Photographs by Corey Amaro,
Paris window displays: Reflections of girl meets boy.
Caught reflections of a brief encounter of Chelsea meeting Mr. Espresso in Paris.
Photographs by Corey Amaro,
Paris window displays: Reflections of girl meets boy.
Caught reflections of a brief encounter of Chelsea meeting Mr. Espresso in Paris.
Under the Eiffel Tower is where I am going to be in a few hours.
After my fill of the Eiffel Tower I am going to do the cafes....
Then I am going to go to the Place de la Concorde and take this photo (again) to show you how it looks during summertime.
After which I am going to do the cafes some more.
...and eventually hang out with this statue, by the Eiffel tower and soak up the scenery.
and collect Eiffel tower trinkets.
Later I am going to climb the twenty million stairs to Montmarte, and buy fabric at Saint Pierre (and look at the painters too.)
Paris is where I am going to meet this little baby, and buy her a new beret.
Chelsea and I are going to spend a couple of days hanging out in Paris.
The last time we went to Paris together was during New Year's Eve 2008... we had planned to stay a week, instead Sacha and Chelsea caught a flu bug, a roaring fever and were throwing up every five seconds.... We came home two days into our trip. I hope this time we catch nothing but fun.
|Calanque de Magaud
Chemin de la Mer
Toulon - 83100
|La route du Cap Brun,|
French Husband's niece was eleven years old when I first met her, twenty three years ago. It was the first time I was to meet his family, we were going to have lunch at his sister's home.
The white, monogrammed tablecloth was set with antique, wine glasses, the silverware was lined-up a mile long next to the Limoges plates, and a large, soup tureen transformed into a vase was filled full of flowers and sat in the center of the dining room table. The tabletop carried a conversation with my attention, as French husband's family chattered away in French, leaving me in silence, soaking up the details with clueless wonder. We were waiting for Juliette to come downstairs, she was late... though later I would understand being late was set up for her stage of entrance.
I remembered that day crystal clear, not because of the beautiful home of French Husband's sister, nor his family that fearsomely loved their son-brother-uncle named Yann, so much so, that they couldn't help looking at me with trepidation... No, what I remember best is Juliette coming downstairs, wearing a colorful, silk headband wrapped around her forehead, holding her long, dark hair in place. She was captivating, original, and a breath of fresh air to the stuffiness I felt in that room.
Juliette spoke perfect english, better than French Husband's. I stared at her in disbelief, her voice was music to my ears, and she was only eleven years old! I looked at French Husband as to say what gives? I asked her where she had learned to speak english. Juliette told me that she was in love with Michael Jackson, his style, his dance and his music. Juliette went on to say that whenever she had some money she would buy a single of his, then listen to it over and over again, while following along with the lyrics written on the back. Then she would look up the words in the dictionary, memorize them, and then recreate other sentences with them. Michael Jackson was her hero, and my new found hero that day.
Michael Jackson's music taught my niece how to speak english, and with that gave me my first "friend" in France.
Juliette is sad today. Though today I smile on that sweet memory of her love affair with his music, and thank him for it.
by Corey Amaro
As I put the pedal to the metal going over the hill to take Sacha to his BMX trials, I thought to myself, if I had to use one word to describe myself it would be spontaneous.
My thoughts were racing, as I tried to put in order the things I had to do today. Being a taxi driver was not one of them. Yet there I was driving Sacha who had misplaced the thought of telling me his plans. Sacha and I are alike, we live by the seat of our pants, though Sacha is not as seasoned as I am... He does not know that to live by the seat of your pants you need to know the cards in your hand, and who holds the trump card. In this case I was the either going to be the source of his frustration, and a good lesson learned, or spontaneous, with a trick up her sleeve.
Sacha woke me up saying, "Are you ready?"
I barely opened my eyes, "What time, where... when?"
Skillfully, like a master card-player he put his cards down one by one. I sat up, rubbed my eyes and thought- This is motherhood, this is the result of my DNA going one way, this is my teenage boy who has not yet grasped the idea of being organized. I listened, reined in my desire to give a frustrated lecture and instead bartered, "Okay, if you clean your room, and sweep the courtyard I'll take you, you gotta work fast, we need to leave in twenty-five minutes and your room makes a bombed area look good."
As I raced over the mountain, I thought to myself... I like being spontaneous, but only when everyone around me is a bit more organized than myself. I told Sacha that the essence to being yourself, is to put your best card forward and to follow it with a strong lead. Being spontaneous is a wonderfully quality as long as you know the boundaries, or if you have a mother who can relate.
I put the things I had to do in perspective, in order of importance. Taking Sacha to his activity was important to me, he is a good boy, and I have to honor that goodness, even if he is unorganized. I am spontaneous which often leads me in too many directions and scattered. Though at the same time it allows me to reshuffle my cards, finding a new game in the deal of my daily life.
What is one word that describes you best?
Cutting the red roses was not an easy task. Their fullness, ripe and fragrant, climbing up, circling my son's bedroom window, gave an air of romance, made me dreamy, made me forget the neighbors next door, and with that, the idea of cutting them to make rose jam just didn't seem right.
Everyday Annie asked me if I had cut the red roses, everyday I answered, "Not yet." Everyday she shook her head saying, "They will grow back, but if you do not cut them you won't have rose jam tomorrow." It sounded simple, yet those red roses meant something to me, and cutting them subtracted the feeling they gave to me.
Reluctantly I gave the scissor to Sacha, the first cut was the deepest, petals floated down like a gentle rain, covering the ground around the ladder red. I wondered if the rose vine felt pain, or was it just me?
After the red rose vine was cut bare, I stared at its emptiness, noticing the peeling paint of Sacha's shutters that frame his bedroom window, without the roses as a shield the neighbor's constant chatter rattled my brain... plucking the petals I wondered why I was making rose jam? I know the taste is like eating a rose, but was it worth the reality of cutting beauty away?
To make rose jam you need fragrant roses that have not been chemically treated. Whatever color of rose you use that will be the color of the jam. Many suggest to tear off the white tip at the edge of the rose petal, because it will the rose jam bitter. Though Annie waved her hands at me and said, "Honestly, do you think my mother had time to do that when she made her rose jam? I never saw her do that. Leave the white tip, it doesn't matter."
I trusted her memorable past experience and left the rose petals intact.
-Cut the roses in the morning, just as they are beginning to release their perfume.
-Pluck the petals from the rose blooms and set them aside to dry, (this takes a few days),
-Fifty roses give about 100 grams of dried rose petals,
-Weigh the dried rose petals, put them in a large, cooking pan,
-Add the dried rose petals, cover them with equal amounts of sugar,
-Sprinkle fresh squeezed lemon juice over the sugar,
-Add a cup of water,
-Cover and set aside for twenty-four hours.
-Add another cup of water, and slowly bring to a boil, stir often, add water if you think it is becoming too thick.
-Cook until the juice ripples from a wooden spoon, and when the rose petals are tender.
-Ladle the rose jam into sterile jars, cover tightly with sterile lids,
-Turn the covered, filled jam jars upside down and let set for twenty four hours.
Rose jam from the moment you cut the roses until you spread it on your toast takes about five days to make. Rose jam made this way is preserved for years if the jar's seal is not opened.
The rose jam will look like this when you are cooking it.
The red rose jam juice is vibrant and sweet. If you want you can make jelly with it, subtracting the petals.
I prefer thick jam, so I add very little water. If you prefer rose jam more jelly-like to jam you will need to add more than two cups of water.
The first time I made a batch of rose jam I tried a different recipe (not Annie's which is above) and the rose jam was very bitter, and the texture like eating wet jeans. I gagged. Annie scolded me for not following her tried-true recipe. I was angry at myself for wasting the roses, and since then have never faltered from her advice.
If only I didn't have to cut the roses to make the jam... making rose jam would be pure pleasure to make.
The rose jam is a delicacy, a royal taste, and as much as I love it, I feel sad about cutting the roses in bloom. There is a price for everything good and bad.
The curvaceous road to Ste Croix de Verdon wrapped around the mountain tightly, I leaned one way than the other, feeling like I was French Husband's second skin as we coiled our way to the top. I didn't dare look to the side of the road in fear that I might shift my weight causing the bike to lean opposite the course.
There was definitely a groove thing going on, and I was getting into the swing of being on the bike, when suddenly there was a gap in the thicket that stole my attention. I literally jumped up on the foot pegs, nearly causing French Husband to run off the road. The village of Ste-Croix-de-Verdon is a pearl, but the lake is out of this world blue. A blue that almost had me sailing off the bike and into the water down below.
Ste Croix de Verdon things to do other than gawk at the blue lake.
Where to go in Provence and have your eyes pop out of your head, sorry but it is true.
The blue is that blue. I kid you not. It is shockingly blue. It is the kind of blue that makes you rub your eyes in disbelief. It is the kind of blue that makes you think food coloring was added to it. It is by far the most true blue thing I have ever seen and the south of France is loaded with blue things.
When French Husband pulled over, I jumped off the bike, I nearly dove (belly flopped) right then and there, off the cliff, into the lake, and I do not even know how to dive. You might say I was a tab bit excited.
This is a cropped photo, of a tiny part of the St Croix lake that I zoomed by 500 percent. I wanted to see the pixels break down and see the many shades of blue dots connect. Yes, I am strange that way. What color of blue is this anyway?
The dark spots in the water are reflections from the clouds.
Oh did I ever tell you the story about French Husband bungee cord jumping off the Gorge de Verdon Pont de l'Artuby bridge?
Yes, you gotta love a man who even with helmet hair can drive a woman to such places... and make her scream.
His jumping off that God-forsaken, high bridge over the Gorge de Verdon made me scream, amongst other things I will not mention. Gee, thinking about it now makes me want to hit him, I nearly puked that day he jumped off the Artuby bridge!!
Anyway, that is another story.
Lavender, Photos and Text by Corey Amaro
A few miles before the Valensole plateau the scent of lavender filled the air, we knew we were approaching the long, neat rows of lavender, and pressed ahead. Since I usually return to California for the summer, I have missed the lavender blooming against the blue provencal sky.
Yesterday, French Husband and I rode our motorcycle with our friends Valerie, Francis, and Tony on the backroads to Valensole. Being on a motorcycle, riding through the lavender fields was better than being in a car. I imagined this is what it must feel like to be a bird: soaring high, and intoxicated by the lavender scented air.
My friend Valerie and I took a million photos. Do you see her in the middle of the lavender field? I swear the scent of lavender went straight to our heads, we couldn't get enough of it.
Crazy girl running in the lavender field, I gotta to admit she was a happy, crazy girl.
Five friends, four motorcycles: I rode behind French Husband on the mean, motorcycle machine, and I didn't squeeze him to death from fear, in fact I hugged him with pure pleasure... Since our bike is more of a cross country bike, we ventured through the rough, rocky, path along the lavender fields. God, was that fun! It was a natural high kind of day.
10:30 pm Saturday night: Washing Machine overflows...Ruining newly laid slats... American Laundress thanks her lucky stars that she did not dyed the old linens in that load of wash...Of course mauve colored water would have raised the bar of excitement. French Husband swears. American wife realizes that the laundromat might become her new best friend, as she stares at the floor dreading the clean up. Both begin to moan.
As towels soak up the water, American wife sees how dirty her laundry floor really is.
Our smallest gestures can unfold grace and courage...
Photo: An 18th century angel wing sits on a stone chimney.
"We are all angels, born with only one wing.
To truly fly we must embrace another."
- Luciano de Crescenzo
Photos and Text by Corey Amaro
Undoubtedly, this time of year in Provence is beautiful. Though usually this time of year I am back in California visiting my family. I have missed many of summers in Provence, and forgot how mouth dropping, in your face, taste bud's bursting, sea breeze through your hair beautiful it was.
Isn't each season a surprise? It feels like spring will never come, and then pow it explodes seemingly overnight, and summer how it slowly sneaks in, catching you white as a ghost on the beach hoping for a St Tropez tan, and not a shade of lobster!
Because Sacha has the first part, of a two year, high school exam this year, we will not leave for California until July. That means I will see the French fields of lavender in bloom, the open markets explode with colorful perfume, watch Rose wine replace red, hear the cicadas clicking away, sit aimlessly under a sun that refuses to set, and amongst a million other summertime moments; as simple as kicking off one's espadrilles just to feel the blue sea wrap its arms around one's feet, and see the sun smack a kiss on the skin of everyone around....
The beginning of summer in Provence reminds me that someone up there knew what they were doing. The balance of light and dark, night and day, season by season, ebb and flow, give and take, unfolds with such a mysterious grace that undoubtedly life was meant as a gift to indulge in. For no matter what happens, the dirt, the rain, the wind, the blistering sun, the thorns and bugs, do yield a harvest, one that nurtures and offers life, abundantly.
The sense of wonder and awe, that is a gift I never want to lose.
What do you like best about summer?
As for me... the best blessing without a doubt, Sacha's Birthday is today,
Happy 17th dear Boy Boy, and fun fun fun with California girls on the beach!
Photographs and text by Corey Amara.
My cousin Mary came to the south of France with three of her childhood friends to celebrate their high school graduation. Yesterday, I offered to take them around. I rattled off a long list of possibilities that I thought four, teen age girls might like: Shopping in the city, shopping at quaint, old villages, taking a boat ride on the Mediterranean, going to the calanque, seeing the oldest port in Europe, shopping for perfume, taking a boat to the Chateau d' If, bowling, water-slides, laser tag, Nice, shopping, visiting museums, shopping, sipping coffee at a few pastry shops, shopping, going to the beach, St. Tropez, or hiking up to the top of St Baume to see the grotto of Mary Magdalene.
Those four teen age girls took me by surprise when they said they wanted to hike St. Baume. I was dumbfounded, "You don't want to go shopping? Really?"
Sacha looked at me puzzled, then asked, "Mom, out of all their choices they chose to hike St Baume?" Then he shrugged mumbling, "Girls are hard to figure."
On the bottom half, on the right side of this photo, you can barely see the site of the grotto and monastery's facade.
Under a blistering, hot sun nature's canopy offered a cool refuge. Along the way birds gave us constant cheer. *"The variety of flora is rare in France and unique to Sainte-Baume. The woodlands weave an air of enchantment. The sacredness of the forest has protected it for over two thousand years. Regents have consistently forbidden tree felling."
A striking passage splits a stone in two, opening its hard core to be transformed. The girls ventured into the heart of the stone, I smiled imagining how the stone must have felt a gentle breeze enter its veins.
The trail is about two miles up. It is not difficult, the girls hiked up in flip-flops. On a side note the last time my friend Annie hiked up she was 86 years old.
The last part of the trail is a staircase carved in stone. There are a couple hundred steps. Since this part of the trail is suppose to be hiked in silence, and since we were hiking to Saint Mary Magdalene's grotto, I thought it fitting to offer each step as a prayer. I told the girls if they wanted they could say the name of someone they loved, or someone they knew, who needed their their prayer as they walked each step.
I found my steps being named: Daisy, Ladelle, Joana, Uncle Frank, Tamara, Colette, NieNie, Shelley, Dee.... three hundred steps, each had a name.
The top of Sainte Baume it is more beautiful than any chic shop in France.
At least they thought so, and I agreed.
* For more about the trail to Sainte Baume and the Grotto of Mary Magdalene. Dahna Barnett's Mystic Passages.
Last weekend French Husband and I went to stay at La Madone, well I should say we went and stayed with our friends who own La Madone. Many of you, who read my blog, who have come over to visit France, have stayed there too, and I have had the pleasure of meeting you. The thing is, that our friends at La Madone live nearly two hours away from us. So being able to stay with them, when one of you come to visit is an added bonus.
On arrival, my friend Natalie came running out the door with a note in her hand. A guest (and blogging friend) had left a note on Natalie's hallway table, she shoved the note at me, and in great stress asked:
"What does this mean???"
I told her it meant that the person was very happy to be at La Madone. Natalie was not convinced. She looked at me as if I did not understand English, she pointed to the word DIED, and asked, "Are YOU sure? Look Cor-ay did you read this word... DIED!"
Some of the best moments about living in France come from lost-in-translation-moments like these. I reassured her that the person in question did not leave a suicide note.
Natalie went on to say, that when she found the note she quickly went upstairs and knocked on the door of the person who left the note. When nobody answered she wanted to vomit with fear, instead she opened the door slowly expecting to see the worse. The person who she thought who had committed suicide did not hear the knock and was just coming out of the bathroom, at that moment Natalie was opening the door... both were surprised, both were embarrassed, both tried their best to hide... many; "Oh! Excusez-moi, Pardon, oops..." type of words flew in French and in English.
Natalie said, "Even though I saw her I was not convinced that the note wasn't a suicide note, and have been telling myself, I probably walked in on her just in time... but have been worried ever since. Maybe she is dead as we talk?!"
"Are you sure Cor-ay (?) that: I have died, doesn't mean she is going to go to heaven?"
I still laugh when think of that moment.
Instead Tanya and I went out for dinner... and Natalie will be teased by me for the rest of her born days.
The other day at the open market I came across these darling, plastic, reusable bags. I do not know if it is the same where you live, but here in the south of France when you go to the grocery, or hardware, or most chain stores, they no longer give you a bag. You need to bring your own bags, purchase a large plastic sack, or carry your purchases stacked in your arms. It is a way the European Market is trying to cut back on waste and encourage an eco friendly environment .
When I first arrived in France over twenty years ago, most people used baskets when they went to the markets. I remember delicately carrying my eggs in a plastic egg holder that my mother in law gave me. More often than not I found myself at the market with my basket but without my egg holder (it usually sat empty in the fridge). I developed a tricky way of balancing the eggs within the lettuce leaves. Going to the market was an adventure and often lead to omelettes for dinner.
Last October, my cousin Judy, brought me a clever filmy, lightweight (or I should say no weight) bag, that folds up like a sock, that I carry in my purse, just in case I find myself out shopping empty handed. It is easier to stuff in my purse than an egg holder.
Of course, if you have a ton of children, you could have them help carry out the groceries. I would gladly take the children shown on this sack, I call "dibbs" on the one with the bottles, and the other with half a cake.
Sand pails come in handy as well.
What do you use when you go to the grocery store, do you use eco friendly bags?
... why wasn't I scooping up the linens and lace and running home?
Natalie took her load of monogrammed linens, lace and vintage fabrics home. Before I could say, "What are you going to do with the linen....." Natalie took boxes of dye, her sewing machine, iron and started creating one-make-me-jealous-thing, after another. I sat in awe and drooled over myself. I asked her how she made those awesome colors, because they certainly don't look that pretty on the sample boxes. She told me, "It is easy, you need to play around with the colors. I mix a pinch of pink, a pinch of brown, a pinch of violet... and add a pinch of beige."
"Oh I see, you are right, it is easy." I said, very sarcastically with a big smile.
You see she is an artist from the get go....pinching, clipping, staying focused, while I worried about cutting old fabric, making a mess with the dye and end up with boxes of linens in the cupboard.
I made lunch instead.
Rough, antique, hand spun linen piled up alongside of Natalie's armoire. Natalie grabbed some, cut some lace, dyed the linen and....
Presto, in a blink of an eye, pillows were created with the antique linen and lace, that she found that morning at the French brocante.
I thought about the handicap I have... (cutting old linen and lace) If I want to make pillows, I have got to get over that... though, even so, the dye pinching thing really has me baffled.
Dyed French bed linens, in shades of rose and watermelon.
I wondered if she mixed raspberries, cherries, peaches with a pinch of fig in the dye mix to get that color? These were my thoughts as I tossed the fruit salad.
Here is a sampling of lace I have that sits in a box in the cupboard. Good place for it, gee I got to get it out and start pinching dyes. Then slap my hands into cutting it up.
I could give it to Natalie, that would be easier.
I could buy it from her. I think she should start to offer her linens online don't you?
Isn't it clever how she uses French antique chairs as mannequins to display her linens? Natalie covers the chairs with antique linen fabric as well.
The next time I am antiquing I am going to buy monogram linen and dye it... if I repeat this two thousand times to myself maybe I will actually do it. Until then, I want to be the mannequin chair, no I want the chair....
Chatting up with my friend Annie, who is ninety years old, about love and relationships, I told her about a friend who thought she had found love, then realized that the man she claimed to love wasn't perfect, and she couldn't deal with it. Before I could respond to what I thought about it, Annie chimed in:
"What do people think...really... do they think we fall out of heaven, all perfect and clean, into the lap of the one who is going to love us? Doesn't she know we are born, and go through life tumbling, dancing, and often bumping our head on the wall. We get dirty, bruised, collecting the good with the bad? Eventually, we fall into someone's heart... and hopefully with our body and soul, but we are who we are... wanting to be loved. Honestly, love helps us find our way."
I thought Annie's comment was worth repeating and had to share it with you.
In a relationship when do you understand and accept another person's faults, let alone your own, and when do you let go and move on?
Annie says it is a weighing game, a measuring of the pros and cons. The trick is to know when is it worth it and when is it a losing game.
"Loving someone shows us who we are, and what we are capable of doing. Figuratively speaking, at birth we lose our way, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to find the path we were once on, to get back to the center."
When do you let go of loving someone?
Do you see that inox circle flushed on the kitchen counter? That is my new best friend.
You see I did not want to have electrical sockets above the back splash, and there wasn't a place to put electrical sockets underneath the counter...
When I saw this in a kitchen design catalog I felt I found gold!
It is such a clever thing. I wish I could say I invented it. To open it you push on the circle and then pull up...
Presto, electrical sockets at your service.
I never found electrical sockets to be this cool. I love my new functional, practical, kitchen.
Call me crazy, I did not add a garbage disposal, nor a dishwasher, nor an over the stove vent, nor a microwave. But I do have a clever, disappearing, electrical socket, apparatus and it is sweet. Modernity it is my best bud, and one day it too will be an antique.
Shelley is my childhood friend who lives in my hometown in California. She has ALS and has lived with it for over thirteen years. Shelley is paralyzed from the neck down and on a breathing machine. YET, she lives a fuller life than most who have working arms and legs. She lives true to the motto, "Do the best you can with what you have." When I hang out with Shelley I soon realize how trivial are the things that get under my skin. Shelley gives the gift of perspective, and she gives it not by words of sorrow or regret, but with with her obvious desire to live and live it with joy.
Shelley is my hero.
Eric, Shelley's husband is her hero, and he is Superman.
Her hands recall the pleasure,
of holding the day to day petals,
of life's simple pleasures.
Setting the table,
preparing the meal,
wiping her brow.
Her hand imagines the tenderness of her child's skin,
the silk like velvet of youth.
She remembers burying her nose within the folds and smelling her perfume.
My childhood friend Shelley has A.L.S. A disease that robs her, day by day of her life. I have never heard her complain, never seen her shed a tear. She wears courage and grace, as if it were the most natural thing to put on. When your eyes meet hers, you forget that she is seriously ill. Shelley makes you feel like you are the center of the world, she crowns you with her sparkling eyes, and weaves you on adventures with her words.
I have a favor to ask of you. Can you send an email to my friend Shelley? A note of cheer. She cannot respond A.L.S. has taken her movements away.
Can you send her your link, or a site you enjoy, or photo, a video clip, ...Shelley loves interior design, decorating, celebrating, crafts, family, gardening, flea markets, vintage anything...She loves life.Happy Birthday Beautiful Shelley, and here is to many more days of hope and joy!
Photo: A 19th century large
engraving of Madonna and child, that I found at the flea market, in the
bottom of a box.
I am often asked:
What is it like living in France?
Today: When I woke up, I realized I had overslept and that Sacha had already left for school (6:45 a.m.). I made my bed and started a load of laundry.
-I went to the bathroom.
-While I was brushing my teeth, I remembered the paint bucket that fell off the ladder yesterday... and reminded myself I needed to go buy some more paint.
-Chelsea moved home from university, for the summer with a ton of boxes that need to be put away, in our house without a garage nearby.
-Later in the day I will take Annie to the grocery store, as her housekeeper is on vacation. Then I will go to the post office.
-After much effort I have lost five pounds, and I wonder how long I can keep them off?
-I hope to go see the exhibit of Picasso, in Marseille, this weekend.
What is it like living in France?
It is like living anywhere in the Western world, except the scenery is different, the brocantes are packed with older things, the taxes are heavier, where going topless at the beach is not a big thing, where baguettes are a staple, where there is a larger section of yogurt and cheese at the grocery store, and it has a medical system that saved my life and that is kinder to the pocketbook.
My photos as seen in Art and Letter.
Asparagus, that elegant vegetable.
The other night as I was preparing to make the first dinner in our new kitchen, I asked my family if they had a preference for the first meal. But before I could barely finish my sentence, they hammered in unison, "PASTA!" As if they were the entire population of Italy who hadn't had pasta for the last million years.
Honestly, my family is not French, they would easily give up their baguettes for pasta any day of the year. Sacha would have pasta for breakfast everyday if I let him.
Pasta. Don't get me wrong I have a love affair for pasta too, but that wasn't my idea for the first meal. I was thinking something a bit more sophisticated, a bit more celebratory, a bit more... I don't know elaborate... special.. unique.
Then again, I remember having a dinner party, were it was the first time some guests were to come to our home. I made pasta with smoked salmon, in a tarragon cream sauce. As I was tossing the pasta in our old kitchen I overheard them say that their family was from Italy, and that their mother made their pasta daily from scratch. With that I nearly dropped the pasta bowl on the floor.
I should have chucked my pasta, right then and there, out the window. I would have if it hadn't been for the smoked salmon.
They talked on and on about how only Italians can cook pasta al dente. I figured we lived close enough to the Italian border, and since I cook pasta several times a week I needn't worry... I swallowed hard, I looked at my pretty pasta, tasted one, it had a chew to it. I carried it to the table and served it.
Unfortunately, it did not pass their "al dente perfection need" and they barely ate it. I was embarrassed, and kinda sad to boot. I looked at their untouched smoked salmon. I imagined how I could save that untouched, beautiful, smoked salmon from going into the garbage. I wished I had a cat.
Later, Sacha would reassure me that I was not a bad cook (I am over sensitive) and that my pasta was the best in the world. Then he said, "Well, at least we know who won't be coming to dinner again."
So you see pasta can be tricky. It is not as easy as throwing a bunch of hard noodles into a pan of boiling water. Not that I ever thought my pasta was a soggy slush... but maybe I shouldn't think of it as a simple fare either.
We hadn't had pasta in over a month. That is almost like going without oxygen for ten minutes or something crucial as that. Silly to say, each time I made pasta I recall our al dente guests and get nervous. Last night I renewed my faith in my pasta making, and washed that crummy memory down the drain.
Pasta with elegant Asparagus very al dente.
Cook Pasta, a few minutes less than what is written on the box.
While the water is doing its best to boil prepare the sauce.
Saute a hearty handful of pine nuts, and put aside,
Saute strips of smoked salmon,
When the pasta water begins to boil add salt to the water.
Pour cream into a pan and heat,
Cut the steamed asparagus in bite-able sizes...al dente asparagus that is!!
Before the cream starts to roll and tumble wildly, add the asparagus, pine nuts, smoked salmon and a tad of tarragon to it, let it simmer and thicken.
Drain the pasta, add a touch of olive oil and Parmesan toss, then add the asparagus cream sauce.
The Kitchen is in working order. Though I need to paint it. So until I finish painting it here is a taste of our new cabinets.
I am so in love with our new kitchen that last night I woke up and ran downstairs just to see it, and make sure that I wasn't dreaming.
Oh the joy of having kitchen drawers! The joy of not having to run around a fifty mile, tri- angle kitchen course, in order to pour a glass of wine. Cabinets that open and close easily, simple pleasures are a must: I am in hog heaven.
The cabinets are from IKEA.
The counter top is Zimbabwe granite, with a "Bec Corbin" edge, and the finish is called, Twinswet Antique, that name is fitting isn't it?
The handles are from Leroy Merlin, a chain hardware store in France.
As you can see I have not advance very far in my decision making. I would like to paint it a lively, happy color... but I think I would grow tired of a happy color. Sounds sort of strange to say I would grow tired of a happy color, doesn't it?
Happy, happy, happy, I am... even cutting onions can't make me cry!
Tiramisu. Is the epitome of French husband's most often used expression,
"It tastes like baby Jesus in velvet shorts." A tasteful sacrilege, is it not?
Yesterday, was Mother's Day in France. It is one of the best things to be an American mother living in France, because I get to celebrate Mother's Day twice. Not too shabby.
Chelsea and Sacha, with the helpful wallet of French Husband, gave me an expresso machine with something to make steamed milk. I do not drink coffee, but they knew that I enjoy entertaining and that the instant coffee I served was disgusting. I guess you could say it was a gift for the family. The steamed milk part was for me.
The gift was a timely way to celebrate the new kitchen. As soon as they told me that the steamer could make cold or hot steam, I had an idea.
I added two tablespoons of Kahlua to each shot glass. Then I added cold steamed milk on top.
Of course, I found the shot glasses at the brocante. I think they are from the 1920s or 30s, because of the style and cut of the glass. (I don't like shots, drinks or otherwise, kinda like the expresso, I don't like coffee, but now I have an expresso machine. I guess you could say to negatives can make a positive. What???)
To top off the tiramisu in a glass,
I sprinkled coco powder on top.
Instant success. Half the calories, and not an ounce less of taste.
"Welcome new kitchen!" We cheered. French Husband declared we should open a Tiramisu Bar. I told him, "to hold his horses..." and with that he gave me a puzzling look as if to say, what the heck are you talking about? That is one of the problems with marrying a foreigner, culture expressions need massive explaining. In the end I said,"First things first, let's have lunch."
In a shot glass add 2 tablespoons of Kahlua.
Then add a few tablespoons of cold steamed milk on top,
Sprinkle dark coco powder.
Photos and Text by: Corey Amaro
Do you see the look on my face? After my initial, country-girl awe, and mouth-drop gawking of the party decor and fashion, I noticed the food. Food has a way of getting under my skin and causing my true nature to jump forth. For me, first and foremost, a party is about the food.... (and of course the reason for the celebration.) As usual this annual party did not disappoint.
I smacked my lips (note the photo above), because I had spied the waiters carrying the trays of heavenly delights. I am a piglet in disguise, in a white ruffle dress, thank god for ruffles that hide all sorts of sins.
Please have pity of me... remember I was the woman who hadn't had a kitchen in over a month. The thought of food that wasn't microwaved, nor pizza, had me racing around the tables with the look of a hungry bear! I could barely take photos, as I wanted my hands to be free to delicately grab, and stuff the sweet morsels into my mouth.
Imagine how close I was when I took this photo. If my camera had been a mouth I would have instantly gained 100 pounds! Shrimp wrapped with noodles and deep fried. Have you seen this before? I hadn't, and since then my taste buds are crying, "More! More!"
Then I caught a look of these: Spicy, coriander, mint zucchini and shrimp. Wonderfully fresh, light, and I easily justified eating 100 of them... Where was the fat? That is how I justified eating the shrimp population at the party.
I became a close, personal friend to all the waiters. The catering company: Bec Fin doesn't know this, but I am their professional taster. I do my best to taste everything, twice. They scored four gold stars in my book.
On a long table, next to the silver leather sofas, was a Raspberry Mojito bar. French Husband and I looked at each other and yelled, "YOU'RE the Driver tonight!" Guess who won? Man oh man were those drinks delicious on that late spring, warm evening. Why did the full moon dance with me?
The new way to serve food in France is to serve it on tiny little plates (God I pity the dishwasher!) Every thing that was served that night, was served on little plates, or in small clear glasses called, verrines... "luxury in a glass,". I kept doing the math, (which wasn't easy after a few raspberry mojitos. A thousand guests, ten thousand, little entrees... How many dishes? At least those little dishes are easy to dry.
Throughout the evening Bec Fin continued to tempt me; Gnocchi with Truffles, Tapas galore, Grilled Tuna, Sushi, smoked salmon on mini blinis, small crepes with vanilla ice cream, macarons, chocolate cups with a paradise of flavor inside...
Midway through the feast of small verrines, a group of French Gospel Singers entertained us. French Husband's partner, Thierry, is one of the lead singers. He sang, and moved and grooved... well, let me just say this about that: If I didn't know him, I would have sworn he was straight out of NYC Harlem. He's go the beat, and got it bad. If I were French Husband, I would be worried that Theirry might ditch him, and head out to California to be the next American Idol.
While I was listening to the Gospel singers, and stuffing my mouth with yet another wonder of earthly delight, I caught a glimpse of this silk, brightly colored, blouse, and when I saw the bow at the wrist... I dare myself to ask her if I could switch clothes, or at least ask her where she got it, or at least take a photo. Does anyone here sew? Do you want to make me a blouse like this? I need something to wear next year!
Then I saw these shoes, but before I could say, "Bonjour," she realized I was the crazy lady taking weird pictures and ran away.
The secret garden party was all that I imagined it to be, and I seriously hope they let me go again next year and the years to come. If not I will jump the wall.
Photos and Text by Corey Amaro
Driving along the striking blue, coastline of Marseille, my focus was distracted. It wasn't the sunsetting, nor the liquid blue that stole my thoughts, no I was distracted by the invitation in my hand.
I peered inland, knowing that the party we were going to, was behind one of those many walled estates. Many times, I imagined the homes behind those walls, and the sheer pleasure it would be to wake up, open the shuttered window, walk out on to the terrace covered with bougainvillea, and greet the Mediterranean with Chateau d'If on the horizon. Dreamy.
We parked our car along the seaside, and walked up to the iron gate, where a taxi awaited, taking the guests up to the estate.
We were let out at the main entrance, an iron gate opened, and the path to the estate was lined with farolitos, with that simple touch of elegance, my expectations were sated.
The estate sits on five hectares, on top of a hill, overlooking the sea. The nineteen century home is vacant. The owners do not live at the estate, but share the estate for large events... (I wonder if they would like me to live in their house, I could easily do that for them?)
A side note... if you need a tool to plant seeds, just walk along the area where you want to plant seeds with your high heels. Holes are easily made, without getting your hands dirty.
Large modern vases stood guard at the beginning of the staircase. That was the first clue that maybe the Secret Garden theme was not going to be a feminine-floral-romantic sort of look.
Waiters met us at the top of the stairs with spiked cocktails in test tubes. It looked hyper, new-age, chic, though looking back at this photo it makes me wonder if it weren't some sort of magical potion... maybe that is way I danced the night away?
French Husband took this photo of me, I kinda like it.
The black enormous pillows, black over sized, beds and large lamps were strewn throughout the park. They were the perfect spot late in the evening for intimate conversations, and some would say fireworks.
Black is black. And baby, it was the color of the night. 99 percent of the clothes I own are black... and wouldn't you know it last night I wore white.
Most of the women's clothing had to do with chunky lace, flowing short dresses, ruffles galore, High high heels, and ribbons.
The men, I noticed them, who here doesn't??? I checked out what they wore. This year their suits were very fitted, highly tailored, made of silk, with a sheen to the fabric. The jackets' interior, (yes I checked out the interior of their jackets), were lined in flashy silk colors, hot pink, cobalt blue... and their dress shirts also in flashy color. French Husband fit in... but I think he could go naked and fit in. I asked a man what he thought of the new fashion and he said, "This year it is all about: flash, show off, the new 70s sexy." I nodded, he go that right.
The man above was not purple, it was the colored lights. His shirt was lavender, note the dark blue inner trim, the two button collar standing up, and the button hole to his suit jacket trimmed in purple. Too cool.
(I think I missed my calling as a men's fashion designer.)
Silver sofas lined the old, stone balcony, with glass vases holding a few, baby, calla lilies.
Isn't this just the coolest idea?
As the evening fell, colored lights lite up the facade in hot pink, then lavender, then burnt orange.
Black with a splash of color, it was the style of the evening.
Tomorrow I will show you the edible delights, the scent of the evening, and how I danced my feet off.
Until then this is how French Husband and I ended the evening..... on those pillows, under a cloudless sky, with a nearly, full, moon and... well, the rest I will leave to your imagination.
I had planned to post about the Party we went to last night, but that took a back burner--
The KITCHEN sink arrived, and the workers are back at it, they plan to finish our kitchen today....
The counter, black granite, came today as well. The kitchen is cooking with activity, it feels soooooooooooooooooooooooo good.
Hot home cooked meal tonight, what a welcome feast!
Photo and Text by Corey Amaro
Once a year, in Marseille, there is a show stopper party, for urban investors, developers and their partners, that French Husband and I are invited to. It is the type of party that makes me feel like Cinderella... Luckily, I do not need a Pumpkin because my Prince Charming drives a Peugeot. Don't ask me why I say things like that.. I am goofy like that most of the time. Even though this party is so very pretty, and the food extra wonderful, and the scenery divine... I am and will always a simple person who admires the beauty in life around me.
I hope you will be, as excited as me, to see what is in store for tonight?
This year, for the first time I actually thought in advance about what to wear. I feel so organized. Maybe the lack of a kitchen in our home has allowed room in my noggin for deeper thoughts to transpire?
"The Party" has been going on, once a year, for six years. Each year there is a theme. Last year I was not able to attend, and Chelsea went in my place, it was a Circus theme, with tight rope walkers serving cocktails, rides on elephant with silk cushion to sit on, tarot cards being thrown and acrobats twirling magical surprises in the air.
This year the theme is "The Secret Garden"... doesn't that sound yummy romantic? I am glad to be going, and of course my camera is invited.
Going to parties where I do not know many people, where the language is not my first, where the conversations will focus on business, the weather and where one vacations, usually finds me with a frozen, polite smile on my face. I am naturally shy, honestly I am!
But at fifty-one years old I have finally learned a few things about going to parties where I feel like a fish out of water.
1) That most of the other people feel exactly the same way.
So if I am my natural self, others might feel keen to relax and be their natural self too. Feeling comfortable makes for a good party.
The first time I ever went to a school dance I was in the sixth grade. My mother said I could go only if: A) She chaperoned. B) If I promised to dance ever dance.
My mother chaperoning was not a problem for me. My mother was cool and my friends liked her. So that part was easy. Even though I loved to dance, dancing ever dance was another thing. I asked my mother, what if I wasn't asked to dance, then what was I suppose to do? (Please take note this was in the late Sixties, early seventies where girls rarely asked boys to dance, and dancing in a group not the norm.) My mother gave me my most cherished advice: Never refuse a boy to dance. If a boy doesn't ask you to dance, ask a boy to dance, until one says yes, or dance by yourself.
I danced every dance. Asking others to dance gave me freedom. If someone said no, I moved on to the next guy, and if all else failed I danced alone.
Do you have any secrets on how to feel comfortable at a party?
Have you ever had a day start and wonder how in the world you were ever going to do everything that was expected of you?
Have you ever had a day planned and then before it started, had twenty thousand things added to it?
Have you ever had a crazy day start a few days before the sun actually came up, or worse start living your day in your dreams the night before?
Today is wacko, with a hundred, no make that a million balls in the air.
What are you doing today?
This is my daughter Chelsea and I.
I asked French Husband to take some photos of us, since I have very few of us together. That is the problem, I have, being the one who is usually behind the camera.
Our family rarely takes photos without making a face. Chelsea is the Queen of making faces. French Husband actually told me at her birth, "... Corey, Loops (his endearing name for me), from know on, um, er, um... could you NOT make faces when you talk from now on? Especially, when talking to Chelsea. In France we don't make faces when we talk, and I want our daughter to er, um, not to make faces when she talks." I shrugged my shoulders, wrinkled my forehead, squinted and said, "I'll try."
As you can see I failed, I failed badly.
As I have said to French Husband many of times, "Sorry Honey, you married the wrong person, making faces is a strong genetic code in the Amaro blood line."
Rarely is there a photo where someone in our family is not making a face.
Chelsea inherited making faces from me.
You probably won't believe this but, her height, that came from me too.
Though Chelsea did inherit that D-stuff from my side of the family.
D-stuff, height, and faces. She got that from me, and...
Her long, brown, curly hair too... though I am naturally blond.
Yes indeed we are so much alike, I wonder where French Husband fits in at all?
Luckily, she did not get my nose... so I know French Husband was a part of this creation.
French Husband said, "Okay this is it. One last try. Please can you two please smile an American smile, please."
Oh well we tried... and I am happy with the results.
Photos and text by: Corey Amaro
My daughter Chelsea's friend "V" was coming to visit her. She lives in the east of France, but went to school in Canada this last year. We looked forward to seeing her again.
Then Chelsea told us that her friend's mother was coming too, and could she too stay with us... and before I could say anything the phone rang, and I heard Chelsea saying, "Oh I see," and, "I don't think it will be a problem, let me get back to you."
I knew a new twist of events was coming at me when Chelsea said "Mom you wouldn't mind if her brother comes and stays with us too, would you?"
...and since expressions like, "When it rains it pours" are true, it rained.
...and since our make-shift kitchen was outside we knew our "buns were cooked".
...and take-out pizza has become our new best friend,
and my hips look like dumplings, and I won't mention the state of my double chiney, chin, chin.
So of course we said, jumping up and down, "Yes, sure, why not?"
Chelsea's friend, her friend's mother, and her friend's brother, came and stayed with us, for three days in our home without a kitchen... and it rained to add flavor to the event.
...and we had Pizza the night they arrived,
...and cold Pizza for breakfast,
...and Pizza for lunch,
...and then Pizza again for dinner, and so on and so forth, more or less.
It is incredible how a few changes can spice up a Pizza.
The truth be told, we also had Laduree macarons for dessert.
Chocolate - Bitter Chocolate - Vanilla - Coffee - Rose - Pistachio - Raspberry - Blackcurrant Violet - Caramel with salted butter - Raspberry - Orange Blossom - Liquorice - Lemon - Praline.... they added a surreal touch to the pizza marathon.
Pizza and Laduree, it has a nice ring to it doesn't it?
...and at the end of the day it didn't matter that we ate pizza three times a day. The saying is true, "The more the merry!"
Who needs a kitchen anyway?