Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! Of course, as I've previously mentioned,  we celebrated Halloween this past weekend with friends who came from all over France for our Halloween party/crémaillère/fête de retour.

We had an incredible weekend and it was great seeing all of our friends, most of whom we hadn't seen in 2 years. We also had a very full house with 10 people staying here, plus Rasteau of course.  I thought the logistics would be quite complicated, but in the end everything went smoothly. Of course,  don't ask Rasteau's opinion on that. He definitely did not enjoy having so much company and spent most of the weekend outside,  afraid to enter the house to even eat, or cowering in our bedroom.

Most of our friends arrived on Friday by train, plane and car, but a few arrived Thursday night and pretty much everyone left on Sunday afternoon, except one person who had a flight very early Monday morning.  Originally Friday night we had been thinking about going out to dinner in Bordeaux, but in the end everyone was worn out from travelling so we just ordered pizza, drank some wine and hung out at our house, chatting and catching up until the wee hours of the night.  Saturday I spent the day in the kitchen (as well as part of Thursday night and Friday night) and Lionel took some people out to visit St. Emilion and to taste wine while another group drove out to Arcachon to see the ocean.  About half our friends also had to make stops at the costume store near our house because they hadn't found costumes yet.

Saturday night came and everyone put their costumes on, we threw up the decorations (spiderwebs, candles, Halloween garlands, skeletons, spiders, etc), our friends who live in Bordeaux arrived, I brought out the spread and we partied and talked, listened to music, played Guitar Hero, did some karaoke and Lionel and our friend Alex played some music on the (real) guitar.  The costumes were great and people put in a lot more effort than a few years ago.  We had everything - a few witches, a devil (me), a lizard (Lionel), a sumo wrestler, a couple of 70's disco costumes, a soccer player, Fidel Castro, a flapper and a vampire.  Not too bad for a bunch of Frenchies celebrating Halloween for only the second time in their lives.

Luckily all of the food I made was eaten and I only had one kitchen disaster (a recipe for black bean dip that I had made before in the US with no problems but this time it just didn't want to work...don't know if it was my food processor or what but I had to throw it out).  In the end I ended up serving a bunch of American staple party foods...buffalo chicken dip colored green (a favorite of all our French friends and a constant request), guacamole, a face-shaped jalapeno-bacon cheese ball, knacki mummies (pigs in a blanket made to look like mummies), pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin bread, jalapeno popper "witches fingers", spinach artichoke dip in a bread coffin with a "rotting corpse" inside and "bleeding" baked brie (I choose this recipe specifically thinking that French people would have no problem with it, but in the end everyone was very freaked out by the idea of eating brie baked in pastry with jam...until they tasted it and then it disappeared quite quickly).  I also made a vodka based punch with 2 bottles of vodka which was unfortunately gone by midnight.  Luckily we had plenty of other drink options as well.  Though afterwards, while recovering on Sunday, I was thinking about all of the alcohol that had been consumed over the weekend, and I must admit I'm actually kind of embarrassed by the insane amount of alcohol that we drank in such a short amount of's actually quite disgusting really.  And lugging all of those empty bottles down to the glass recycling bin should be a lot of fun.  So, without further ado, some photos of our Halloween party:

the entire group squeezing into our dining room for a group shot relatively early in the night 
my punch...served in a cauldron full of frozen hands, eyeballs and skeleton parts...tasted great but from the recipe I thought it would be much more red
the beginnings of the spread, but this is only about half of the food I served
flayed face cheese ball...the picture just doesn't do it justice
vomiting pumpkins...I really should have taken a video when I was filling them with dips and they were "vomiting"
my friend Julie and I and some of our decorations in the background
digging in
enjoying the Halloween festivities 
The party ended up being such a success again this year that I've already got requests for a repeat next year.  I'm finally starting to convince the Frenchies that Halloween really is a great holiday.  Of course, it doesn't take much to convince me, so I'm thinking I might just make this a yearly tradition!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Portes ouvertes en Graves

On Saturday we were invited to join Den Nation, her husband, her sister and her sister's boyfriend to check out Les Portes Ouvertes en Graves, an open house weekend in les Graves, a wine-producing region south of Bordeaux.  Most of the châteaux in the region were open for visits and tours of their chais (wine storehouses) as well as free wine tastings of a selection of the wines they produce.  And we were very lucky with the weather and Saturday ended up being an absolutely gorgeous day.

We met up with them in the early afternoon and visited three different châteaux in the northern part of the AOC Graves.  First stop was Château de Portets where their American neighbor is Maître de Chais.  She was kind enough to give us an English language tour as some people in our group didn't speak French, and then it was off to the tasting complete with magic tricks based on the château's wines.

Les chais at the Château de Portets
Château de Portets
Our next stop was the Château de Castres, which ended up being the château that impressed us the most.  The grounds and structures were beautiful and the wine was excellent.  Our group walked away with quite a few bottles in the end.  I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was too busy enjoying their wines! 
the vineyards in front of the Château de Castres
wine tanks at the Château de Castres
Château de Castres
The last château we visited was Château la Perrucade, a much smaller operation.  Unfortunately, they didn't offer any tours, just a wine tasting, and as a result I didn't take any pictures.  But they had some very interesting wines that were very different from what we had tasted at the other châteaux.
After all that wine tasting we decided to end the day by visiting the nearby Château de la Brède, not a wine château this time, but a 14th-century château where Montesquieu was born.  Unfortunately we arrived too late to visit the interior, but we were able to visit the park.  The château is absolutely beautiful and very interesting architecturally.  It's also surrounded by water which makes for some incredible photographs.
Château de la Brède and the grounds
visiting the château
Château de la Brède
Understandably, after all the wine-tasting and château-visiting we were all quite hungry so Lionel and I invited everyone over to our house for a barbeque (and more wine, naturally!).  The perfect end to a perfect day!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My dream cuisine!!!

After nearly two months of renovations, stress, shopping and hard work our kitchen is finally complete and fully operating!  I'm pretty sure I've already written about it enough (and bored my blog readers to death in the process) so, without further ado, here are some pictures of our beautiful new red kitchen!

As you can imagine I am more than thrilled to finally have a completed kitchen and I'm looking forward to doing a lot of cooking in normal (non-camping-like) conditions.  And now that the kitchen is finally done I feel like I can move on with my life and start focusing on other things, starting with getting the rest of the house ready for all of the company we will be having next weekend and all of the preparations for our Halloween party.  And you, my dear readers, will finally get to read posts about something other than kitchen renovations! 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Je cherche the bright side

As you may have guessed, based on the fact that the name of this post has nothing to do with my kitchen or renovations, the kitchen still isn't finished. And no, I really don't want to talk/write about it.  It just makes me too angry and sends my stress level through the roof.

So today, in a desperate attempt to try to control my stress, I've decided to try to look at the bright side and post about some good things (no matter how insignificant) that are happening chez moi:

1.  Though the kitchen still isn't done, it is at least FINALLY finished to the point where I can not only use it, but also store all of my kitchen stuff and food in the cabinets!  And sometime this week I will finally be able to move my refrigerator into the kitchen as well (because I'm moving it in there this week whether or not my father-in-law has finished what he wanted to do in that corner and he'll just have to deal with it)!  Soon I won't have to go into the freezing cold garage in order to be able to cook a meal!!!  The fact that I finally have kitchen cabinets also means I've been doing an insane amount of shopping for all the kitchen gear I haven't been able to buy over the past few months because I didn't have anywhere to put it.  However, after purchasing new pots and pans, various storage accessories, wine glasses, serving dishes, kitchen gadgets, cutting boards, a fancy new food processor, baking dishes and pans, and a dishwasher (!!!), I must admit my bank account is feeling a bit stressed as well.  But talk about retail therapy!

2.  I got a package in the mail from my parents yesterday containing all the American foodstuffs I will need to get through the holiday season, covering Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas!  Thanks mom and dad!

3.  I also got another package this week containing a very exciting purchase I made:

I'm so excited to FINALLY have a slow cooker in France, and not just any slow cooker but a Crock Pot brand slow cooker!  After hearing horror stories about the various brands of slow cookers that could be found in France I got worried that I would never be able to have a slow cooker here.  And I just love them because they make it so easy to make a warm and delicious home-cooked meal.  So I started digging around on the internet and I finally found the site that sells a variety of different Crock Pots and ships them to France.  It certainly shipped from the UK as everything is in English, but it comes with your choice of a UK plug or European plug.  It certainly cost a lot more than what it would have in the US (60 euros for the 6.5 liter slow cooker!), but at least shipping was only 5 euros.  I can't wait to try it out! 
4.  Besides working on the kitchen and dealing with the nearly constant stress of my in-laws' less-than-productive presence, I've been very busy getting ready for Halloween.  At the beginning of September our only good friend here in Bordeaux, Matthew (who moved here from Paris shortly after we left for the US), asked me if I wouldn't mind hosting another Halloween party like the one I threw back in 2010 (and which, looking back through my blog archives, I apparently never posted about).  Apparently Lionel's friends were all very impressed by that party and they still talk about it and Matthew's wife has always regretted the fact that she missed that party.  So Matthew wanted to see if I would be up for throwing another one and trying to get all of our friends to come in from across the country as a Halloween party/retrouvailles.  I immediately agreed because, well, I love Halloween, I love throwing Halloween parties and I love trying to come up with all kinds of Halloween-themed foods and drinks.  Not to mention the fact that Lionel and I haven't seen his friends in two years and I know he's pretty bummed that we haven't had the time or the money to travel all over France and visit them.  I figured we could try to guilt them all into coming by not only making it a sort of fête de retour  and Halloween party but also making it our crémaillère.  Lionel was very pessimistic and kept insisting that no one would come, but in the end everyone RSVPed yes and they've all arranged their various forms of travel and will be descending on Bordeaux in a week and a half!  There will be 8 additional people staying in our house for the weekend and one couple decided to get a hotel nearby.  So we've been busy trying to figure out all the logistics, getting sleeping arrangements sorted out, shopping for Halloween costumes and decorations and preparing the menu.  We are both really looking forward to it and it's pretty much the only real bright spot in what has been an otherwise very stressful and dull autumn.
So all in all, I guess things could be much, much worse and I'm looking forward to posting pictures of my kitchen soon.  And I gotta admit, writing this blog post has definitely helped bring my stress level down a bit!