Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering With Red Poppies

While in France I passed by acres and acres of the reddest poppies I have ever seen.
 

The French Victory day of WWII is celebrated on May 8th. Andrea and I happened to be in Beaune (Burgundy region) where the whole town seemed to turn out for the celebration.
 

Bands played, wreath were placed, and school children gave sweet speeches.
 
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It seemed a sharp contrast to how the majority of Americans spend our Memorial Day.


In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
 
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
 
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
 
John McCrae, 1915
 
 
In 1915 Moina Michael was inspired by Mr. McRae’s  poem and penned the following verses. 
 
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies,
That blood of heroes never dies.
 
Ms. Michael adopted the custom of wearing a red poppy in memory of the sacrifices of war and also as a symbol of keeping the faith.


As I write this my cub scout and his leader father, Ret. MSgt. Eric C. Gunn, are placing flags at the local cemetery for men they never met but are honored to acknowledge their ultimate sacrifice.


Comments have been turned off as a representation of silence so that the Gunn family can reflect and honor those who have lost their lives defending our country.

Laura

Friday, May 27, 2011

Moelleux au Chocolat et Casseroles de Cuivre~ Chocolate Lava Cakes and Copper Cookware

I adore chocolate. That is not a secret to anyone who knows me. While in France Andrea and I made some wonderful Moelleux au Chocolat (chocolate lava cake). It was a bit of heaven when paired with the local fresh red raspberries.

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Now you know how I love my copper! I wrote a post devoted entirely to the subject matter HERE.

I had hoped to find an antique copper kettle on my trip and my friend Guy sweetly made sure that I was able to purchase my hearts desire. I also learned that any good French chef worth their Brittany sea salt would also have a cul de poule (kull dee pool) available in their arsenal of tools. So I brought a 100 year old beauty home with me. Not only do I love saying “cul de poule” but I encourage you to translate the literal meaning of the words. It will crack you up. (No egg puns intended.)
The first video shows off my copper bowl and lays out the ingredients for Moelleux au Chocolat  (recipe below).


In this next video you can somewhat see my new (old) tea kettle and the wee covered antique copper pot I also purchased in which I melted the chocolate in. I realize I should have a bain marie (water bath pot) to do this job properly, but this was a good improvisation. I also lightly “dusted” the ramekins with butter. Who the heck lightly dusts anything with butter? I should have said “coated”.  :)


For your viewing pleasure: a bowl of mud. The video cuts off the portion where I mention that I halved the recipe.


Yes, I admit it. I ate some raw batter. It was good and I am not sorry.


So delicious and really quite easy to make. Now, if only there were a “taste” button on the computer keyboard.


Recipe for Moelleux auChocolat
Ingredients to make six servings
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) butter
8 oz of semi sweet or dark chocolate (I used the Green and Black brand)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (a bit more if you like it sweeter)
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
How to Make It:
Preheat oven to 425°F
1. Melt chocolate on low flame in a bain-marie (double boiler). When melted, remove from heat and                                2. Stir in diced butter, until it melts.
3. In another bowl, beat eggs and sugar, until it starts to whiten.
4. Stir in melted chocolate and then the flour.
5. Coat six individual ramekins with butter, and pour in chocolate batter.
6. Cook for about 12~14 minutes.
7. Tip ramekins upside down onto dessert plates and serve.
You may garnish with raspberries, additional powdered sugar and French vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Yum!
Laura

Linking to:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cruising the Brittany Coast: Days 4~6 in France

I have a confession. I was eager to leave Paris. Even with all of its glamour and excitement I was longing for the quiet beauty of France. Perhaps I have just reached a “certain age”. But can you blame me when you see an image like this:

Andrea and I left Paris early in the morning and stopped in Chartres along the way to visit the cathedral. Soon after we were driving along the Brittany coast admiring quaint villages and cottages that somehow all feature a perfect shade of Brittany blue.

It is fairly evident that many of the villages have been around for quite awhile. Charming half timbered houses are a regular site to see.

I also adored the signs placed outside of businesses. This one represented a floral shop.

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The local boulangerie or bakery.

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One thing is certain, the Bretons seem to possess magical green thumbs.

I loved the view of the public gardens in Vannes that you could look down on while strolling the 13th century ramparts (surrounding embankment of a fort).

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In my best Wicked Witch of the West voice I couldn’t help but utter “Poppies! Poppies!”

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Just gorgeous! Thank you dear friends, Guy and Jacqueline, for a wonderful tour!

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Our dear friend Guy also drove us to see the dolmens (portal tomb), tumulus (mound of earth and stones raised over a grave) and the standing stones (menhirs) of Carnac. Did you know that there were standing stones in France? Well I didn’t. They were absolutely amazing. I love a good mystère.

The Carnac stones are actually the largest collection of stones (over 300o in all) in the world. Here are our delightful hosts, Guy and Jacqueline, standing in front of some of the smaller stones.

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They took us around town to visit quaint antique shops and darling places to dine.

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We strolled through the local market to select wonderfully fresh ingredients for lunch and dinner.

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Vivante means “living”. Sure enough these langoustine (also known as the Norway lobster and the Dublin prawn) were still alive. Later on, when Jacqueline began preparing them for dinner, one gave her a good pinch. Ouch!

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She deserved a huge bouquet of fragrant peonies for her superb (and sometimes dangerous) culinary efforts.

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Most of you are aware that those who live in Paris are known as Parisians. But those who reside in and around the Brittany coast are Bretons. Here a gentleman in a covered market wears a traditional Breton hat.

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Traditional dress in now mainly worn only on special holidays and occasions.

Often in fantastical color combinations.

There are of course variations in the form of traditional Breton clothing.

The lace headdress worn by women is called a coiffe.

Taller coiffes are often held securely in place by a crown.

Some of the older generation still cling to the traditional ways.

Oh I just want to hug this darling Grandmere!

Another darling Grandmere is mon chère Jacqueline. We were getting ready to enjoy a delicious meal of Dover sole. I could have eaten that entire plate myself. Jacqueline is a superb chef!

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Our wonderful hosts also made sure that we saw several of the lovely bays of Brittany.

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The Brittany beaches are just beautiful The sand is so white and fine. Jacqueline and I couldn’t resist putting our feet upon it.

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Yes, a small piece of my heart now belongs in Brittany. I cannot wait to show you the Breton copper treasures I selected on Friday.

Laura

Monday, May 23, 2011

Imagining a World Without Oprah

When I was 17 I wrote for my school newspaper, The Honker Highlights (Yes, our school mascot was the Canadian Goose, also known as a “Honker”). One of the stories I covered was a review of a film entitled “The Color Purple”. This was how I first became aware of Oprah Winfrey.


I knew her as “Sofia”, a scrappy woman who refused to let abuse, poverty and unkindness get her down. I sat in the theater transfixed. I gave the movie a glittering review and then endured quite a bit of mocking for a few weeks from my schoolmates. It was ok, because I was scrappy too.

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I was not aware of Oprah’s early years as a talk show host. That came a few years later when I found myself an uneducated, single mother barely living above the poverty level. In between fashion makeovers and the beefcake men of Alaska she covered topics and interviewed individuals that made me dig deep into my own self and question what I was doing to benefit the world and others. To consider that if we are all given the same 24 hours in day shouldn’t we be trying to make a bigger difference? Here are a few people and things that made a difference to me.

My eyes can’t help but fill with tears when I think of Erin Kramp. This may be because I lost my biological mother at the age of five and still some 37 years later have a yearning in my heart which will probably never be filled. But more so I believe that she made me rethink about the legacy I am leaving for my own children and the precious gift of time that I have been given and how I should make the most of it. 


I will forever be heart printed by Mattie Stepanek. This young philosopher, poet and peacemaker changed the way many people looked at how they respond to situations in their life. Just one small boy changed the way people thought about the world. Wow.



While I have always been a reader, I at times merely read books just for the sake of passing time. Oprah’s Book Club made me reconsider reading books so that I could grow in knowledge and as an individual. Some of my favorites include:

Night” by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel
 
 
The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett
 
 
The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver
 
 
While Sarah Ban Breathnach never made Oprah’s book club list, this incredibly talented author was an invited guest to the show more than once. Her book “Simple Abundance” made me rethink how I see myself, how I could achieve any dream I might possess and how I can live life gratefully every day. Indeed I am now in the middle of my sixth year of re~reading her daily gratitude journal and it is one I recommend to everyone.
 
 
But the greatest lesson that resonates in my mind came from author and guest Toni Morrison who made me face the question of “Do your eyes light up every time your child enters the room?”
 
They didn’t then. They do now.


To merely say “Thank you” to Oprah for helping me dig deep and live my best life seems somewhat small. So instead I will continue to try to better myself and make a positive difference in the world.

I’d love to hear about your “Ah ha” moments.

Laura

Friday, May 20, 2011

Shopping on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées~ Day 3 in Paris

I have to say of the three days I spent in Paris, the last was my favorite! I am not sure if it was the shopping, great food, or the non stop joy and laughter while experiencing all that Paris has to offer.

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We began the day with Andrea once again at the wheel. It was decided that we would quickly drive past several of our favorite landmarks.

La Tour Eiffel (Time for a climb?)

Eiffel Tower from the South

Musée du Louvre (Hello, Mona Lisa!)

Pont Alexandre III (The most famous bridge in Paris.)

Les Invalides (Final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte)

Then we began driving down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. THE street for Parisian chic. We whizzed by shops such as Chanel, Dior, and many others.

But you know where the western end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées leads to right? The Arc de Triomphe.

More specifically a crazy roundabout filled with traffic from TWELVE streets that dump directly into the center which features one of Paris’ most famous landmarks. (Thank you google for the aerial shot.)

Andrea announced “I am going to show you how to drive this thing.”  I no sooner said “WHAT!” then thought I’d better video tape the experience of my death. Wholly Schmolly! What ensued was tremendous laughter on both our parts. We went around at least 4 or 5 times. Look kids ~ Big Ben, Parliament! Our Videotape Tuesday series will soon debut on Metis, until then:

At the finish I announced I almost peed my pants while simultaneously needing a drink. We opted for the famed Parisian teahouse Ladurée. Of the three locations, we chose the original on 16 Rue Royale. Look~ they even monogrammed the teapot cozy with my initial! The flavor: Thé Marie Antoinette, a rose and jasmine flavored tea.

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Of course I ordered desert! It was Religieuse Rose~ a delightful concoction of a rose custard nestled inside a rose infused cream puff scattered with raspberries.

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We then went next door to stock up on tea and of course bought a few macarons.

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Next we decided to take a stroll over to the Palais~Royal. We passed by several sweet shops and displays.

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The Palais Royal was built between 1633 ~ 1639 and was the personal residence of Cardinal Richelieu. Upon the Cardinal’s death in 1642 the palace became the property of the King Louis XIII. Over the years it changed hands many times via the political and social climate of the times.

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The Palais now houses houses the Conseil d'État (Council of State) and the Ministry of Culture as well as several high end shops such as Stella McCartney and a few second hand couture shops such as Didier Ludot which specializes in vintage Chanel and Hermès .

But oh it is the gardens that will leave you breathless. It was the duchesse d'Orléans who created the gardens in the 1660’s and I am forever thankful to her. I smelled the sweetest rose that I have ever encountered in this heavenly scented spot.

Famished, we decided we would pop into a nearby place that was on my “must see” list. Le Grand Colbert. You know, THE restaurant where Diane Keaton goes with Keanu Reeves but is interrupted by the love of her life Jack Nicholson in “Something’s Gotta Give”? Hmmm. We knew we were in the right place, but instead of the elegant  windows that once looked like this:

We found this:

Hollywood arriving is not necessarily a good thing. The charm was gone. What once was:

Sadly now posters cover the lovely frosted mirrors and a track of the movie plays consistently in the powder rooms. This once grand space needed to be retitled, as Andrea expertly pointed out, “Something's Gotta Change”. 

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Still we sat and I had the best soupe à l'oignon de français (French onion soup) of my life. It was so cheesy. Much like Le Grand Disappointment. But we laughed and THAT was very good.

Next up, a delightful trip to the Brittany coast.

Laura

Linking to:

French Cupboard

French Country Cottage

Common Ground

The Charm of Home

My Romantic Home