Texans in Tahiti

085 Toatea lookout

I’ve been longing for French Polynesia. Palm trees, exotic fish, gentle breezes and sailing a catamaran while my fingertips trail in the clear blue seas…. We spent our honeymoon there, enjoying the warm waters and savoring the food and culture that was such a beautiful mix of Polynesian and French. One of many images stuck in my head: a local, decorated with tattoos and jagged scars (many locals sported these: rough encounters with the coral reefs and, sometimes, sharks), riding a scooter down a muddy back road with a half dozen baguettes jutting out from a sling on his back. Our vacation there was every bit as idyllic as every cliché about Tahiti professes it will be.

Tahitian bottle opener. Check out the scars on his arm!

Tahitian bottle opener. Check out the scars on his arm!

Except for the Texans.

I’ve been to Texas a few times and I’ve found the locals gregarious and welcoming. But for some reason, we kept running into the worst of their lot on our trip. It started with a group on a snorkeling trip in Moorea: two couples, both from Texas, were loudly comparing the cost of their tickets, and their hotel rooms, and how much they’d paid for their excursions, and then how much their homes cost in Texas. Meanwhile, the guide asked for a show of hands for who spoke French and who spoke English. The group was evenly divided, so he said he would explain everything first in French, then in English. As he began his first French explanation, the Texans broke from their money talk to stare at him, then one of them shouted: “ENGLISH! We speak ENGLISH!”

Later, on Bora Bora, our resort was hosting a large group from Texas and while we and every other honeymooning couple on the planet tried to enjoy our romantic tiki torch-lit dinners on the sand, the table of 15 from Texas shouted and guffawed and threw bread from one end of the table to the other, prompting the staff to ask them more than once to calm down.

the Blue Pineapple on Moorea, where we first tasted poisson cru

the Blue Pineapple on Moorea, where we first tasted poisson cru

Then this: We fell in love with poisson cru while we were there; it’s the local traditional dish and so simple yet delicious that I’ve made it several times since. I’m salivating just thinking about it. Our resort offered a class on how to make the dish, so my husband and I joined a few others, including a Texan couple, complete with teased hair and twangs, to learn of the long held tradition of poisson cru.

Conquering the coconut

Conquering the coconut

 

 

Our instructors were all locals. We began with the diced raw ahi, to which we added squeezes of lime juice, then onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Next, we cracked open a coconut (way harder than it looks) and squeezed milk from the meat of it over the dish. And voila! It’s that simple.

As we all savored a plate full of the dish, the woman from Texas smacked her lips together and proclaimed: “I bet this would be real tasty with a bit of May – o – naise!”

Poisson Cru

Poisson Cru

My husband tried not to choke laughing, and I, not always great at holding back, said, “Blasphemy!”

 

 

 

 

 

And now, more photos from our trip, lest you fear we greatly suffered:115 Sunset from deck

Bora Bora

227 what a life!

Opera

I went to my first Opera recently. We saw La Fille du Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment). Originally set during the Napoleonic Wars, it tells the story of a regiment of soldiers who adopt a young girl who then grows up among their ranks. The San Diego Opera moved the story to World War II, so the idea that a girl would spend so many years with a group of soldiers doesn’t really fly, but as the review in the paper said: don’t think about it too much. I didn’t. Honestly, what I was thinking through most of the opera was this: I’m so flipping bored. I wonder what time Ghirardelli Chocolate closes?

I know, I know, it’s terrible. Horribly disrespectful. I can appreciate, on a technical level, what the performers accomplished. But I don’t enjoy the music. Nor did I love the story. It’s not that I don’t love a good musical or a star-crossed lovers story. This one just didn’t work for me.

Plus, I felt like I’d stepped into an alternative universe. One where a man backs his Maserati up at full speed with his nose in the air, not even bothering to glance at you because he knows you’ll get out of his oh-so-important way. Where big-breasted but otherwise skeletal young women wear five figure gowns and wobble ever-so-delicately on their sparkly heels, clinging to the arms of their white-haired husbands. Where people go to see and be seen; to have their photos taken for the society page of the newspaper.

“Where are we? Who are these people?” I kept asking my husband.

He was trying to figure out what the performers were saying while I tried to not look at his watch to see how much time had passed since the last time I looked at his watch.

“I can’t understand anything they’re saying. Their French is killing me,” he mumbled.

Yeah. I don’t think we’ll become season ticket holders. I’ve always wanted to experience an opera. Now I have. Check.

Instead I think I’ll stick to the kind of opera I love: Opera Café and Patisserie. Where they serve their namesake dessert: Opera, a layered almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup and layered with ganache and buttercream then covered in chocolate.

The café is located in a strip mall in Sorrento Valley; not exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find a gem of a restaurant like this. It’s my favorite place to meet my husband for lunch. The preceding conversation usually goes something like this:

“Hey, babe, can I come up and meet you for lunch?”

“Sure. Do you want to try a different restaurant this time?”

“What? No! Why would you even say that?”

Gentle smile. “So are you coming to see me or are you coming because of Opera?”

Pause. “You, of course, honey.”

And this (because no blog is complete without food photos):

IMG_7112

That’s an Opera where I can happily cheer, “Encore!”

Rewriting Dreams

The stuff of my dreams

The stuff of my dreams

 

My husband and I have a New Year’s Eve tradition that I love. We stay in, make dinner (it used to be a fancy 4 or 5 courses, but this year we copped out and ordered take out sushi) and we… talk. Yep, we chat. We look back on the past year and discuss our favorite moments. We recount our struggles and what we learned from them. We set goals: personal and professional. We see how we did on the goals we set the prior year. We travel plan: dream up the trips we’d like to take in the coming year, pull out our calendars, and make it happen.

These past few years have differed from our first years together. We’re a family of four now; no longer DINKs who lose count of how many flights they take in a year and make milking the last available vacation hour into an art form. The most surprising thing about this all? I’m okay with it.

I was old enough when we had kids that I was both as realistic as one can be about how my life would change, and I’d already accomplished a ton of things I wanted to do. I’d earned a doctorate degree. I’d traveled to Europe, Canada, Mexico, Africa, Asia, South America, and all over the U.S. I sang with a choir. I took up sailing. I wrote two books (unpublished as of yet). I learned French. I quit my job and went on an extended European vacation. Three times. (Wow, I sound flakey). I laughed, cried, and partied with amazing friends. I ran a marathon. By the time I got pregnant, I was okay with slowing down and having it not be all about me anymore.

I was speaking with a writer friend not too long ago and I told her that while I had once dreamed of writing full-time, I was now okay with writing when I could fit it in. That I was so busy with my kids it was hard to find time for writing, and I couldn’t park myself in a coffee shop and write away the hours like I used to. She became sad for me, believing a dream had died. But that wasn’t it at all. It’s just that the dream no longer fit me.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal, written by Katy McLaughlin and entitled New Dreams, When the Old Ones Don’t Fit. That’s it, exactly. The dreams I had as a 15-year-old certainly didn’t fit the 20-year-old me. The 20-year-old dreamer had no freaking clue what 30-year-old me would be like. And pre-marriage, pre-child me had some really great dreams, but it would be silly to cling to those simply because I was once determined to make them happen. It’s not giving up, it’s evolving as life marches forward, without trying to manipulate and control that which cannot be manipulated and controlled. It’s realizing that maybe full time writing isn’t for me, and being okay with that. It’s realizing that while I’d love to be published someday, I can’t hang all my hopes on such external validation; I must keep writing simply because I love to write. It’s realizing that parking myself at a coffee shop every Friday to write isn’t fun with or fair to a toddler strapped in a stroller. Knowing that walking along the Seine at twilight may not happen this year, but it doesn’t mean I’ll never get to do that again. It’s being honest about the fact that while strapping on a backpack and trekking through South America on a shoestring budget once sounded like a romantic adventure, it now sounds like a really great way to end up with a permanent back ache and no retirement savings. It’s realizing that I absolutely will see the glaciers of New Zealand and the rain forests of Thailand, it’s just not going to happen today, and it may be harder than it would have been a few years ago because I’ll have two kids tugging on my jeans telling me they’re hungry and asking if we’re there yet. It’s finding a balance between still having hopes, dreams, and goals, being willing to let the wisdom of experience play its role, and adapting when it isn’t the right fit anymore.

I still have lots of dreams. Now, most of them involve small hands squeezing mine, ice cream (because everything is better with ice cream), and a slower pace where I see the wonder of the world through the eyes of my children. The important thing to remember is this: small hands in mine were once a dream. That’s the dream I get to live right now. That one came true.

A Tale From Christmas Past

My parents and my husband’s parents first met the Christmas before our wedding at my family’s home. The Parisians made the trek to Southern Arizona, oohing and ahhing over the desert that was so different from anything they’d seen before. Upon their arrival, my family welcomed them with enthusiasm, bumbled charmingly over the kiss on each cheek vs. the big American hug, showed them the best sights around my hometown, and left them a gift basket at their hotel.

Ah, yes, the gift basket. My mom put it together and it was such a sweet gesture. Bottled water, chapstick (never go without it where I’m from!), maps of southern Arizona, apples, crackers, and…

Yep. Cheese in a can, for my French soon-to-be-in-laws. French. As in lovers of fine cheeses; experts on the subject of all things cheese. We never told Mom the fate of that canned cheese. I suppose she’ll know now. My mother-in-law-to-be plucked it out of the basket and asked, “What’s this?” Cue horrified look from my husband, who then said, “It’s nothing, here, I’ll take it.” A power struggle ensued: “Non! Non! C’est pour nous! Qu’est ce que c’est?” “Maman, donne-le moi!” “Non!” “Oui!” (“No! it’s for us! What is it?” “Mom, just give it to me!” “No!” “Yes!”)

So my husband told her what it was.

“Du fromage? Comme ça? The Americans eat this? How bizarre! Disgusting! Is it good?” She insisted on trying some, as did my future father-in-law and future brother-in-law. Cue horrified looks and much gagging.

Then there was the wine at Christmas dinner. My parents are, for the most part, barring the occasional margarita, teetotalers. I, in contrast, am most definitely not. I like to take full advantage of what my husband calls my Irish liver. (I’m not really Irish. Though my liver might be.) So when my mom suggested I retrieve the bottle of wine my uncle had given us, I gladly pulled that bottle out of the pantry and brought it to the table. She told me it had been opened but that there was still plenty left. My husband poured a bit into his father’s glass and my father-in-law-to-be took a small sip. He swallowed hard and seemed to be hiding the urge to clench his teeth as he shook his head and said, “C’est pas possible.”

“It’s not possible.”

I assumed the bottle was one we’d opened the night before.

“Mom? When was this bottle opened?”

“Christmas Eve.”

“Last night?”

“No. Last year, Christmas Eve.”

“Mom! You can’t leave a bottle that long after it’s uncorked!”

“But I thought wine was supposed to improve with age?” said my mom, looking distraught and confused.

This was also the year that my brother and I decided there weren’t enough presents, so we wrapped a few of mom’s favorite things from around the house and used them to fill things out under the Christmas tree. It took two or three “gifts” of treasures she already owned for her to stop exclaiming her excitement and start realizing that they weren’t gifts, after all. It’s been years, but my family’s quirky sense of humor still doesn’t translate. Gag gifts, pranks, teasing each other, sarcasm… we crack each other up but my in-laws spend most of their time watching us with furrowed brows. Amazingly, my husband’s parents remained enthusiastic about our marriage. Though we haven’t spent many Christmases together since then….

 

Christmas Recap

Our first Christmas as hosts went well, I think. Best part? Playing Santa Claus and creating Christmas magic for our kids. My daughter helped me prep a plate of my Santa’s favorite cookies and some carrots for his reindeer, which we left near the fireplace. On Christmas morning, she ran around the house in circles giggling manically, so excited when she saw her choo choo train. We ate fresh baked scones, sipped coffee, and watched the kids play wearing big, happy grins on our faces.

Christmas Eve we ate Oysters Rockefeller, foie gras (a gift from my husband’s parents), and salmon with a balsamic and bacon sauce. Christmas day was prime rib with traditional sides of green beans and carrots, spruced up and fancified. Surprise of the holiday: my dad tried the oysters. Then said he liked them. Then took a second helping, so I actually believed him. My family stayed away from the foie gras. My daughter, true to her French roots, took several servings of that.

California banned foie gras in 2012. Huge bummer for the French and Francophiles here. I fell in love with it during a trip to France in 2003, before I knew what it was. I was at a fancy wedding outside of Paris and a French friend tried to explain to me what it was, pointing at his abdomen and telling me it was “from right here, from a really big bird.” “An ostrich?” I asked, saying the first really big bird that came to mind. Not considering the likelihood of a traditional French delicacy coming from an African bird. “Yes, yes, this bird.” I found out later, between guffaws of ridiculing French laughter, that is was not an ostrich but a goose, and it was fatty liver. I also discovered how it is produced. Force feeding a goose with a funnel and a tool to pack the grain tightly and allow for more to be ingested. Horrible, awful, I know. But I’d already fallen in love with the dish. It’s so embarrassingly So Cal of me: “What? This lovely little rectangle of protein delicately topped with a port reduction sauce was once part of a living breathing being? That’s terrible, why do people do such things! Oh, the humanity!” pronounced between savoring bites. Like that scene in The New Normal (LOVING this show) where Bryan and Shania go to a turkey farm to get their turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, and when the farmer tells them to pick out their live turkey, Bryan says – no, no, I want one of those prepackaged ones in the back. You know, the one where I can’t tell it’s an animal.

Yes, I enjoy my meat with a dash of hypocrisy. I have so many vegetarian and vegan friends here in southern California that I’ve become self-conscious of my love for meat. One of the great things about having French dinner guests: I’ve never met a French vegetarian (though I hear they exist) and they are way less picky than my American friends. I have American friends with texture issues, color issues, vegetarian, vegan, on the caveman diet, on a fat free diet, avoiding anything white on weekdays, gluten intolerant (this one I empathize with: no pasta? No bread? Depressing)…. My French friends will eat most anything. Well, not crap like Cheetos or Twinkies. These horrify them. Me too, honestly.

Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas dinner turned out great, I think. Though I ended up spending way more time in the kitchen than I’d planned to. I love to cook, but I missed out on visiting with family and playing with the kids and their new toys (I like creating miniature villages for the choo choo train to pass through). It’s inevitable; the host will be in the kitchen when a meal must be served. I was trying new recipes so it was hard to figure out where people could help me. Plus, there’s, maybe, perhaps, the possibility that I’m a…  control freak in the kitchen. I like to think I’m closer to Martha Stewart organized and precise than kitchenzilla, but I don’t like to subject anyone to my brand of crazy, so when it’s a new recipe, I tend to go it alone. Next year I’m thinking a fancy Christmas Eve dinner, because I like fancy, then cheese fondue on Christmas. I picture a cold afternoon of sledding and hot chocolate, and then home for a hearty meal of bread, potatoes, and smoked meats smothered in Swiss cheeses. It’s an easy, quick, social meal. And really freaking delicious.

Snow, you ask? In Southern California?

That’s a question for another time.