Thursday's Child: Backpacking in Europe, part 2

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bruges, Belgium
This week, I wanted to share a few final memories from my backpacking days.

As a young person making my way through Europe, I had plenty of company in the “lots of dreams, no money” category.  So when I wasn’t attending free concerts, I was staying up late, chatting with newly-made friends or playing cards.  And it’s amazing how many short and intense friendships I fell into.  When I chatted with other travellers, one of two things happened.  Sometimes we were going in opposite directions, in which case we shared travel suggestions.  And sometimes we were going in the same direction, and decided to travel together for a while.  Having a buddy to chat with en route to the next destination was always fun, and having someone to help find the hostel in the next town was a godsend.  (My strengths are friendliness and trip research; my weakness is navigation.)  I mention literally dozens and dozens of people in my journal, most of whom I can’t put a face to anymore, but all of whom I spent a few hours or a few days with.  And the experiences I had with the travellers that I do remember – an impromptu trip to Luxembourg with Ellen, the Rodin museum with Jon, talking baseball with Mark outside the Pompidou Centre – were some of the highlights of my trip.  
Seeing Luxembourg with Ellen
Sometimes those new friendships got off to a rocky start, though.  I had my first experience with coed washrooms in a youth hostel in Paris.  Somewhat dubiously, the shower curtain didn't completely close.  In fact, you couldn’t really call it a 'curtain'; it was more like two boards that didn't quite overlap.  When I stepped into the bathroom, I realized quickly that the occupant of the other shower was male, so I kept my shower as brief as possible, while simultaneously hugging the walls of said shower. Later, in the common room, a guy came up to me and said, "Oh, hi, you were in the shower next to me."  I literally had no idea what to say, so fortunately he filled in the rest of the sentiment: "I recognized your sneakers."

Admittedly my travel style has changed a little since the backpacking and youth hostel days.  But I learned some valuable lessons.  The key to success in finding my way around every city in Europe is still exactly the same:  learn a few words in the native language, the most important phrase being, “Where is?”  If you know that, and the name of your hotel, you will never truly be lost.

The other lesson I learned from this trip was to keep my heart open to the people I meet.  My most special memories involved the people I shared my time with.  And although I've never travelled by myself since then, the same is still true.  The cities may be fabulous, the countryside may be breathtaking, but every new place I visit is made most precious by the people I have met.

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: The Pirates of Penzance

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Every spring, my girlfriends and I make a trip to the Stratford Festival.  We drive down in the morning, enjoy a patio lunch, see a show, and drive back to Toronto by early evening.  Given the name of the venue, it’s unsurprising that many of the plays they perform were written by William Shakespeare.  And most years that’s what we see.  

This year, however, we got tickets for The Pirates of Penzance.  Gilbert and Sullivan wrote frothy confections of operettas – their shows are full of humour and silliness.  Any play that has a plot based on [spoiler alert] a leap year birthday, and which is resolved by appealing to loyalty for Queen Victoria, can only be described as lighthearted.  The production was full of wit, energy, and beautiful costumes.  And for my Canadian readers, the pivotal role of the Major-General is played by C. David Johnson (Chuck Tchobanian from Street Legal)!

Frederic, the apprentice pirate, meets Mabel in a scene where she and her sisters are looking for a secluded spot for a picnic.  (Need I say that romance ensues between Frederic and Mabel, and there was eventually one pirate for every sister?)  I don’t know what they carried in their picnic basket, but if I was packing one today I’d be sure to bring along this wheat berry salad.  It’s wonderfully delicious, can be made in advance, and has so many great summer flavours. Whether you’re serving a band of pirates or a Major-General, there’s something in this salad for everyone to love.

Wheat Berry Salad
(adapted from Gale Gand’s Brunch; I made a half-sized salad as the original recipe was quite large.)

1/2 cup wheat berries
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup diced yellow or red pepper
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup dried cranberries
one 6-oz can tuna, drained
1/4 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup zucchini
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh parsley
salt to taste
1/4 cup Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette (or Italian dressing)

Combine wheat berries, 1/2 quart water and salt in medium saucepan and bring to boil.  Turn down heat and simmer 1 to 1.5 hours, until wheat berries are tender. Drain well and cool.

In large bowl, toss cooked wheat berries with bell pepper, celery, cranberries, tuna, feta, zucchini, parsley, salt and dressing.  Cover and chill at least at least one hour, up to 2 days.

Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp sugar
1 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
pinch dried oregano
pinch chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk together lemon juice through parsley.  Add oil in a thin stream until well-blended.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Use immediately or refrigerate in a tightly-closed jar for up to 3 days.  Shake well before using.

Thursday's Child: Backpacking in Europe

Thursday, May 24, 2012

So far this month, I’ve described my experiences living with a French family and travelling with a Contiki tour group.  Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my memories as a backpacker in Europe.

The summer before I went to grad school, I spent ten weeks in Europe.  You might ask how I could afford to do that.  One answer is that I saved money with a passion while I worked, but the other answer is that I spent very little money as I travelled.  Contiki tours are inexpensive, but the part of the trip where I really pinched pennies was as a backpacker.

While I was staying in London, I switched youth hostels partway through to save £3 a night.  I took the bus to the airport in London rather than the train – even though it was less convenient – to save £1.6.  Breakfasts came free with a night at a hostel, and I became an expert on where to buy cheap food in every city I visited.

Sometimes I relied on the knowledge of my fellow travellers to come up with money-saving hints. If I hadn’t met Kevin from Montreal, I never would have known about the free beer given out at the end of the Heineken factory tour.  Nor would I have known the exact place in the room to stand to ensure we were in the first group to be escorted to the pub, thereby maximizing our drinking time.  I had just met two lovely Australian girls, Tracey and Robyn, and between us we had 5 or 6 free beers.  Kevin from Montreal had nine.  Unsurprisingly, he lost steam shortly thereafter and didn’t reappear until the following day.
Laurenskerk, Rotterdam.  Photo used courtesy of Localities
The number of free concerts I attended was staggering.  These concerts ran the gamut from an organ recital in Rotterdam’s spectacular Grote of Saint Laurenskerk, to a string quartet in the garden of an art museum, to a truly exceptional concert I attended in the main square in Brussels.  The group was called Urban Sax, and it began with a few saxophonists playing in the balconies of the town hall and museum.  A cloud of green smoke rose at the back of the square, then another group of performers wearing air masks and spaceman suits, also playing their saxes, ran through the crowd from the back to the stage.  Stephanie (from Chicago) and I somehow ended up in the second row and watched the spacemen climb to the top of the stage, still playing their saxes, amid a great deal of coloured gas, chanting and light effects. 
Urban Sax: a truly mediocre photo of a truly amazing concert.
And it’s unbelievable to read about the things I did, that a tourist wouldn’t need to do today.  My journal is full of details like using a pay phone to call home, standing in line to exchange Travellers’ Cheques, and buying USA Today to follow my beloved Toronto Blue Jays.  And does anyone still use Poste Restante?  This general post office address allowed friends and family to send mail to travellers who had no fixed address.  I was stunned at the number of cards and letters I got while I was travelling.  And even more impressed by the number of postcards I sent while I was on the road.  Between my journals and my postcards, I feel as if I was a blogger-in-training that year.

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Annie Get Your Gun

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Last Sunday, my mom and I attended a Mother’s Day cabaret at my church.  It was put on by four amazing musicians – our senior minister’s son Andrew (who has just released a CD), two of our church soloists, Brenna and Mark, and another friend, Calla. 

They sang a wonderful variety of music, from gospel (“Chariot’s Comin’ ”) to opera (“O Mio Babbino Caro”) and jazz (“Fly Me to the Moon”).   The whole program was wonderful, but the highlight for me was “Anything You Can Do, I Can do Better” from Annie Get Your Gun

I first saw this musical with my family when I was a teenager, in the Huron Country Playhouse.  Plays were performed in a barn, with no air-conditioning, and it was always a hot night.  The gaps between the boards let in the humid air off Lake Huron.  But once the show started we forgot the surroundings and were drawn into the story.  All these years later, I remember the standout feature of the show being the competitive relationship between Annie Oakley and Frank Butler:

“Anything you can do, I can do better;
I can do anything better than you.”

Last Sunday, Brenna and Mark did a wonderful job with their alternating one-upmanship in this song:

“I can jump a hurdle – I can wear a girdle.
I can knit a sweater – I can fill it better.
I can do most anything.
Can you bake a pie? – No –  Neither can I.”

Alas, I am like Annie Oakley and Frank Butler in this one respect: I can’t really bake a pie.

So that was my challenge for this week.  To complete those song lyrics with an emphatic “Yes!  I can bake a pie!”  And only a cherry pie would do.

The most daunting part was supposed to be making the pastry.  That’s what usually intimidates me about pies.  But that part was actually a success – the pastry was easy to work with and rolled out nicely.  The issues came with everything else.

The first problem: there was obviously too much juice in the recipe.  I didn’t add all the liquid, and the pie still overflowed onto the cookie sheet underneath it in the oven.  Next time I’d add no more than 2/3 cup of cherry juice, and maybe less.

The second problem was the lattice.  The recipe told me to assemble the lattice elsewhere, then move it as a whole onto the top of the pie.  I had my doubts, but followed the directions exactly.  As I feared, the lattice drooped partway through the exchange, landing in a tangled heap on top of the pie.  I untangled the cherry-soaked threads and lay them back in the best semblance of array I could muster.

And the third problem was the cooking time, but this was a problem of my own making.  As usual, I was trying to do 15 things at once.  Unfortunately, #14 was out of the house.  I set the timer at my best guess, put my oldest daughter in charge, and went out to a school meeting.  She pulled the pie out of the oven exactly when I asked (and subsequently scrubbed the cookie sheet) but by that time the pastry was much too dark.

So – anything I can do, you can probably do better?

Not entirely.  Despite these problems (and the fourth, which was photographing the pie so the blackened crust didn’t completely dominate), it was delicious. 

So, anything I can do, I WILL do better.  Next time!

The Best Cherry Pie
(adapted from Cuisine magazine)


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening
10 – 12 Tbsp ice water


6 cups frozen cherries, thawed
2/3 cup cherry juice, reserved from cherries
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp almond extract
kosher salt

Lattice topping

1/4 cup half and half
3 Tbsp cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar and kosher salt in a large bowl.  Cut in unsalted butter and shortening with a pastry blender, until they are the size of peanuts.  Stir in ice water 3 – 4 Tbsp at a time (dough shouldn’t be sticky).  Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes before using. 

On lightly floured surface, roll half the dough into a 12” circle about 1/8” thick.  Transfer to a 9” pie plate.

For filling, combine thawed cherries, juice, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, almond extract and salt.  Fill the chilled pie shell.

Weave the remaining dough into a decorative lattice on top of the pie.  Lightly brush the lattice with half and half; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Bake pie on a baking sheet (to catch overflow) for 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 20 – 30 more minutes, until filing is thickened and bubbly.  (Cover with foil if it’s browning too quickly.)  Cool before serving.

Thursday's Child: The Contiki Tour

Thursday, May 17, 2012

For the last two weeks, I’ve written about my first trip overseas, when I spent a month living with a family in France.  Today I’ll be sharing some of the experiences I had the next time I visited Europe, in my twenties.

By that time, I had finished my undergraduate degree and worked a couple of years.  I was going back to school that fall to get a masters’ degree, and decided to take a few months off in the interim.  Through extremely frugal living, I had managed to save some money both for school and for travels.  This time, I planned a one-month trip with Contiki Holidays, followed by six weeks of backpacking.

Contiki’s tours are for young adults up to the age of 35.  And if you’re looking to see new countries while having a great time, it’s definitely the way to go.  Reading my journal, I was astounded at the late nights I had; going to bed at 11:00 or 12:00 was early.  I have no idea how we all had the stamina to get up the next morning to get on the tour bus, but we always did.  Apparently, it wasn’t enough to see the Vatican, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Via del Corso, the Pantheon and Hadrian’s Castle in a single day; we had to follow it up with a dance in the evening.

One of the joys of this part of the trip was meeting my fellow tour mates.  I’ve written earlier about Jennifer (enjoying sacher torte in Vienna’s Demel café) and Ruth (sharing dreams in front of Munich’s Glockenspiel).  But there was a busload of us, many from Australia and New Zealand.  One of my most unforgettable taste sensations was eating vegemite on French bread.

We definitely encountered our share of hardships.  It was a particularly wet and cold season, and my umbrella became a constant companion.  The weather, the constant travel and (dare I say) those late nights conspired to give me a terrible cold.  In Europe I discovered that most potent of cough drops, Fisherman’s Friend, and learned how to buy them in three languages.  And I never did find out how early you had to get up to guarantee a steamy shower.  One particularly bleak morning I made it to the washroom by 5:45 am, only to find both a lineup and a dearth of hot water.

But the great moments more than made up for those troubles.  I’ll never forget standing in a valley near Interlaken, Switzerland on a Sunday morning, listening to church bells chiming and echoing through the mountains around me.  And I was astounded by the culture of Vienna, the history of Rome and the mystery of Venice.

The small moments were special too.  Who would have guessed that our bus driver would accept a dare to drive down the winding streets of Monaco, only to arrive at a hairpin turn he couldn’t quite manoeuver, and have to back up the whole way?  My friends and I developed a rating system for the gelaterias in Italy that would rival the Zagat system.  And the late-night chats, card games and hijinks were a reminder to enjoy the moment, because we’d never travel quite like this again. 

Next week, I’ll share some of the great moments I had while backpacking.

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Beauty and the Beast

Sunday, May 13, 2012

With all the musicals that have inspired my recipes (see December 2011 and July 2011), it’s hard to believe I haven’t mentioned a Disney musical yet.  I grew up on Disney movies – Snow White was the first I saw; Dumbo was the first to make me cry – and I’ve continued to love them as an adult. 

I liked the premise of Beauty and the Beast before I even saw it.  A book-loving heroine who forgoes the handsome male?  Who rescues her father without relying on the handsome prince to do it for her?  Who falls in love with someone because she sees his inner kindness?  This couldn’t possibly be a major Hollywood release, could it?

The staff of the castle were placed under the same enchanted spell as the Beast, and will only be released when someone falls in love with him.  Naturally, they try to initiate a romantic interest between he and Belle.  Lumière, the French candlestick, shows Belle the feast they’ve laid out in her honour.  As the staff sings “Be Our Guest”, there’s a panoply of food to be inspired by:

“Soup du jour, hot hors d’oeuvres
Why, we only live to serve
Try the grey stuff – it’s delicious –
Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes.”

“Beef ragout, cheese soufflé
Pie and pudding en flambé
We’ll prepare and serve with flair
A culinary cabaret!”

How to choose one recipe from all that?  As tempted as I was to recreate “the grey stuff”, I went with the hot hors d’oeuvres.  And nothing fit the bill like Ina Garten’s Gougères (Cheese Puffs).  Even Lumière would have been impressed by these hot pastries – airy and cheesy, and a perfect start to an elegant meal.  Try one of these and as, the song says, they’ll
“make you shout ‘Encore!’
And send us out for more
So, be our guest, be our guest, be our guest!”

(from Barefoot in Paris, by Ina Garten)

1 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground back pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese, lightly packed, plus extra for sprinkling
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water, for egg wash

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, heat the milk, butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg over medium heat, until scalded.  Add the flour all at once and beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together.  Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for two minutes.  The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan.  Dump the hot mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  (Note: I used my beaters for this step, and they worked fine.)  Immediately add the eggs, Gruyère and Parmesan, and pulse until the eggs are incorporated and dough is smooth and thick.

Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip.  Pipe in mounds 1 1/4 inches wide and 3/4 inch high onto the baking sheets.  With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff.  Brush the top of each puff lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with a pinch of Gruyère.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown outside but still soft inside.

These should be eaten warm.  If you like, you can make them in advance, freeze them, and heat and serve.

Thursday's Child: More Memories of France

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Last week I wrote about some of the culinary highlights of my first trip overseas, a trip to France the summer before I started university.  This week I’ll be filling in some of the other details of that trip.

It took the money I earned from four years of camp counselling, and two months of farm labour, to afford this trip.  My parents had saved for my education, but any travelling I wanted to do was my responsibility to finance.  And because of that, I was determined to savour every single detail.  I wanted to experience things I’d never seen before, never even imagined, and that’s what I got:

We (the exchange students) spent four days in Paris before we travelled to the town where we were billeted with French families.  On rereading my journal, it seems we spent most of our time in Paris walking around looking for pastry shops, and then eating those pastries.  (Although, now that I think about it, what else would a wide-eyed teenager do in Paris?)

The hamlet I stayed in was so tiny that I could walk from end to end in about five minutes.  My French mother was very proud of me, and she showed me off whenever possible.  She took me to a fiftieth anniversary fete that was being held in the town church.  The entire family stood at the front of the church to celebrate; only the two of us watched from the pews.  Afterward she introduced me to every single person in attendance, and it soon became clear that she thought I was the guest of honour.

I ate dinner some nights at 10pm and once as late as 11:30. More than once, I ate a six-course meal for lunch.  Another time I attended a luncheon where six different kinds of meat were served, and where we sat at the table for three hours.

My French mother was convinced that I ate like a bird, but truly I ate more than I have before or since.  One day I went on a picnic and she kindly offered to pack me a lunch.  I took half a loaf of bread (enhanced by a brick of butter), a slab of ham, two peaches, an orange, and two chunks of La Vache Qui Rit cheese.  The only reason my lunch was that small was, before leaving, I removed a bag of chips, two hard-boiled eggs, half a cake and a box of cookies.  Let me repeat, I was going for a picnic lunch, not a reenactment of The Odyssey.

I had an extra day-trip to Paris with one of the other girls on the exchange trip, and her father drove us into town.  He drove with typical Gallic passion; Amy and I exchanged increasingly frightened glances as the speedometer reached a high of 185 km (115 miles) an hour.

I attended the most fantastic Bastille Day celebration ever.  We stood in the yard watching as villagers walked through the town with lanterns.  They came from both directions, meeting almost outside our front door, then turned to walk to the park.  We joined the parade and later watched fireworks with the whole community.  Afterward, we stayed for a village dance.  I still have the paper lantern that I kept as a souvenir.

When I planned this trip, I was excited about having the chance to see such a beautiful country, and about improving my French. What I didn’t realize until later was what a gift this wonderful family gave me by welcoming me into their home for a month.  I had always longed to travel, but this trip taught me what a privilege it is to meet someone who lives in a different country, and to briefly see the world through his or her eyes. 

Recipes Inspired by Musicals: Man of La Mancha

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Recipes inspired by musicals.  Apparently, this series has become a semi-annual feature on my blog.  I will never run out of musicals to write about, nor far-fetched ways in which they remind me of food.

Take Man of La Mancha.  This is the first musical I’ve written about that I’ve never actually seen, but it inspired one of the biggest crossover musical hits ever, “The Impossible Dream”.  When I hear it in my mind, it’s always sung by Robert Goulet.  But it’s been performed by an enormous and varied list of performers, including Merrill Osmond, Cher, Jacques Brel, Jim Nabors, George Foreman and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I’m guessing no other piece of music could make the same claim.

Man of La Mancha is based on the book Don Quixote, so any reasonable person would use that as an excuse to feature tapas, or paella, or even chorizo.  But why would I be so literal-minded?  I was inspired by the title of this song, and imagined what might be an impossible dream when it came to food.

The answer came pretty quickly.  You know those chocolate chip cookie recipes that suggest you refrigerate the batter for 48 hours before baking?  I always chuckled when I read those instructions.  As if, I thought, anyone could keep cookie dough in the fridge without baking (or eating) it.

So that was my challenge.  This recipe calls for the dough to be refrigerated at least three hours, which seemed impossible enough.  I made it on an afternoon when everyone else was out of the house, and I could busy myself doing other things for three hours.  Then I baked half the dough into cookies.  They were breathtaking.

I hid the rest of the dough in the fridge in the basement.  For two days, I went about my business in the house, pretending that I didn’t know about cookie dough just waiting to be enjoyed.  It was hard not to be distracted.

And 48 hours later, I baked the rest of that dough into cookies. They were sublime.

Whether or not you can last 48 hours without touching cookie dough is up to you.  Personally, I’d probably cap it at three next time.  But either way, don’t pass up these amazing Pecan Joy cookies.

Pecan Joy Cookes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups shredded coconut (sweetened)
2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and creamy, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating for about one minute after each addition.  Add almond extract and beat to combine.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and blend with a large wooden spoon.  Mix in the coconut, chocolate chips and pecans, and stir to combine.  (Note: the dough will be quite dense.)

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Use a rounded Tablespoon of dough for each cookie, and leave at least 1/2” between cookies on the baking sheets.  Bake for 8 – 10 minutes.  Let the cookies rest for about 2 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Thursday's child: Memories of France

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Last week, my blogging friend Nancy wrote about visiting Paris as a poor student, and again as an adult.  I realized that I haven’t written much about my long-ago adventures from the road, so this month I’ll be sharing some of them.

I’ve always longed to travel.  The summer I was sixteen, I began poring over the Saturday travel pages with an intensity usually reserved for discussing which of the Hardy Boys was the cutest.  (Parker Stevenson, by a hair.)  My cousin Heather and I talked about backpacking in Europe after high school, and I started cutting out the youth travel columns and saving them in a file folder.  Yes, even then I was compulsively organized about my trips.

In the final year of high school Heather got a serious boyfriend (who is now her husband).  I was happy for her, but it changed my travel plans.  My parents were reluctant to let a naïve 18-year old schlep through Europe by herself.  And then my research paid off, when I found a company that ran one-month homestays in France.  I stayed for three weeks with a family who lived about an hour outside of Paris in the tiny village of Saint Cyr Sur Morin.  The Marechals were the most welcoming hosts imaginable; not only did I improve my French, I learned a lot about grace and hospitality from this wonderful family.

I’ve seldom kept a diary but I did on that trip, and it’s a revelation to read it all these years later.  I guess it isn’t surprising that its two major themes were food and boys. 

The entries about boys weren’t all that interesting.  But it’s easy to see how the summer awakened a new awareness of food in me. Coming from a small town, I was trying so many things for the first time – fish with their eyes still in, rabbit stew, croissants.  (I ate my first-ever croissant in Paris.  How amazing is that?)

One day we were at their friends’ house for lunch and I was served a dish that I didn’t recognize.  One of the others tried to help me by saying it was “la langue”.  La langue – isn’t that language?  In a flash it came to me – of course, it was tongue.  Maybe I should have been more adventurous, but I promise it was offal in every sense of the word. 

Part of my being able to return my host family’s hospitality was baking for them, and some of my foods were as foreign to them as theirs were to me.  When I announced my plans to bake a carrot cake, my French “mother” raised her eyebrows.  “Une gateau? Avec carottes?’  She loved it so much that she requested I make it again the following week for company. 

Raspberry pie, brownies, peach pie – I was thrilled to share my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes with my new French friends.  And they were too polite to share their horror that I was putting baking soda – available only at the pharmacy – in my food.