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Forks, Portland, Lyon - France, Paris - France, Portland and ending up in Bellingham.... the adventures of my life!

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

French Food Prices versus United States..

Yesterday was an adventure all alone..  Usually Bri escorts me around Lyon, normally because of the last time I wandered off alone (meaning: I was heading towards Guillotière and this punk around my age started coming into my personal space and talking to me, hitting on me, EVEN THOUGH I had my earphones on) it really scared the shit out of me.

But, I was in the position where I really needed to run some errands, and he really needed to work on his mèmoire, besides, he can't hold my hand all the time.

So. Off I went, big girl panties on, Velo'v card securely packed in my backpack, earbuds in ears, hard American rock rattling my brain and off I headed.

First stop was BNP Paribas because they are reciprical with my home bank, thus no charges, no fees to pull out cash.

I p0wned that machine.  *beep beep beep*, money came out,

I shoved it into my wallet and off I sped to the boulangerie down the street.

Sometimes I am truly amazed by the bread prices in France.  I scored a baguette (for Mme Lebegue downstairs) and a banette (a crispy baguette-y bread with what I like to think of as "seuss toe" ends) for only 1.70 €.

Even in dollars, that's like... $2.14, so like a buck a baguette.

It's because everyone eats bread, every day, and because of that the bread is baked fresh, every day, so because of that and the lack of preservatives, it goes bad, every day, thus people end up buying a fresh new baguette, every day.

French weight loss is more than the "french paradox", we walk everywhere to get the meal on our plate; so we really earn our dinner.

Moving on.

Another joy of mine is the "Bail Distribution" across the street which is a "producer's market". 

The small local company buys all this beautiful produce from farms in the surrounding area.

After they sell it in their little shop.  Unfortunately, there are only two of these, and even more, they are really outside of the inner city.  We had luck in this small apartment, it's across the street.

An example of some amazing prices would be the following photo, I'll tell you how much just what's in the picture cost from the market...

Alright, so above we have some produce that's recognizable- green pepper, about 1/2 pound of mushrooms, tomatoes, beautiful ripe peaches, eggplant, piment and some pears... I also got two lovely bunches of fresh herbs, basil and cilantro.

In Oregon, these products would break down like this (using Safeway's prices):
1 Green Pepper - $1.00 (each)
1/2 pound Mushrooms - $2.49
1 pound peaches - $1.99
1 pound tomatoes - $2.18
1 eggplant - $1.52
1 pound pears - $1.59
1 bunch basil - $2.00
1 bunch cilantro - $1.89
1 head garlic - $.90
2 onions - $1.50

Now let's compare to my producer's market, direct from the receipt:
1 Green Pepper - €0.49
1/2 pound Mushrooms - €0.89
1 pound peaches - €1.21
1 pound tomatoes - €0.90
1 eggplant - €0.57
1 pound pears - €0.88
1 bunch basil - €0.60
1 bunch cilantro - €0.60
1 head garlic - €0.61
2 onions - €0.31
GRAND TOTAL OF:  €7.06 and in dollars --> $8.97
Wow.  Well, just to exaggerate the difference, let's look at that visually:

Knowing that, you can see in the U.S., in Oregon, I was paying almost double for the same produce- except here it's naturally organic and grown locally.

Worse is for example, eggs, milk and simple things like that.

Let's look at a baguette from St. Honoré in Portland, they sell their "baguettes" for $2.25 each baguette, which is around €1.78 here... our baguettes, GOOD quality are only about €0.70 to €0.90 centimes, or about $1.00.  Again that's a 50% mark up.

Eggs are a biggin' for me because I hate low quality caged eggs.  I mean when you crack them open and the yolk is so bright it's almost glowing.  A good quality organic egg is a deep yellow, and tastes amazing. The photo on the left is from the internet. Note the left is store bought, bright yellow = bad condition, the right, deep yellow = good conditions

You can by 6 vegetarian fed, free range eggs for about $1.32.  Safeway's mark, "O: Organics" sells a box of 12 for $4.39, which is $2.19 for 6; again almost 50% more.

Milk is especially interesting to me.  Here in France, all of our milk is pasteurized and packaged to be able to be outside of the fridge.  In the U.S. it has to constantly be refridgerated, and actually, the taste sucks.

Our milk looks like this --->

Comes in 1 liter containers, sells for about €1.08 per liter, which is like 1/4 of a gallon... so about $5.00 a gallon. It seems expensive, but in reality the milk can last longer and doesn't expire as quickly, and it organic and produced locally.

One gallon of Horizon Organic milk runs for about $6.39... are you seeing the difference here?

Worse, foods like cheetoes and terribly over processed frozen foods sell for around $1.05...

How is that possible that a green pepper is the same price as a budget gourmet??

All-in-All, it's something I'm going to sit on for awhile.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Apartment Woes

I love hosting people, I truly do.  I loved hosting people in America, I love making dinner and talking about people's lives- I'm not such a fan of hosting people in a 27m squared apartment in the 7ème arrondissement in Lyon.

27m² translates to roughly 190 feet squared.  The average apartment I have lived in was between 300-400 square feet, and my parent's house where I grew up was more like 3,000 square feet.  Get the picture?

I think I read somewhere once that with 3-4 people, around 600 square feet is required.

Well.  Long story short, it felt very cramped and I felt very embarassed because there was literally no room to meander around or even a true table so I could offer a proper meal!

Worse, the location of our current apartment is all the way out in the 7ème... which is at least a 10 minute bike ride from Lyon Lumière 2, or even a 15 minute bike ride to the center.  Granted the little vegetable market across the street is a plus- the downside is still the fact that we are really not near fun things, and all our guests have to use the metro or bike passes to get around.

View Larger Map

The new apartment on the other hand is going to be 61 mwhich is much larger and comes in at around 650 feet squared.  Much better.

I just bought a "cuisinère au gaz" as well as a "grand frigo" which means my kitchen should be equipped and lovely within one year.  I'm very excited... because even better, it is located directly on my favorite street in Lyon, "Rue des Marrionniers" which is full of cheap authentic restaurants and has a wonderful history... and no cars can pass through.

The wait time is just full of anticipation because I am ready to move on...  There's one thing I am sad to leave...

Downstairs lives a very old woman named "Mme. Lebegue".  Mme Lebegue has lived in our building for over 60 years.  13 years were spent in our apartment, the rest in the apartment directly below us.  She is a kind old woman, smiles a lot (though she's missing her teeth) and has the unfortunate event of being unable to descend the stairs, so she is home ridden.  It's incredibly sad to me because her daughter seems to ave abandoned her, and rarely makes home visits.  The woman is living in filthy conditions- so much so even with my big heart I have a hard time standing in her place for more than 10 minutes.  The smell is this rank mix of a cheese called "coullimiers" and some cleaning product.

Walking into Mme Lebegue's apartment is like reverting back into the 1950's.  Furniture is obviously ancient, blacked with age.  Along the wall is a calendar from 1985.  In her kitchen lays her two companions- one a cage full of active noisy birds, the second a television set in the corner of the room.  It's scary of course, she- herself- is not frightening, but her surroundings make you feel uncomfortable.  Once in awhile she puts a little note on her door, I nab it, run some errands and pick up her groceries.  She seems so enamored with our willingness the list has slowly started to grow into some higher quality.

In the beginning Mme Lebegue only requested a single baguette and maybe some tea or jelly once in awhile.  The list for today is the following:
-6 ouefs
-Fromage: Vache/Chevre
-Salade Mixte
-Pommes de Terre
-2 Bananas
It makes me happy to be able to do her a service, and it makes me sad I feel I cannot spend more time in her company considering her history.  I tried to tell her the other day to let her door open to get some fresh air, and she just smiled and giggle and said, "I have to stand at the door if it's open".

If it weren't so pungent, I'd be bringing her meals and keeping her company.  It's a dilemma that I have no idea what to do about.

Well.  That's where I'm at..  things to do, people to see...


Friday, August 27, 2010

Two Months... déjà?!

It's been awhile since I wrote because life in Europe picked up.  I went with the flocks of French who vacation in August and visited a beautiful little town near the coast in Spain called, "Alcossebre".
I tried to do a bit of research about Spain and especially about Alcoceber before I got into the car with my French family.  Unfortunately, Alcoceber was simply a small fishing village that seems to have been caught up in tourists from Britain and France.  The culture in Spain, however, is one that is absolutely incredible.

To begin, in France it is common for people to vacation in either July or August.  The typical resort or escape is to the South, whether it be the South in Provence and Marseilles, or South in Spain.  French people drive the distance, and during this trip I was able to learn a new word: Bouchon. Traffic.

Traffic in route to a travel location is the most horrid experience.  We were lucky to leave on a Friday and cut about 4 hours of the bouchon on the way there.

Once in Spain, there are several cultural differences.. I'll try to summarize what I liked the best:

Family Style Eating
If you order a salad, it doesn't come on individual plates.  The salad is placed in the center of the table, everyone has forks ready and you dig in.  This experience was very amusing considering our salad went flying... to our laps, our tablecloths, sometimes to our mouths.  Another way to share food at a table in Spain is by tapas. Tapas is a variety of smaller dishes, ranging in prices from 4-6 € that usually consists of fried or steamed seafood, potatoes smothered in a rich cream sauce and others.  One takes their forks and eats where they wish, with a nice refreshing beer or sangria on the side.

Late Dinners
A true Spanish person would not show up to a restaurant to eat before 10.  It was very usual for us to eat early in the morning and then snack in the afternoon, and then gorge around 10 or 11.  Much of this, I assume, is due to the heavy heat around Spain.  People close shops around 2pm, which is considered the 'hora di siesta'... nap time.  Just like big babies, we all lumber into the safety of our shaded homes, lay down or relax, maybe read, patient for the sun to become less harsh.

The Sea
The sea in Spain along the coast is the most beautiful and calm body of water I have seen.  Warmed by the sun, salty and swarming with sea critters that are unharmful to humans.  I got the chance to fish watch with some big goggles... lots of little Nemos swimming around nibbling on my toes.

Spanish Cuisine
As Anthony Bourdain said, "Spain is a culinary jackpot, the best place in the Western world to eat."

Well, he is not wrong, by any means.  From breakfast to dinners, Spain has this knack to stuff you with amazingly simple, well spiced dishes that make you keep eating until you are about to explode.  Let me elaborate.

Literally a saffron infused rice concoction made in giant metal paella pans.  Stuffed with vegetables, meat, seafood- depending on the variety.  Swimming with crustaceans and fresh sea fish... made on command as you order and incredibly sensuous.  The one in the picture is a 'Paella di Marisco", paella of the sea.  Full of shrimp, mussels, langoustine, octopus and squid.  Flavored with seafood broth which only intensifies the organic structure of the seafood paella- incredible.  I could eat this for breakfast and dinner... yummm...
Arroz Negro
Similar to Paella, except made with squid ink.  I got the ability to try this at a restaurant with a 15 € menu, everything included and drinks.  This was my entrée...  The big glop of white goo is actually something called "ali y oli", or aioli.  It was so rich with flavor.  The squid ink actually adds this dynamism to the dish that makes you feel like you are really enjoying the squid.
Fresh Fish Galore
Many of the dishes I ate while there were fresh seafood dishes, the kind where it was probably alive before it was killed and eaten- as you order.  Follow the images below to read what I ate.
Salt Cod Filet with Aioli
Cuttlefish, a big-headed version of squid.

Buttery Shrimp with Baby Eels

Sole Fish with Langoustine Reduction
Fresh Mussels with my French "Brother"
Shrimp and Salt Cod, Tomato based sauce

Eating at Home: Charcuteries, Salads
Sometimes we'd stay in and eat some local produce and charcuteries.  Spain is the professional of pork charcuterie- and if you are a vegetarian, you're not going to experience the glory that is encased meats.  We ate a range of products from chorizo with the slight spicy bite, to the gooey meat called, "sobrossada".  Often served with tomato rubbed toast, garlic, queso and a lovely fresh salad.
Pan con Tomate y Ali y Oli

Fresh Salad
Local Produce: Tomatoes, Onions
Charcuteries galore.. ham, chorizo, sobrassada, sausage, and a cool rosado wine
It was a vacation I will never forget; I gained a couple of pounds to enjoy and a few shades of tan.  Now I'm back in Lyon and the life here begins again.

Which reminds me.. I need to buy a baguette for dinner!

Bri and I have decided to try to lose some weight, and let me say it is a complete pain in the butt to NOT eat the delicious fatty foods.  But I figure, since I'll be here for a long stretch, it's better to be in good shape and enjoy the food, than overweight enjoying the food.  Our daily regime is to literally not use any fats whatsoever- no cheeses, no butters.  We eat lean meats, healthy cereal for breakfast, green tea... and I incorporate an apple cider vinegar drink.

So far we've eaten:
-pork filets with spinach
-yellow thai curry with turkey and green vegetables (no potatoes)
-turkey mushroom stirfry with side of cooked veggies

Every night is a challenge, but one that is easily accessible in France.  Produce here is a bit cheaper than in the states, and much more organic so it is much easier to eat a range of fresh vegetables every day.

No booze.
No fats.
No potatoes.
No pasta.
Little bread.
Whole grains.
Leafy greens (every day).

Why did I agree to do this where there are so many cheeses and pastries in FRANCE?!?!?!  So sad.
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