Saturday, February 10, 2018

Adventures in French Cooking

Galette Complete 
Before moving to France, I'd been telling people that  I was excited about 3 things (besides the obvious of finally getting to be with Cristian daily)- wine, cheese, and baguettes, in no particular order.  My kitchen, once I was settled in, had much the same ingredients as before, except now with the addition of a rotating cast of cheeses, a couple of bottles of wine always on hand, and a few times a week a crunchy fresh baguette.  But slowly, surely, some more changes started to sneak in.

Poulet rôti épicé and Galettes de pomme de terre 
It all started with the artichoke.  I kept seeing them at the grocery store, looking for al the world like a normal vegetable nestled between the broccoli and the carrots.  Except, I was pretty sure I'd never eaten one other than as artichoke hearts from a jar.  On a whim, I picked one up and decided I would learn how to cook it.  As I paged through the French recipe book my Aunt gave me at my shower, I realized that this was maybe a bit more complicated than your average veggie, but finally figured something out and found the end result surprisingly satisfying.

Lapin a la moutarde
Next were the endives.  These intriguing, lettuce like veggies started appearing at the market in late fall and everyone seemed to be buying them.  I just had to know what made them special, so I did some digging and found a French cooking blog, in English, with an endive recipe.  Endives au gratin was added to our dinner menu for the week and I was hooked.

Now it's my newest hobby- experimenting with French cooking.  Sometimes the recipes are fast and simple like galette complete- a slice of ham, some shredded cheese, and an egg on store bought crepes. Others are more complex like lapin a la moutarde (rabbit in mustard sauce).  We've found some definite winners (mascarpone stuffed chicken breasts, anyone?) and some things we'll probably never repeat (celeriac- no matter how you slice it, dice it, and cook it, I'm just not a fan of this strange gnarly root vegetable), but I've really enjoyed expanding my culinary repertoire.  Now, the question is, what to put on the menu for next week, and who's coming over for dinner?

Tarte fine 

Crème de chou-fleur

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Oh Christmas Tree!

As December inched nearer I had one overwhelming question- where could I buy a Christmas tree in France?

Out to do grocery shopping on one of the first days in December, I discovered an unexpected answer to my question: At the grocery store!  There they were, from baby trees to full ceiling height beauties, in a little shack built specially for them, nestled in amongst the carrots and onions.

I wanted to get one right then and there, but Cristian convinced me that walking home with all our groceries and a tree would be a little more than we could manage, so I reluctantly agreed to wait. 

Finally the day rolled around to choose a tree. It's not quite as exciting when they're already packaged in net bags and there's no comparing to be done, but it does make it a whole lot faster.  We carried it home across town, Cristian balancing the tree over his shoulder, and me hefting the half log with a hole drilled in it, its complimentary tree stand, on my hip. 

Despite my concern at the lack of water with a log instead of the tree stands I grew up with, our tree has held up just fine all season long.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Draw near

Once, a perfect snowflake caught on mittened hands. Breath held to stop its melting. Wonder. Marvel. Joy.

I find myself caught off guard by  beauty this time of year- my town transformed by twinkling lights, the smell of cloves and ginger, the words to a carol, ringing truer than ever.

And the wonder invites me to be still.  To come close and look carefully. To let awe and joy sink into my soul until I've memorized the moment.

And in a time where faith and hope can be buried under the grey contradictions life brings, I'm glad for these little moments of beauty, reminding me that this heart, this quiet, awestruck, admiration of beauty, is the heart I should bring to the center of Christmas, the heart that Mary had.

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:19

So this Christmas, I'm letting cookies and lights and snowflakes remind me what faith can feel like.  I want to draw near to the one in the manger, wonder at the Word become flesh, marvel at the beauty of God with us.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The new ordinary

My windows have shutters.  Not the ornamental kinds I'm used to on American houses, but real, functioning wooden shutters.  I open them each morning, shuffling out in slippers stuck into sandals, or, on wet and cold days, just reaching out the window as far as I can, trying to push the shutter flat against the wall.  When I do go outside, the latches still make me smile, diminutive soldiers who hold our shutters open all day long.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy Anniversary to me

July third- a day for looking back, and looking ahead.  For the past 8 years, I've chosen this day, the one I originally left the States, to reflect on this international journey I've been taking.

And it seems even more appropriate than usual to pause and reflect, since this July 3rd finds me on the threshold- today, more than any year before, I'm poised for a momentous life change.   I'm excited and impatient to start my new life, alongside my new husband, in a new country (and to learn yet another new language).  I'm counting down the moments: forty eight more days until I marry my best friend.

But at the same time, I am deeply thankful for my experiences here the past year, and finding the leaving bitter sweet. I'm treasuring the moments: twelve more days in this country I've called home for the past 2 years.

This has been such a fulfilling year: I got engaged, saw work projects more successful than I could have imagined, finally developed a sense of community in Pana, deepening friendships and making new friends.  I hosted Thanksgiving and Easter dinner here in Pana, spent Christmas in Romania with Cristian and my soon to be in-laws, visited Tikal with a friend, went camping with family back home, and spent 2 months with my Aunt and Uncle as neighbors.

As I look forward to the next year, I'm full of anticipation.  I imagine next July will find us in France, and I hope it finds me gainfully employed and chattering away in French.  But whatever I'm doing, and wherever I happen to be next July, I expect to have grown in new ways, and I expect to be happy.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Teaching French politics in Guatemala

A move to France just over the horizon, I'd clicked on a link about French presidential elections- I should know what's going on there, after all.  After wading through an article with references to people I'd never heard of who belonged to parties I wasn't familiar with, I felt pretty much as clueless as before.

And that's when it hit me- this would be a perfect article to use with staff.  I'd been wanting to do a professional development session modeling how we, as teachers, can make difficult text easier for students to comprehend by pre-teaching key concepts and aiding them in strategy use.

A few weeks later, we all clustered around our conference table as I passed out the article, letting them struggle through it on their own, just as I had, to start.  I asked them to rate their own comprehension, which was low, just as I'd intended.

And that's when things got fun.  I pulled out my photos of the 5 key candidates and arranged them on the board in a spectrum from left to right. I gave a mini intro to French elections, and then outlined the shared reading process we would do, filling out a concept map as they discussed with a partner.  There was a buzz of conversation all through the room, people laughing about Hamon (calling him jamón which is the Spanish word for ham) and slowly picking out the connections between candidates and how they benefited and disadvantaged one another.

Apologies to anyone who actually knows French politics
for any over-simplifications or outright errors
I walked between partners, helping them pick out key phrases in the article to answer questions, and loved seeing as light bulbs went off, and people summarized connections in their own words.  We wrapped up rating comprehension levels again, and, just as I'd hoped, this time almost everyone gave themselves a substantially higher score.  They'd seen the hard work that can go into both comprehension, and creating the right supports to aid comprehension.

It wasn't really my intention to teach French politics, just to use it as a platform for teaching how to support comprehension, but it struck me as funny, a room full of Guatemalans, heads bowed over their article, taking the hard work of comprehending French presidential elections seriously.  And then, to my delight a few days later, one of my coworkers mentioned "we were talking about a corrupt politician here in Guatemala who paid his family for work they didn't do and I thought, 'just like Fillon in France."  Hopefully they understood the subtext, but at the very least, my comprehension activity worked.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Endings and Beginnings

My central work project all last year revolved around updating Child Aid's teacher training curriculum.  I observed in our workshops and Guatemalan classrooms to see what we were doing well and what needs teachers still had.  I lead staff professional development sessions to teach new concepts and teaching methods that I wanted to try implementing in workshops.  And I spent a really lot of hours staring at my computer screen trying to figure out how to make all the moving pieces fit together in a logical way.

In October, I finally had it "done", or so I thought, and spent the next 7 weeks modeling and discussing changes with our leadership team.  Their feedback of course lead to another round of revisions and I was finally ready to share the nearly final product with our entire staff in December.  Having them work in small groups to discuss content and map changes between the old and new curriculum was beyond rewarding.  Then, I left for Christmas vacation, trusting my curriculum to the hands of a graphic designer and hoping it would be ready when I got back.

January rolled around, workshops were just around the corner and suddenly we had a crisis- the graphic designer we'd been working with left without telling us, and there were still 30 pages that needed to be finalized.  One of my amazing coworkers took over from there, stopping by the office in person and making sure we got it done on time.  And finally, just in time to get them out to workshops, we got the finished product from the copy shop.  To say I'm delighted would be an understatement. 
Reading for Life, Child Aid's four-year teacher training curriculum,
being used by over 600 teachers in nearly 70 schools. I feel pretty proud of my work :)

So, one project ended, and now we start a new phase- rolling out the curriculum for use by our teacher trainers and the teachers we work with. I'm so excited!