A French Hangover

I have a French hangover. Not the head-splitting, stomach-lurching variety I’d experience on a relatively frequent basis while living in France in the late 90s, preceded by happy, fun evenings spent eating, drinking and partying in Grenoble with friends and colleagues.

(Incidentally, the only time I ever pigged out on McDonald’s in France was the afternoon after a big night out when a Diet Coke and Big Mac were the best way to assuage the effects of a hangover. I’d slink over the McD’s, eyes kept down, desperate not to bump into any of the players from the night before until suitably revived.)

No, this time, my French hangover is less physical and more metaphysical. Four brief days spent in Paris and Grenoble last week have rekindled the spark that originally drew me to the country and enticed me to stay for three years. Four days of speaking French has reinvigorated parts of my grey matter that have laid dormant while living here in the US. And, like a wheel that keeps spinning even after the initial surge of energy, it is still in motion, presenting me with words and phrases first in French, before the usual English. Making me stumble. Making me yearn to carry on speaking in French and to feed that still hungry part of me.

I was left wanting more. Four days is simply not enough time to pig out on all the croissants and cheese that I really want to eat. This visit briefly skimmed the highlights of Paris and flirted with the enormity of the Grenoble mountains.

Reconnecting with my French friends, in spite of the years, was a joy. Time does not appear to have made an imprint on their faces or characters, though everyone’s lives have propelled forward – spouses, families, new jobs, new homes.

They say the grass is always greener on the other side. While I love my life in Boston, a big chunk of me will always be entwined in France, its culture, landscape, music and the French language.

Coffee or Wine?

Your dental hygienist knows a lot about you, I’ve discovered. During my first few years here in the US, when I was either single and partying, or dating my soon-to-be-fiance, or enjoying the life-before-kids times, my dental hygenist would often remark about the red wine stains on my teeth. “Hey, I’m young (ish) and having fun,” I’d retort. And yes, I’ll brush more thoroughly, I’d promise as she hacked away at the stains with her evil implements.

(On a side note, may I just say that dental hygiene here in the US has been a real revelation to me. Y’all are way more serious about having sparkly whites that we were/are back home in the UK. I now feel it a necessary part of my acceptance into American society to have remarkably white teeth. But I digress.)

Dental visits over the last eight years have painted a different story. In large part, because the red wine stains on my teeth have mostly been replaced with coffee stains. Strong, black coffee stains. My dental hygienist always points this out and then, with an almost nonchalant non-sequitur, asks “So, how old are the kids now?” She knows, she gets it.

The thing is, my relationship with red wine has changed. Flash back to 1997-2000, three glorious years living in France when the wine was abundant, cheap and good. I became more knowledgable about wine regions and my preferences but, quite frankly, if it was red and in my glass, I’d drink it. Lots of it. No matter how much it cost or where it came from. And then I went and married someone in the wine industry. My supply of good wine became perpetual! Hoorah! And I became better educated and much more picky and wines I like and wines I don’t.

And then I had kids.

Child birth will do strange things to your palette (among other things.) After kid #1 was born, I went off red wine altogether, much to the chagrin of the husband. Fortunately, after kid #2 “popped out” (hahahaha) my desire for wine slowly returned and, in the almost six consequential years, has remained. But with new terms and conditions, namely:

  • I only drink the wines I like
  • I can only drink when eating
  • No more than a glass and a half or I get heartburn and/or an upset stomach
  • There will be wine on Friday evenings when I crave it most—or else
  • Cheese = wine

On the flip side, my relationship with coffee has remained consistent. While red wine is a select pleasure, enhancing specific moments, coffee is my lifeline. I cannot start the day without coffee. It is the very first thing I think of the moment I awake. I cannot exist without a large steaming cup of strong black coffee within approx 10 mins of my neurones firing up.

I was pondering my absolute and profound need for coffee the other morning and comparing it to my relationship with red wine. If I had to, I wondered, which would I give up? The answer was quite simple. But, just to be sure, I thought I’d conduct a brief poll with a few of my Twitter and Facebook pals. So I lobbed the seemingly innocuous question out there. Within nanoseconds—maybe even less—I was met with a barrage of visceral reactions! Before I share them, here was the final count:

  • Votes to keep coffee: 5
  • Votes to keep wine: 7
  • Undecided: 4

But it was the comments that cracked me up the most, including:

Are you kidding?

Is nothing sacred?

What am I being threatened with?

If my world no longer included those things, it wouldn’t be much of a world ;)

I feel like this is a trick question somehow.

I don’t know this Samantha but I don’t trust her ;)

I plan on giving up both…shortly after I give up oxygen.

So, you, yes you over there sipping your Sunday morning coffee – which would you give up, if you had to: coffee or wine?

P.S. Get your teeth cleaned.

My Avocado Dilemma

I woke up super early this morning. Actually I was awakened by my five-year who was evidently dreaming about something that didn’t work out for her and was crying out “I want it my way,” in her sleep. Well, don’t we all, sweetheart? After that, I couldn’t get back to sleep, my mind racing through the never-ending to-do list. So up I got and went downstairs.

As my coffee was brewing, my eye was drawn to an avocado sitting alone on the windowsill, where we had placed it about five days earlier to catch the sun and ripen. I gave it a squeeze.

Tell me, what is better than a perfectly ripe avocado?

But then dilemma set in. What to do with this solo avocado in the next 24 hours before its splendid green turns to mushy brown?

I figure I have two options – one involving my stomach and one involving my face.

First, the face. Winter is a bitch to my pathetic British skin. Put simply, my face is falling off, no matter how much water I drink, moisturizer I slather or how long the humidifier runs. I’m thinking this avocado could easily be mixed with some honey, oatmeal or yogurt to make an unctuous face mask that might salvage my skin. After all, it’s Friday and I’m working from home so there’s no-one to notice how strange I might look, sitting at my desk resembling a green monster. Fortunately, no Skype meetings today and hopefully no-one will FaceTime me!

But then again, there’s my tummy. All the different, glorious ways I could eat this delightful avocado! Maybe I could just slice it in half and drizzle it with the heavenly dark chocolate balsamic vinegar I recently bought? Or maybe I could squirt some lime on it and  grill it, loaded with cheese (recipe here.) Or, or …

Choices, choices.

Happy Friday folks, hope there’s a perfectly ripe avocado in your future.

There are Two Kinds of People …

Those that like anchovies and those that don’t. Which are you?

And while we are talking anchovies, I have to tell you that they are on my top ten of foods I love. What are the other nine, I hear you clamor? Well OK then, I’ll tell you.

  1. Anchovies
  2. Bacon
  3. Cheese (any cheese, I mean it…. well, actually maybe not smoked cheeses.)
  4. Avocado
  5. Olives
  6. Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut
  7. Pumpkin anything
  8. Cheesecake
  9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  10. My Mum’s trifle

Truth is, though, I’ll eat pretty much anything. I love to eat. I cannot understand those people who don’t enjoy their food, who think of eating as a necessary duty. In fact, there are only 5 foods I won’t eat. What are they, you ask? A rather strange and eclectic list that includes:

  1. Licorice
  2. Watermelon
  3. Borscht
  4. Aubergine (that’s eggplant for you American folks)
  5. Goulash

Bon appetit!

These Are a Few of My Favorite Pins

Like many of my fellow PR, social and Mom types, my latest addiction is Pinterest. Everyday I open up the app, eager with anticipation to take a spin through the newest colorful pins my fellow addicts have posted or repinned.

They say the demographic of Pinterest is mainly women. They also say that Pinterest is now the third most popular social network, driving large volumes of traffic to the sites and blogs marketing themselves through it.

They may be right …. but I say, for me, Pinterest is like a delicious distraction from reality to a land where I can look fantastic, have a the perfect home, whip up fabulous meals, be expertly crafty and travel to exotic places. Yes, to me, my daily (sometimes two or three times daily) dip into Pinterest  is like a concentrated dose of a good girlfriend catch-up combined with a speed read through the latest editions of Vogue, People, Parenting and Food & Wine magazines.

It turns out my boards are actually an intensely revealing portal to my life. Or the life I’ll get to one day when I’m not so busy being a working Mom, wife and blogger. Here’s a quick review of my favorite boards:

Recipes to try – my most populated and frequently refreshed board filled with images of recipes that are scrumptious, healthy, kid-approved, supposedly simple or otherwise, just plain mouth-watering. All of which I will make one of these days and which will never look like the beautiful images I pinned.

Style – If only I was taller, thinner, richer, less of a slob. This board exemplifies the wannabe in me with looks that I wish I could carry off. Plus a load of shoes I’d wear (if they didn’t hurt my back) and jewelry I’d like to own. If only ….

Cheese – it’s quite simple. I love cheese. Therefore I love pinning images of cheese so I can look at them and drool.

Men – hey, we’re allowed to look, right? So I created a board where several of my most “admired” guys can reside, so I can look at them and they can stare back at me …..

France – where I lived and had the time of my life. One day, I’ll be back, mes amis.

Inspiration – not the usual board of quotes that many people have, mine is filled with Dr Seuss-isms because, man, he just nails its.

As someone who works in social media, people often say to me, “I really must get on Twitter” to which I respond, “why?” Most of the time, they have no clue. My advice to them is not to bother, if they don’t have a specific goal. But with Pinterest, it’s very different. If you haven’t jumped in yet and you’re a woman (or man, I suppose) looking for inspiration, shoes, decor and craft ideas, or just something to make for dinner, c’mon in and join the rest of us in fantasy land!

Missing France

February 2012 marks 12 years since I moved to America from Grenoble, France, a picturesque town surrounded by three masterful mountain ranges. Three hours by train from Paris, one hour by car from Lyon, two hours by car from Geneva and just shy of four hours to the Cote d’Azure, Grenoble was the perfect town in which to live “la vie francaise” from 1997-2000.

Those were three of the best years of my life. I find it hard to believe that I have lived in America now four times longer than I lived in Grenoble. Those three years were packed full of emotion, experiences, adventure and ambition. It was a small town life but it was big with fun and friendship.

Frequently, as I go about my day-to-day life here in the U.S., I get pangs for France. It’s more than just longing for times gone by, my “misspent youth”, memories of good times. It’s visceral. When I’m missing France, I’m missing:

  • How my brain feels energized by speaking and thinking in French, my second language
  • Amazement and gratitude for the multi-cultural friendships created and sustained
  • Viewing the world through a European filter
  • The powerful seductive smell of cheese shops and patisseries
  • Discovering – and being completely swallowed up by – the voice, lyrics and harmonies of Francis Cabrel and Lara Fabian
  • The serendipity of being introduced to works of author Paulo Coelho
  • Experiencing the mountains, lakes and countryside in all their overwhelming raw beauty
  • The cobblestone streets, the ever-flowing wine, the boutiques,
  • Living within and among history and architecture
  • Hunting for chanterelles and then making omelets with them
  • The deep sleep that follows a day of skiing in the Alps and a cheese fondue
  • Did I mention the ever-flowing wine?

The urge to go back, not just to visit but to stay, is powerful. Life in Grenoble made an indelible mark on my soul.

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