now it’s also extending towards things and activities. I think it’s a big part of the process of transforming into an artist. Curiosity and appreciation of the little things go hand-in-hand. This morning, going down the stairs of the gym, I noticed for the first time that one of the dark wooden handrails had some beautiful in-lay work in a lighter-colored wood. Nestled diamond-shapes every few inches with a simple, thin, sliver-of-a-border running along both edges of the railing. I ran my hand appreciatively along this artwork – I could feel how difficult this project was. It was not the finest handiwork I’ve seen, but the person who did it definitely took some care in making it.

I don’t feel comfortable calling myself an artist yet, but I’m glad other people consider me so. This is definitely where I was meant to be. In an artist’s shoes. My youth held all the clues. I was constantly creating – trying to be truly original in my art projects. I even sometimes turned in homework in unconventional formats. For example, in high school, I turned in my algebra II assignments in origami form, or pop-up, or with little doors that opened to reveal the solutions to my problems. For a Future Business Leaders of America conference, I stayed up late one night designing 3-D name tags with spaceships or rockets (I can’t remember which) jumping out (there was some cheesy theme I was working with, like “Reach for the Stars”). Highly unconventional.

And now to add another thing to my creative platter. I’m going to learn how to draw better. I like to do simple cartoon figures and animals, but I’m stumped with drawing them at an angle. Well, I could use help at all angles actually. I’m going to order some cartooning books from amazon.fr. I can’t wait!