If Only All Wars Were Made of Toilet Paper: War of Wills, War of Cultures… or BOTH?

Before I begin, let me just say that last week was a difficult one for my entire family.  

I think we (or at least I) could use a little comic relief.  

Taking a little break from the big issues in life is at times a necessary blessing.  

If only all wars were made of toilet paper…

Seems like an ordinary roll of toilet paper, but beware of its consequences! Photo/Graphics by Bellanda ®

Seems like an ordinary roll of toilet paper, but beware of its consequences!
Photo/Graphics by Bellanda ®

It seems like an ordinary roll of toilet paper, right?  Who would have thought that a simple roll of toilet paper could start what I am calling the Silent Toilet Paper War?  I can almost see some of you shaking your heads as you wonder if I’ve either lost my mind or run out of ideas for my blog.  You might even be thinking that it must be sheer desperation that has driven me to write about such a subject.  On the contrary, those of you who follow my blog know that I had planned to write about my favorite place to buy and drink coffee in Paris.  So, why toilet paper?  Let’s just say that it’s amazing what can arise from a simple one week visit from my dear sweet French man’s parents.  Sorry, but the coffee post will just have to wait!

Toilet paper…  When you hear those words I’m sure there are many things that come to mind of which we truly do not need to talk about.  As long as I’ve had it when it was needed, I never gave it much thought.  Then came an eye-opening visit from my in-laws which led me to realize something that I’m not proud of.  Apparently, I can be quite petty when it comes to the direction a toilet paper roll is placed on the holder.  Ah, yes! Did some of you just have a moment of recognition?  Disbelief?  Either way, I have a feeling that many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

On the first day my in-laws were with us, I walked into the bathroom and immediately noticed that the roll of toilet paper was facing in the wrong direction.  Yes, I am seriously that obsessive. Who knew?!  Instinctively, I switched it back to what I consider to be the correct  way to hang toilet paper.  I figured that one of my children must have knocked it on the floor by accident and placed it back on the holder in the wrong direction.  Then, it happened again… and again.  I kept this whole thing to myself, but out of curiosity switched the toilet paper back each time I saw it in the wrong direction.

My Way!

My Way! (Over Orientation)

I decided to do a little investigating (I know, I need to get out more).  This probably sounds crazy and perhaps it truly is, but I just had to know who was doing this.  I found myself sneaking around, checking the bathroom each time someone walked out.  It turned out that it was my Mother-in-Law AND Father-in-Law!  They actually took the time to change the direction of the toilet paper roll each time they went into the bathroom!  I mean really, who does that?  Oh right, my in-laws… but why?  I don’t know about you, but I have never thought of switching the toilet paper roll direction when I am a guest at someone else’s house and would appreciate it if you are a future guest at my home that you leave my toilet paper the way I like it.  😉

The first time you notice that the toilet paper is in the wrong direction, you say to yourself that it must have been an accident.   The second time, you start to wonder.  The third time, you start to wonder if they are doing this just to annoy you.  The fourth time you are sure they are!  No one spoke of the subject, yet each time I switched the roll to my way, they switched it back to their way.  Thus began, what I’m going to call the Toilet Paper Experiment and the Silent Toilet Paper War.

Yes, I am indeed aware that perhaps I need to get a life but let’s just say I did all of this under the realm of  cultural research.  At least, that is what I’m telling myself. I continued doing this in secret for the entire week they stayed with us.  I was afraid if I mentioned it to anyone it would taint my experiment and ruin the outcome.  I actually giggled as I went in and out of the bathroom in disbelief.  I wanted so much to share what was happening with my dear sweet man, but I stuck to my original plan.  I kept wondering if my in-laws would eventually stop switching the toilet paper roll.  I was sure that they would… but this is what I would see every single day, several times a day, for the entire week!

Their Way!

Their Way! (Under Orientation)

Was this some Machiavellian way to get even with me for taking their son away ?

During the week, I began asking myself some truly ridiculous questions.  Is there even a correct way to place toilet paper on the holder?  Is it just an acquired behavioral pattern?  Is it just another one of those cultural issues that pops up from time to time as a result of being an expat?  Do people even care which way the paper is placed on the holder?

Then, I did what pretty much everyone else does when they want to know something, I Googled the words “correct way to place toilet paper on the holder” only to discover that despite this being a truly petty subject matter… there is actually a Silent and Not So Silent War going on when it concerns this topic.  Apparently, there have been a ridiculous numbers of studies actually done on this subject.  I smiled, feeling somewhat vindicated that somehow I was not as crazy as I thought.  If scientists, philosophers and doctors have researched this subject, then I can assume I’m in good company (or at least in crazy company).

The wealth of information is actually quite hilarious and even links toilet paper orientation to  personality traits, age, political affiliation, and of course cultural differences.  One can’t help but laugh, but apparently it is also a pet peeve that causes actual fights in some relationships.  According to Wikipedia,  Ann Landers said that this subject was the most controversial issue in her column’s history.

What struck me time and time again while going through the mass of information on the internet concerning this topic were the recurring polls and studies that showed that most Americans use the over orientation, as I do, while most Europeans use the under orientation like my in-laws.  Somehow, I was relieved that my in-laws weren’t trying to make me crazy or get even with me for some unknown reason.  I felt better in thinking that toilet paper orientation is just a cultural thing. That is, until I saw this…

You just can't make this kind of thing up... life is so full of surprises!

You just can’t make this kind of thing up… Life is much more fun than fiction!

War of Wills, War of Cultures… or BOTH?  I’ll let you be your own judge.  I’m going to pretend (or lie to myself) that it’s just another Expat cultural thing and that my dear man’s parents were just too preoccupied with packing their bags to replace the roll of toilet paper.   If I allow myself to think this was done on purpose, I might also discover that I have a little vengeful, yet playful, side of me that will have to spend my next visit to their home changing the toilet paper in all of the bathrooms… for the entire duration of my trip!  😀

If only all wars were made of toilet paper…

We could just flush them down the toilet.

Have some fun & see where you fit in.  Here’s the Wikipedia link if you are curious to know what your toilet paper orientation says about you:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper_orientation

Here’s a post that nearly made me fall on the floor laughing:  http://currentconfig.com/2005/02/22/essential-life-lesson-1-over-is-right-under-is-wrong  The author included sketches and clearly stated reasons as to why the way I orient my toilet paper is the correct way.  In all fairness to under orientation people, they updated their post to include some reasons why some people prefer this approach.

Now the BIG questions…

Have some fun and let yourself think about something truly ridiculous for a moment. 

Do you care which way the toilet paper is placed on the holder?  

If so, which way is your ‘correct’ way?  

What country are you from?

*Oh, and feel free to leave a fake name if you would rather not let people all over the world know you’re actually discussing toilet paper orientation…  🙂


THIS ARTICLE & TOILET PAPER PATENT JUST ABOUT SETTLES THE TOILET PAPER ORIENTATION DEBATE… I WIN –  HAHAHA! Just in time… They are due for another visit in about 10 days & this might come in handy.  😉

124-year-old patent solves the ‘over versus under’ toilet paper roll debate

Spotted by The Huffington Post, writer Owen Williams discovered a picture of the original patent and shared it with the world.


Coffee… Coffee… Coffee!



I know that you are totally shocked that I, of all people, would choose to write about such a topic. Okay, maybe not.  It’s true, go ahead and laugh, but here’s the scoop for those who don’t know me very well. I’m having a real love affair with coffee.  Shhhh… don’t tell my partner… I’d hate for him to be jealous.

Despite my clear addiction, bias and love for a good espresso, I think it’s obvious that whether you drink coffee or not it is one of those subjects that you are sure to see in your Twitter or Facebook feed on an almost daily basis.  I can’t possibly be the only one who sees those tweets and posts begging for a coffee at pretty much any hour of the day.  Better yet, I love the posts with photos of cups of coffee that make us coffee lovers either drool with envy or motivate us to get up and make one for ourselves. Then, there is that cute little symbol some of you use that looks like a coffee cup.  c(_)   Truth be told, I’m actually guilty of all the above and I am not ashamed to admit it.  I love coffee!  I love drinking it, reading about it, tweeting, posting and now blogging about it.  It’s official, if by chance there was any doubt left.

That said, last week, I created a new blog that had nothing to do with coffee… or so I thought:  http://atelierbellanda.wordpress.com  It features a ‘Virtual’  Art Atelier, which shares the before, during and after creation process of my Oil Paintings and One of a Kind Photographic Art.  ‘Live’ sessions will be planned so that you can follow, interact and share in the online Atelier experience.  After my many visits to museums and galleries around the world, I had always wished that I could have witnessed the artists at work. The concept of my new blog was born with this thought process in mind, and yes, it was born with an espresso in hand.

Since the start of my Atelier Bellanda Blog, I’ve been asked by a few people how on earth I find the time to write books, screenplays, run two blogs, paint, do photography, be a social media manager for a French companies/Chefs, play with my little ones, run them around to activities, all the while being in a good relationship with a wonderful man. In response, I often make jokes about it being the effects of drinking way too much coffee… that, and the help of my Pink Super Cape that I take out in real emergencies.  Recently, a Twitter friend wrote, “I’m loving the new Blog… Keep drinking the coffee!!!”

Since then, I’ve been giving coffee a lot of thought.  Have you ever wondered how many careers were made while under the ‘influence’ of coffee?  How many deals were made over coffee?  How many books, scripts or blog posts were written with a cup of coffee in hand?  How many of you have ever tried to meet business deadlines or studied late nights with a fresh pot of coffee or cup of espresso?  The, “Let’s meet for drinks,” has almost been replaced by the, “Let’s meet for coffee.”  Oh wait, maybe that’s just because I am getting old?  No need to answer that by the way.

Anyway, I looked back at where my “espresso addiction” began and immediately began to laugh.  Of all places, it began in Paris back in the summer of 1990.  Okay, my head just began to spin when I typed that date.  (*Presently taking a deep breath with the confirmation that I’m no longer a spring chicken.)  Yeah, moving right along… It seems so appropriate and somewhat strange that this magical city I now live in, is the place of origin of my very first espresso!

I had always been a tea lover and although I liked the smell of coffee, I hated the taste.  It wasn’t until I arrived in Paris during a one and a half month European ‘self-discovery’ backpacking experience that my tea drinking days came to a screeching halt.  On one  gorgeous sunny but cool Parisian morning I asked myself, what better place to people watch than an outdoor café?  I found a wonderful little café.  There was an available table with the morning sun shining on it, so walked over and sat down with my little writing journal.

To immerse myself into a culture as much as possible, I often traveled alone.  As a result, I was also on my own when it came to trying to communicate with my either non-existent or little foreign language vocabulary.   Timidly, I uttered, “Un thé, s’il vous plaît,” with what was probably one of the worst accents the waiter had ever heard.  He looked at me with that puzzled, razed eyebrow expression.  Seriously, how could I get that wrong?  It looked like such an easy thing to order.  I spoke a little louder and he immediately started asking me what seemed like endless questions of which I had no idea what he was saying.  Even though there was a cool gentle morning breeze, I began to sweat.  I kept saying, “Désolé” (sorry) because that was one of the few words I knew.

Eventually, the waiter held up his hand as if to say, wait a minute and walked away.  He came back with a box filled with a variety of tea bags, milk, lemon and sugar and looked at me with a smile and an okay, what do you want kind of expression.  I thought, my savior!  I smiled timidly, as I could feel myself blush with embarrassment.  Who would have thought ordering tea could be so complicated?

After making my tea and sugar choice, I sat back relieved that this chapter in my journey was over.  Just then, I noticed a man sit down at the next table.  He looked at the waiter and said, “Un café, s’il vous plaît.”  The waiter nodded his head, and brought him a café.  He placed it on the table and that was it!  There were no questions asked… no need for further discussion.  I think my mouth literally dropped open as I thought, I can do that!  Thus began the birth of my coffee obsession.

I must admit that at first I needed to add several sugars just to get it down, but hey, that’s the price to pay when one has the courage to travel alone, yet doesn’t have the courage to ask for tea.  Go figure!  Over the years, my tastes have refined and I have even left a bad cup of coffee untouched after a sip. Admittedly that doesn’t happen often because I hate to waste coffee, but it has indeed happened as I search for the perfect espresso.

Since Paris is the place that introduced me to coffee, I thought it only fair that I introduce you to one of my favorite coffee places in Paris.   STAY TUNED… a future blog post will do just that!

Until then, feel free to add your favorite coffee stories or locations across the globe in the comments section below.


UPDATE:  My favorite Paris Coffee Café Blog Post is almost done! The photos have been taken, and the article is in the making.

It’s no longer a joke! My overalls were not only illegal in Paris… they were illegal in all of France!

Bellanda ®

Bellanda ®

The last several months, I have joked that wearing my overalls in Paris might be considered illegal. Little did I know how right I was! Ever since that very first day I ventured out into the streets of Paris wearing overalls, there has been ongoing banter on Twitter and Facebook about the fact that this could be illegal.  There were some of you who gasped with laughter saying, “No, you didn’t?”  There were others who said things like, “Good for you!  Be yourself and be proud.” In my defense, and yes, I somehow think wearing overalls… more exactly wearing paint stained overalls in a city where people only wear jogging/sports attire if they are actually running, does indeed need defending.  My overalls have remained in my closet for many years, untouched, as I wondered why on earth I even bothered to bring them to Paris in the first place.  That is, until I began painting.  I was thrilled to have them, but never did I have any intention on wearing them in the streets of Paris. That said, I tend to get lost in my work.  Knowing this, I always set a little alarm in order to take a few moments to make myself look somewhat presentable before picking the little ones up at school.   When I write, work on my photography or social media managing jobs this task is pretty easy to do. However, on days when I get lost in my painting, things always seem to take a rather interesting turn.  Maybe I’m just a messy painter, but sometimes when I paint I wonder if there is more paint on me or on the canvas.  I literally throw myself into my work and disappear into the painting, letting go of all awareness as I get lost in the music, emotions, colors and the movement of my paintbrush.  It’s almost trance-like. That is until I hear my alarm go off telling me that I have exactly 40 minutes to be at the school when the doors open.  40 minutes sounds like a lot of time to get ready and walk just a few blocks, but have you ever tried cleaning off oil paint?  When you are up for some fun… give it a try.  Be sure to take photos!  I’d love to see how that all works out for you.  Oh, and no using any of those nasty easy oil paint removers that actually work but kill your skin.  Only use the natural ones so that you can truly have some fun. On most days, I manage to get cleaned up, throw off my overalls and slip into a pair of jeans, but one day in particular I was so deep inside my painting that when the alarm went off, I didn’t stop.  I kept telling myself to take a few more minutes.  It’s as if this painting posted below had taken me in and wasn’t letting me out.

RED RED  300

Bellanda ®

The next thing I knew I had 15 minutes to get to the school.  Changing was not an option, so I figured I would throw on a coat and hopefully no one would notice.  I quickly washed my face, and tried to get as much paint off of my hands as I could.  I threw on a little make-up to hide the redness that had formed on my face from all of the rubbing and ran out of the door.  I walked out of the door cringing at the fact that once again this American was going to stick out like a sore thumb, even though I knew very well in my heart that I would never truly fit in. I walked to the school at a rapid pace.  It felt almost criminal to be parading around Paris in overalls.  I imagined all of the French Mommies and Daddies looking with disdain at me and my half-hidden paint stained overalls.  There she is again, that American… has she no shame?  Then I thought, they probably won’t even notice.  I mean really, they have better things to do than to stare at me. Just then, an expat friend passed by on her bicycle. She waved and shouted, “Love the new punk look!”  She gave me a huge giggle, blew me a kiss and said, “Catch you later!” I was confused.  When did overalls become punk?  I quickly forgot the whole punk comment when I ran into another friend in front of the school.  I tried ever so casually to put my hands in my pocket and slide my coat closed, hoping this French friend wouldn’t notice. “The overalls are a nice touch,” he said with a wink and a huge smile. So much for no one noticing, I thought.  Then, the New Yorker in me said, who cares?  Let them look.   Maybe I’ll start a new trend.  That made me smile and I stood there proudly waiting for my little ones to come out of the school.  When they did, my six-year-old little princess ran over to me and screamed for all to hear, “Wow, Mommy, you went to the hairdresser today!  I love your new red highlights!  Can I get some, too?” Red highlights? What on earth was she talking about?  “Sweetie, I haven’t been to the hairdresser.” Just then, she reached up and pointed to my head, “Your hair has red in it… It looks funky Mommy!  Can I put some in my hair when we get home?” I was so worried about my overalls being “illegal” that I hadn’t noticed until I got home that I had left the house with streaks of red paint in my hair. One might actually say that it looked professionally done!  Well, I thought, at least I gave everyone something to look at, giggle at or downright laugh at.  That can’t be all bad now, can it? Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time I would be obliged to run to the school in my paint stained overalls, and I would continue to tweet and post on Facebook wondering if there was a law forbidding this in Paris.  Well, it seems that my fears turned out to be correct!  Not only was it illegal for a woman to wear pants in Paris, it was illegal to wear pants in the entire country of France!   I like to use humor on my blog posts, but this time I am being completely serious. According to an article I read on the BBC News website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21329269, the French government recently overturned a more than 200-year-old law stating that women were only allowed to wear pants or “dress like a man” if they got permission from the police beforehand.  I know you are shaking your heads in disbelief and I wish I was kidding, but it’s true.   The law was put into effect in the year 1800 and was modified in the years 1892 and 1909.  Only then did it begin allowing women to wear pants “if they were holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse.”  No, unfortunately I’m still not kidding. Somehow this law was forgotten… or at least I hope that is why it took until now for the government to overturn it.  According to the Minister of Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, “This order was aimed first of all at limiting the access of women to certain offices or occupations by preventing them from dressing in the manner of men.”  Apparently she felt that the “ban was no longer compatible with modern French values and laws.” Really?  I’m so glad that someone has figured that out!  Now, I can wear my overalls and not worry that I will be taken away by the police.  Then again, they only mention pants.  I’m guessing that my paint stained overalls might somehow still be illegal in Paris and if they’re not, perhaps they should be.  On second thought, life would be boring if we were all so perfect; wouldn’t it?   No need to answer that; I’m just going to pretend you agree with me. This old French law got me thinking.  I’ve heard of many strange laws in certain states in the United States that have been forgotten about and are no longer practiced but are still in the books.  Please feel free to jot down an archaic law that no one practices anymore, but are still officially laws where you live.  It might be fun to add them in the comments section below. As for me and my overalls… only time will tell.  I’m guessing that they will see the streets of Paris again.  If I promise to try to clean my “punk” hair before leaving the house, will you be so kind as to keep your laughing to a quiet minimum if you happen to bump into me while I’m wearing them?

Bellanda ®

Bellanda ®

UPDATE:  Thanks to one of my Twitter contacts, I have a wonderful example of a female artist who received permission to “cross-dress”  from the Paris Préfecture de Police in 1857. Thank you, Rosa, for paving the way for us women.

Here are the links that I received from my Twitter contact about Rosa Bonheur (Thank you, Tim) : http://invisiblebordeaux.blogspot.fr/2013/11/rosa-bonheur-world-famous-bordeaux-born.html http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Permission_de_travestissement_Rosa_Bonheur.jpg

Paris under a blanket of snow… wishes do come true!

It all began on Friday afternoon, when my dear man sent a photo of where he would be filming for the weekend.

Méribel, France - Photo Credit by my Man, Photo Editing by Bellanda. All rights reserved.

Méribel, France – Photo Credit by my Man, Photo Editing by Bellanda. All rights reserved.

My immediate response was total and utter awe.  The little ones, on the other hand, had different thoughts.

“Woooow!  How come we didn’t get to go with Daddy?”

“How come it never snows here?”

When my little guy looked up at me with wide eyes and said, “I wish we had snow…” there was such sadness in his voice that it broke my heart.  That very same night, the snow began to fall and I prayed that it would last until morning.  Thank goodness, some wishes do indeed come true!

Finally…  Paris is covered in a blanket of snow!  This is something that I, as well as my little ones, have been dreaming about for years.  I’m not talking about a few fluttering flakes that disappear an hour later or by morning’s light.  What I am talking about is the kind of snow that actually lasts, turning an already magical city into something truly breathtaking.

Paris snow signed

In the early morning, one couldn’t help but notice that everything was at a standstill.  The roads had not been cleared, causing the cars to move at a snail’s pace.  My daughter’s harp lesson was cancelled, of which we only learned upon arrival.  As we walked into the conservatory, the secretary saw us and said, “Didn’t you get the message?”

“What message?”

“I left you a message on your mobile around 11:10.  Your daughter’s teacher can’t make it in today.”

“Ummmmm… no, I didn’t get the message.  You do realize that the class starts at 11:30 and it takes over 30 minutes to get here… we were already in the metro by then.”

“Oh, sorry,” she said nonchalantly.

Efficiency, at it’s finest!   The New Yorker in me wanted to say so much more about how we dragged ourselves over there when of course my health is not 100%, paid the metro tickets, etc. but I decided shake it off and be cool.  I’ve actually become quite good at that since I moved here.  Besides, even if I did say something, I’ve learned it wouldn’t have changed anything and I don’t think she would have cared either way.

The kids were actually glad to hear that class was cancelled.  I’m sure they were imagining a day in the snow.  There was indeed snow a nice covering, however, I kept thinking of all of those incredible snow storms from New York where the snow had reached thigh high levels.  Now that was something!  I couldn’t help but give a little chuckle thinking about how all of my New York friends would be laughing if they could see how everything stopped after just a few inches of snow.  Then, I thought about it some more and smiled.  I actually liked the fact that everything had slowed down.  It was almost like something out of an old film… I loved the calmness of a usually busy place.

I looked at the little ones, one with sneakers the other in rain boots.  Us so called ‘Parisians’ aren’t used to getting snow… thus we’ve left all of our snow equipment at the in-laws who live in the mountains.  Rather than move things back and forth for no reason, it seemed more than reasonable to leave everything there. Result?

“Let’s go buy some snow boots so you can play in the snow!”  Their screams of joy could probably be heard throughout the city. We walked to the closest shop to buy boots for the little ones.

As we walked, I kept telling the little ones to be careful where they were stepping so as not to get their sneakers too wet or snow in their boots.  Have you ever tried saying something like that to little ones who’ve rarely seen snow?  Don’t bother; it’s pointless and you can’t really blame them.  Even I wanted to run and jump in the snow.

When we arrived at the shoe store, it was packed!  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one buying boots for their little ones.   A sales woman asked what size the children were, so I told her the size we had purchased just a few months earlier.  She tried that size on their feet, and couldn’t get their foot into the shoe.  She tried the next size up and made a huge frustrated sigh.  Then, she looked at me as if I was crazy.  She picked up their old shoes to verify that I had indeed told her the right size and sighed again.  Oh my, aren’t we in a good mood?  You’d think she would be happy with all of the business they were getting, but apparently she was not the happy camper, so to speak.

As the sales girl kept trying on bigger and bigger sizes she said, “Well, it’s normal they can’t get their feet into the shoes! Their socks are soaking wet!”

I kind of chuckled, thinking that I was no longer up for that Mother of the Year award.  At the same time, if I had snow boots I wouldn’t be there.  What did she think would happen when kids walk in sneakers in the snow?  I looked at the owner and asked if she sold socks.  She was a lot nicer and said, ” We don’t sell socks. I do, however, have a box of new socks in the back for such occasions.  I’ll give them to you, free of charge.”  Perhaps this was a peace-offering after witnessing her obnoxious sales woman?  I thanked her for her kindness.

When my son handed me his wet socks, I had another little giggle.  Oh yeah, definitely out of the running for Mother of the Year!  They were indeed soaking wet… had I squeezed water would have gone pouring down!

After a little more time, both children finally found boots they liked.  Actually, they took the first pair that fit them.  Personally, I think they would have loved just about any boot in any color, size, shape and form since it meant going out to play in the snow.  They walked out of the store with huge smiles.

Boots Princess   little guy boots

We headed straight to the park, for some fun in the snow, followed by hot chocolate and crêpes.  Then, we played a few more hours in the snow before heading back home.

What a truly lovely Saturday in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it’s even more beautiful when covered in a blanket of snow.

New Year’s dinner should be something special, right? However, French chef… I am not!

Feature photo 16 9 New Year’s Dinner3

All photos by Bellanda ®

As pathetic as it might seem, my New York mentality of ‘I’ll just grab something/deliver something’ meant that I had absolutely no idea how to cook until I came to France.  When I say I couldn’t cook, I’m not exaggerating.  Just about the only thing I could make is pasta that someone could actually use as wallpaper paste.  This is probably a crime in France, so let’s hope this blog post doesn’t go ‘viral’ or I might get in some real trouble!

Shortly after arriving in France, I was cooking with a friend and started cutting up mushrooms.  He looked at me with big eyes and tried ever so sweetly to say, “Ummmm… maybe it would be better if you peel them first.”

Peel mushrooms?  Oh my!  Some people actually peel mushrooms?  Apparently, yes, and while we are on the subject they peel tomatoes too!  This was the beginning of my rude awakening.  Thank goodness I made a lot of really great friends when I arrived.  Most of them were younger than I, but all of them actually knew how to cook and didn’t mind helping out the poor American who gave Americans a bad name.  Sorry, everyone!

A little more than 10 years later, I have made a lot of progress.  I’ve managed to make a traditional Quiche Lorraine at the flip of a hat, and have even made a truly delicious Ratatouille from vegetables I picked with the family on a farm nearby Paris.  Admittedly, it took me almost four hours to make my mother-in-law’s secret recipe (also not an exaggeration, in case you were wondering).

I stood… and stood… and stood some more while cutting and cooking to her exact precisions.  As I did this, I heard myself say aloud, “Love is… making Ratatouille for your sweet French man,” and then let out a little giggle.  Words escaped my lips, yet again, “If he ever wondered how much I love him, he will know now!”  My smile became wide as I looked around at the kitchen and thought, if only my mother could see me now!  My giggle turned to a laugh.

Yes, I talk to myself at times, especially when cooking but since my blog is G rated I’ll leave out some of the words that might have slipped out while I burned and cut myself.  Although I do indeed love my French man, and the Ratatouille was as he put it, “even better than my Mom’s,” once was enough for me!  Oh, and no, my mother-in-law doesn’t speak nor read English so I took the liberty of including that last line.

My sweet French man has also taught me a trick or two, so today I can say I do the ‘everyday’ kind of cooking.  No, I’m definitely not patting myself on the back when I say that.  When we want something more gourmet or when we invite people over I become completely unglued with panic at the thought of cooking for French people.  As a result, I leave all of the serious cooking to my man!  He has this fearless and admirable quality of trying out new recipes for guests that puts me in a tizzy. I mean really, what if it doesn’t come out right?

He just looks at me with a smile in his nonchalant French way, and says, “Don’t worry.  Everything’s gonna be alright.” Personally, I think he got that expression from the song, but that is beside the point.  Anyway, he is always right!  Although the kitchen looks like a bomb has gone off when he finishes, what comes out is always delicious!  That’s why I didn’t hesitate when he offered to cook New Year’s dinner at my in-laws when we realized that nothing special had been planned.

My sweet man searched the internet and came up with yet another new recipe.   This time he found one from a website called 750 Grammes.  It looked absolutely delicious!  In French it is called, Turbot croustillant aux champignons, écume de champagne.  Roughly translated, it means crispy mushroom turbot with champagne sauce… somehow it sounds better in French.  Oh, and most importantly… they make no mention of the secret ingredient in the Recipe Name!

When my sweet man’s mother looked at the recipe, she kept saying, “Are you sure you want to make this?  It sounds really complicated.  Why don’t we just make something simple?”

Of course I supported him because I knew of his culinary talents. Although there were quite a few steps it didn’t look that difficult… even for my standards.  It would be the perfect way to ring in the New Year!

We woke up early on the morning of the 31st and made a list of all of the ingredients.  I know, there is nothing like last-minute shopping, but to be honest we are rather used to this kind of thing. No problem, or so we thought!  My in-laws live in a small village, in the mountains of the south of France and well, Paris it’s not!

“Oh, you don’t have a fish market nearby?”

“No, you’ll have to go to a supermarket, about 40 minutes away.”

We looked at each other.  I had panic in my eyes, yet in his he had somehow managed to keep his cool French go with the swing of things.  I knew they had a fish department in that supermarket, but we’ve never bought fish there.  Go ahead; don’t be afraid to say it.  Apparently, we’ve become spoiled ‘Parisians’ who have not one but two markets around the corner. They are open 3 times a week, so this is where we pretty much purchase all of our fish, meats and vegetables.

My sweet man and his Dad decided to do the groceries (Yes, I know how lucky I am).  When they came home he looked at me, and for the first time, I saw a fleeting glimmer of panic that quickly turned back to, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”

He opened the bags and this is what I saw!

Fish      CRAB

“What are we supposed to do with that?  You didn’t ask them to fillet and clean everything? ”

“Of course, but they said they don’t do that there.”

I don’t think my eyes could have gotten any bigger.  My sweet man laughed at me and told me that the lady in the fish department told him it would be easy to do.  If we didn’t have to drive 40 minutes each way, I would have gotten in the car to tell her how just how wrong she was.

At around 9:00 PM our 7-year-old came into the kitchen and said, “I’m hungry.  Is dinner almost ready?”  I looked at my poor sweet man trying to pull the skin off of the fish, then looked at my son and offered to make him a little sandwich to help him wait till dinner was ready.  Of course our daughter followed, eating her own little sandwich.

I kept looking at the clock.  With each click of the clock I began to feel more and more anxious. I started to notice that the cool relaxed feeling in the kitchen had become more like a well oiled machine.  There was an increasing feeling of stress developing.  Everyone was moving in all directions, busily doing something… and then there was me.  I would try to help, but I’m not sure I was really much of a help at all.  To make matters worse, every now and then I would say, “Wait, could I take a picture of that before you continue?”  Sometimes I had to take 2-3 photos, moving the plate around to get the right angle.  Terrible I know, but yes, I dared to do that!

20121231_221009       20121231_22225920121231_224845

I’m new at all of this blogging stuff, but have started to realize it is amazing what one will do for a blog post!  I would have loved to take more pictures, but as time kept ticking, the room became a more and more active and I thought it wise to stop asking them to let me shoot a photo. I mean really, they were all walking around with knives!  I’m not that crazy… even for a blog!

We were so busy rushing to eat this delicious meal before midnight that we didn’t take a photo of the finished, beautifully decorated dish.  By the time we finally sat down for dinner, it was around 11 PM.  The little ones thought this was the coolest day ever, “Can’t believe we get to stay up so late!”

Under the conditions of being in a remote village, and the fact that we are far from knowledgeable on how to clean fish,  the preparation for this meal took so much longer to prepare than to eat.  That said we are already looking forward to making it again… but ONLY in Paris and ONLY on market day!  😉   It was truly delicious and we highly recommend it.

A great big thank you to my very sweet man for not giving up on making us an absolutely delicious and special New Year’s dinner, and to 750 Grammes  http://www.750g.com  for such a delicious recipe.

*** For those who would like to check out the video for the recipe and see the finished product, here is the link.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCDKmAg8UTc

Wishing you all a wonderful 2013… may all of your personal and professional dreams come true.  I look forward to continuing my blogging journey with you.

Christmas in France… Looks like we all needed to adapt!

Christmas... Might take some getting used to for us expats.

All photos by Bellanda ®

Yet, another Christmas spent at my in-laws in the mountains of the south of France.  I know, poor little me… I can feel the lack of sympathy pouring in.  Go ahead and hate me if you like, but I haven’t spent Christmas at home in the United States with my family and our holiday traditions since our daughter was 8 months old.  To give you an idea of how long that has been, she will be turning 7 in April.  Yes, I think my eyes just popped out as I looked at that number.  It seems almost impossible to imagine, yet oh so true.

My first year here, I naively asked what kind of traditions my sweet French man’s family follow… and well, to my surprise, everyone looked at me as if I had three heads.  I told them about some of our traditions, such as our foods, desserts and Christmas Caroling.  Their eyes opened wide, as I talked about that last one and they burst out laughing.

“Nooooo!  Imagine, knocking on the neighbor’s door to sing?!?  They would call the men in white jackets to take you away.”

My sister-in-law put her hand to her ear as if she were holding a telephone and said, “Hello Doctor!?!”  Tears of laughter rolled down everyone’s faces as they imagined someone doing that.

“They invite you inside their houses for a drink after?!?  That is truly crazy!”  Their laughter only became stronger.

At that moment, I realized, Christmas was never going to be like in the United States and although their laughter made me laugh, I must admit that my first Christmas with them left me feeling a little displaced rather than enamored.

Each year since, my sweet man and I have tried to introduce some holiday spirit and traditions into their household.  We make various cookies and cakes together while we pump Christmas music throughout the house.  Progress has indeed been made and they have adapted wonderfully. However, even though I would love to see the faces of their neighbors, I don’t think they will ever be ready to go Christmas Caroling.

Traditional Milk & Cookies for Santa

Traditional Milk & Cookies for Santa

Holiday Cakes & CookiesWith Not so Traditional Colors

Holiday Cakes & Cookies
With Not so Traditional Colors


Last Christmas, I thought I struck gold when my mother-in-law asked me to make a turkey for the Christmas meal because she loved the one I made on Thanksgiving.  Yes, when I think of turkey, I think Thanksgiving, but hey, this was one of the first compliments I had ever gotten on my cooking from her, so of course I jumped at the chance!  I asked her to buy the turkey for me since we would be arriving from Paris the day before Christmas. She agreed happily, and of course I was thrilled. She was actually going to trust me to cook our Christmas meal!  Had we found some kind of common ground?  Now that would be a nice Christmas present!

Christmas morning arrived, and after the little ones opened their gifts, I asked my Mother-in-law to tell me where the turkey was so I could start preparing it.  When she walked into the kitchen with the “turkey” I just sat and stared at it for a few moments. ”Is this a turkey?”

“It’s the same thing as a turkey, so don’t worry.”

“Ummmm… it doesn’t look like a turkey.”

“Don’t worry, it’s the same thing.”

Same thing?  What does that even mean?  It is or isn’t a turkey, right?  Even though I knew this was unlike any turkey I had ever seen, I tried to prepare it the same way I do my turkeys.  As it was cooking, I couldn’t help but notice a foul odor.  I sniffed around and was horrified as that odor seemed to be coming from the oven.  I opened the oven door to verify, and yes my fears were confirmed.  That horrible smell was coming from the oven!

Trying to remain calm, I asked once again, “Ummmm… are you sure it is turkey?  It doesn’t smell like one.”
“Yes, stop worrying… it’s just like a turkey.”  She was so relaxed, which made me feel even more ridiculous for asking, yet again.  I thought to myself, okay, just go with the French flow of things, and chill out.

I made gravy with drippings from the so-called “turkey” and then tasted the gravy.  I nearly fell on the floor in horror.  It was the worst thing I had ever tasted!  Then, I tried the meat and it was even worse!  I have made several perfectly delicious turkeys using my Mom’s recipe, so I couldn’t figure out what went wrong.  There was no way I was eating this thing, let alone feeding it to my kids!

As we sat around the table, I looked at the “turkey.”  My sweet man sliced it and we both looked at each other.  I couldn’t contain myself any longer.  “There is nooooo waaaaay that this is a turkey!  What on earth is this?”

Once again I got, “It’s the same thing,” with an added, “Why do you keep asking?!”  She spoke to me as if I didn’t know what a turkey was.  (For goodness’ sake! Those of you who have read my “Pardoning Tom the Turkey for Thanksgiving in Paris” blog post, understand just how well I know what a turkey is!)

Perhaps I needed to be clearer, I thought. “What is the French name of this animal?”

After getting out our smart phones, my Sweet man and I Googled the name… and came up with, “Castrated Rooster.”

The words came out of my mouth before I could stop them, “Okay, so not only was this poor animal killed for us to eat, it was castrated first??? That is just WRONG.”  Everyone burst out laughing!  Even I had to admit, that this was funny and joined them in the laughter.

I guess the polite name for this bird is actually Capon… but Capons are definitely NOT turkeys, so my advice to you is to NEVER EVER try to cook them as if they are.  Yuck!  The kids and I, as well as my sweet man, ate a Christmas meal of vegetables… while my mouth watered for my Mom’s traditional Christmas lasagna appetizer, prime rib main course dinner with mashed potatoes and other vegetables, followed by an array desserts: cookies shaped like Christmas trees, Grandma’s Italian cookies, Mom’s delicious ambrosia, homemade pies, cakes and of course eggnog.

This year I thought, Christmas dinner would definitely be better… I mean really, last year’s Christmas was not hard to beat.  Then, I got a phone call from my Mother-in-law.  “Would you make a turkey this year?” I thought she was joking and laughed.

“No, really, I’d love for you to make a turkey this year.”

Seriously, had she forgotten last year’s fiasco?  “Okay, I have absolutely no problem with making a turkey if it is REAL turkey, however, if you bring me a capon, there is no way I am cooking it.”

Then the words came out of my mouth that I never thought I would ever say.  “Why don’t we just have escargot as an appetizer and quail or rabbit for our main course?”  What has come over me, I thought?  I never would have said this 10 years ago… and then I realized that apparently, after all of these years, I too have adapted!

We ended up eating escargot and quail this year… a far cry from my Mom’s traditional meal, but ooooh so delicious!  Christmas is definitely not the same, and yes I still feel displaced during the holiday season.  I miss my family, as well as our traditions, but I have my very sweet French man by my side as well as our two wonderful children and for that I am blessed.  Although I am never unhappy in their presence, I am thinking that perhaps next year a Christmas trip to the United States might be in order.