Beer and the Great American Beer Festival

My husband likes to joke that they kicked him out of France because he knows nothing about wine. This is not entirely true – he knows more about wine than the average male, but perhaps not the average French male. He enjoys a glass of wine and can comment intelligently on the parfum and the subtleties of the flavors.

Truthfully, though, he’s a beer guy. He loves beer. Especially IPAs – which makes sense because San Diego, where he developed his taste for beer, has made a name for itself in the world of brew in large part through IPAs. Me – I can’t stand them. Just thinking about hops results in bitter beer face for me. But give me a good Belgian Trippel and I’m in heaven.

My Frenchie hubby loves the freedom that beer is allowed. Wine making in France follows strict rules: for example, fields cannot be irrigated – they must rely on the weather, the wines that have a “good” reputation tend to come from a single grape, and the land the grape comes from is often more important than the grape itself – it’s all about the “terroir.”

But with beer, if someone feels like throwing in banana or coriander, it’s fair game. Beer is a place where creativity is admired, sought after.

We got lucky this year – we got to go to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. For those who don’t know, GABF is an annual, three day event that draws over 50,000 people from around the world to sample the thousands of beers offered. When tickets go on sale online, they are gone in about 30 minutes. It all started with Charlie Papazian, nuclear engineer, teacher, founder of the Brewers’ Association, writer of The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, and overall awesome guy. With an equally awesome family who we’re lucky to be friends with.

Both San Diego and Colorado are meccas for beer, which works out well for us, as beer fans. I tasted the best beer I’ve ever had at GABF, and it was in the amateur section where home brewers pair with a brewery to develop their own home brew. This one was a Trippel, aged in a barrel that had hosted port wine and bourbon. Heaven.

So – here’s a few photos:

The line around the back of the convention center to get in

The line around the back of the convention center to get in

DSC02290

So psyched to have tickets!

The crush to get in

The crush at the entrance

Going up the stairs ... so exciting...

Going up the stairs … so exciting…

We're in!

We’re in!

DSC02296

Cheers!

DSC02297

Random…

Next year we need pretzel necklaces, like this guy!

Next year we need pretzel necklaces, like this guy!

 

Harvest Time!

This post is part of this month’s blogging carnival put on by Multicultural Kids Blogs. This month’s host is Varya at Creative World of Varya. Check out links to the other posts from around the world on her page!

Fall colors outside of Boulder, Colorado

Fall colors outside of Boulder, Colorado

Truth is, I know very little about harvest season. I, like so many in the U.S., am completely removed from any real harvesting. While living in San Diego, large city in the land of one season, it was hard to feel connected to the land or the cycles of life. Now that we’re in Colorado, I feel closer to those cycles. Each season brings a new palate of colors. We drive past fields of cattle, horses, and hay every day. Yet we still find pineapple and mango in the grocery store in December, tomatoes year round, produce from anywhere in the world during any month. I find myself indignant if I can’t fulfill my every desire. “What? No figs? That’s ridiculous. I don’t care if it’s February.” As much as I love the locavore movement and the idea of following the seasons in our food choices, I have an impatient and demanding palate that doesn’t like to be told no.

128 GrapesStill, I’m trying to learn. Fall harvest time for us means visits to local farms to pick apples from trees, searching for pumpkins to turn into jack-o-lanterns and pies, and when we were still in California, BK (before kids), visiting wine country. It’s strange that my children don’t have a real sense of where food comes from. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not much better informed. Produce is in the grocery store, in abundance, in the U.S. I know that’s not the world-wide norm, but my children haven’t learned that. Behind our home there’s a large open space that must have been a fruit tree grove at some point. Our babysitter knows where to find the good pears, apples, and even raspberries and has been introducing our kids to the plants. Me – I don’t trust myself to know what’s edible. I’m that disconnected from recognizing food in the “wild.”

When the apocalpyse hits, my family and I are screwed.

Visiting an apple orchard in Julian, California

Visiting an apple orchard in Julian, California

Seasonal produce at Trader Joe's in Boulder, CO

Seasonal produce at Trader Joe’s in Boulder, CO

This year, we’ll visit the apple orchards and the pumpkin patches. I love it; it’s such fun, and the kids enjoy being outside and seeing those huge, often gnarly and assymetric pumpkins. We’ll drag a brightly painted wagon behind us and collect our goods, then pay for them on our way out. We’ll go to harvest festivals, where there are petting zoos, face painting, live music, and jumping castles. It’s all so disconnected from the backbreaking work going on in farms all over the country. I suggested once that it would be fun to participate in harvest season at a vineyard. My husband looked at me like I was crazy. Turns out he did it once: when he was in the French army, the local vineyards used the recruits to harvest their grapes. I pictured a romantic day under the soft fall sunlight in Provence, selecting the best wine grapes and dreaming of what they would become. I asked him what it was like.

“It was backbreaking work! I never want to do it again.” He went on to describe spending hours hunched over vines under a blazing sun, and the monotony of picking grape after grape. He only had to do it for a day, maybe two, but it was enough to appreciate how difficult a job it is.

Next month, November, in the U.S., we have Thanksgiving and the holiday’s traditional symbol: the cornucopia, or “horn of plenty.” The symbol of abundance and nourishment. A good time to remember how good we have it, here. To give thanks for our abundance of food, for a harvest season made into a game for us and our families. For those out there working the harvest – all over the world – keeping our grocery stores stocked and our bellies full. Thank you. Merci.

Pumpkin patch in Longmont, Colorado

Pumpkin patch in Longmont, Colorado

Pumpkin patch in Lafayette, Colorado

Pumpkin patch in Lafayette, Colorado

Christmas Baking

DSC01405Among the things I swore I would never do if I became a mom:

1. Be a stay-at-home-mom.

Two kids in quick succession and I stepped away from my career – albeit temporarily – to (gasp) stay at home. Don’t tell anyone, but I kind of like it.

2. Feed my kids “kids food.”

“What is this ‘kid’s food’ nonsense? They’ll eat what we eat, the way we eat it!” the old me used to say. This was reinforced when I married a man from France, where “kid’s food” doesn’t exist. I stuck to my guns with Thing 1, then came Thing 2: the pickiest eater in history. My son will boycott entire meals, toss food disdainfully to the floor, or, my favorite: spit things out then scrape off his tongue with his fingers like his mouth has been violated. I haven’t given up entirely, but I admit I experience a small panic, even indignation, if we go to a restaurant and there’s no kid’s menu. Or dip of some kind. He’ll eat it if he can dip it. “Blueberries and ketchup? Whatever.” My new mantra.

3. Allow my child to kick the seat back in front of him on an airplane.

I was once the person on the airplane who avoided kids if at all possible. Whose flight experience could be ruined by a seat-kicking child. Now – hello karma – that kid is mine. I get it, poor lady who chose the seat in front of my son. I feel your pain, really I do. But when my son’s car seat is in place (No Way can we go without it, our little Houdini will wiggle his way out of any restraints other than a five-point harness) his knees are folded uncomfortably into his chest. He’s an active, exuberant toddler, constantly on the move. When nothing else can move, he kicks. My husband and I spend entire flights blocking his feet, trying to minimize the assault on the seat in front of him. I’m forever grateful to understanding fellow passengers, and I’ve found that the most gracious ones are those who have kids of their own. They’ve been there, too.

4. Emulate, in anyway, Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart.

After all, it’s so anti-feminist. Cliché. Expected, even. I had better things to do than be in the kitchen.

Thing is, though, I like to eat. When I eat, I want the food to be good. I don’t have the wallet nor the waistline to handle eating out all the time, so… I learned to cook. To play hostess. To make a room cozy and inviting. I get giddy, even, at the thought of the wide range of things that can come from flour, sugar, and eggs mixed together.

So. Freaking. Girly.

Yet, turns out I don’t mind.

I actually love cooking. I suspect more than one person in my life decided they wanted to be my friend because of something they ate at my house. I’m okay with that.

Christmastime, the oven spends more time on than off, my hands grow chapped, and the floors have a fine coat of flour as I bake an array of treats then box them up for gifts. I love every minute of it. I even pulled a baking (almost) all-nighter this year. So I’ve gone from studying all-nighters to partying all-nighters to up all night with babies to, now, Betty Crocker all-nighters.

Here are the sweets of my labors:

DSC01442

Next up: Prime rib for Christmas Eve, and classic Swiss Fondue for Christmas Day.

I really love good food.

Kermesse

School’s out for summer!

kermesseSummer feels more real with kids. In San Diego, where the seasons blend and where we have two, maybe three weeks of vacation a year, summer never really meant much. Just a little warmer and crowds of tourists everywhere we want to go. But now, my daughter has finished her first year of preschool, and we kicked off summer in style: with an end of year show and Kermesse.

The preschool section of the school put on an hour-long show. Somehow, the teachers got those two, three, four, and five-year-olds to perform choreographed dances, sing, recite memorized lines, and even put on a play. Seriously – three and four year olds doing the tango, kindergartners performing Snow White, and two-year-olds dancing to a beat, each group waiting patiently while the others performed, and not one of them on stage crying for Maman? Amazing. These people are miracle workers.

Four year olds doing a choreographed dance on boogie boards to Surfin' USA

Four year olds doing a choreographed dance on boogie boards to Surfin’ USA

Two-year-old cowboys and cowgirls

Two-year-old cowboys and cowgirls

 

Then there was Kermesse, a carnival of sorts that in France is mainly put on my parochial schools. When my husband heard there would be a Kermesse at the French American School, he immediately decided to take a half-day off, citing fond memories of going to Kermesse with friends as a child. The school did not disappoint: lots of fantastic food, a few rides, good music, and all sorts of fun activities.

Yes, please!

Yes, please!

DSC00507

DSC00498

Homemade games with prizes

Homemade games with prizes

Dunk Tank

Dunk Tank

DSC00508

DSC00523

Happy summer, everyone!

Fondue and Mousse Au Chocolat

I turn my dinner guests into guinea pigs. My first attempts at a new meal are often when we invite friends over. So far, no one has complained. Fondue is an old stand by, but this was my first attempt at chocolate mousse.

May isn’t the best month for fondue, but it was requested by my friends back in March, then the dinner kept getting pushed down the calendar… did I mention I live in California? This is what we do. Luckily, last week was cold and rainy, so fondue turned out to be the perfect remedy.

DSC00161

DSC00168

Two things broke me out of my Kraft Mac and Cheese habit from college. One – a good girlfriend who was a brilliant cook. I started hanging out at her house, learning what I could. Thank you, Shawna! The second – my husband. On our first “Come on over for dinner” dates, I served him quesadillas and spaghetti with packaged sauce mix. He was gracious and complimentary. So I tried something a little more complicated. He was more complimentary, even excited, and cleaned his plate. So I kept trying. I stopped using packages and started using fresh ingredients. I got bolder, more experimental. Today, my friends know me as a really good cook, and I’m convinced it’s the reason our parties are always so crowded. And to this day, my husband has never once said a bad thing about anything I’ve cooked. At worst, he’s been silent, and when I say something like, “That was horrible, I’m sorry,” he’ll pat my hand and say, “it wasn’t your best effort.” So I keep at it.

The chocolate mousse was a recipe that, six or seven years ago, I would have taken one look at and decided to buy a gallon of ice cream instead. Lots of steps, constant stirring, and temperature dependant… but it came out fantastic.

DSC00172

Beautiful Saturday at the Farmer’s Market in Little Italy

DSC00201

Intimidated by trying to find parking, I’ve never visited this farmer’s market. But my daughter and I were in Little Italy this weekend so we checked it out. It’s huge, maybe even bigger than our usual one in Hillcrest. The views are fabulous:

DSC00193

The music sophisticated:

DSC00194

And they have crêpes. Authentic ones, from Fabrison’s French Crêperie Café, also located in Little Italy. This restaurant has great food, and their crêpes are the real deal: the savory ones are done with buckwheat flour. Hard to find outside of Bretagne, but this is the way a savory crêpe is meant to be. I split a Nutella crêpe with my daughter and chatted with Fabrice, owner of the café, about the challenges of raising kids in a bilingual household (his wife is American) and what we do to try to make sure our kids are learning French.

DSC00197

 

DSC00195

Here are a couple more photos. Spring is blooming in San Diego!

DSC00200

DSC00198

 

 

Lost in Translation: Menus and Restaurants

I see these restaurants in France all the time:

326 Only in France

Because all Asian food is pretty much the same, right? And no, this is not some trendy fusion restaurant. Out of curiousity, I tried one once. It was a bland, fast food type of cuisine that amounted to soggy vegetables and meat bathed in either soy or teriyaki sauce. Nothing like the widely varied and often spicy dishes that could be offered from any of these countries. For a country so renowned for its food, France has a lot to learn about the cuisine offered outside its own borders!

Poorly translated menu items are part of the charm of traveling abroad. We had some classics in China; I lost track of how many times we said, “What the what!?” Here are a few gems:

IMG_1581

IMG_1582

IMG_1583

Then there was the beachside restaurant in a small Cote d’Azur village where I’m pretty sure they weren’t really serving “wolf” and where I decided to avoid the “crusty of salmon” altogether.

Here, in the U.S., we find plenty of mistakes. There’s the most obvious: the use of the word “entrée.” It means the first course, entering the meal if you will. But in the U.S. we almost always use it for the list of main dishes. Then there’s a restaurant near us called “La Café.” Decent food, but my husband gets a nervous tick every time we pass it because “café” is masculine, so it should be “Le Café.” Gender mistakes don’t bother Americans much because we don’t use them. But imagine the irritation that those of us grammar lovers experience when someone uses a double negative: “I don’t have no bread,” and you can see how my husband must feel.

At a nice, upscale San Diego restaurant my husband ordered the bouillabaisse. He used the French pronunciation, boo-ya-bais, or for the phonetically inclined: [bujabes]. The waitress asked him to repeat himself several times, then exclaimed:

“Oh! You mean the bool-a-bass-ey!”

Yes. That’s it exactly.

It can be a challenge, trying to order a croissant or any other French food here. My tongue wants to use the French pronunciation, but then I get looked at either in confusion, or I get a big eye roll because clearly, I’m being pretentious. Using the American pronunciation ensures that I will be understood, but it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

I’d love other examples people have experienced with menu items that got lost in translation. Bring them on!