In Case You Missed It.

So, I’m not feeling so great.

My eyes are burning, my throat is sore and tight, but hey! At least my children are fine. Because there’s nothing sadder than sick kids. Except sick kids with broken bones. Make that sick kids with broken bones in foreign countries.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite posts…here it is, an oldy but a goody. If you missed it this time, don’t miss it now:

(Mis) Adventures in France.

One of the major perks of the whole overseas Ph.D. thing was increased travel opportunities. There was even the opportunity for us to tag along with Tim to study French in Paris for a month with the bill largely footed by a grant! Sounds perfect, right?

Perfect, it most certainly was not.

In August of 2009, we Stones availed ourselves of this opportunity and booked what seemed like a reasonably decent apartment in the 2nd arrondissement. To tell the truth, I had a weird feeling about the apartment and the character that we were doing business with, a feeling that was confirmed when, upon being dumped by our shuttle taxi, we proceeded to sit with our two tiny kids and four huge suitcases on the grimy sidewalk for two hours before a man in a down vest and wool pork-pie hat (ahem. IN AUGUST.) finally arrived to let us into the apartment.

{This is for the search engines: Gilles Bourgogne Paris apartment rental scam warning. Consider yourself warned.}

It wasn’t that there was no apartment. It was that the apartment in question was completely filthy dirty to an extreme degree. As in, only dirty sheets. As in, rotting food in the fridge and garbage cans. As in, piles of junk everywhere. As in, no toilet paper or towels. And the person we were dealing with was really obviously untrustworthy. As in, lied to us. Obviously. And a lot.

So we did not stay there. Well, we did. For the night. Because we had no other choice. We slept there.

On sheets whose cleanliness status was decidedly indeterminate. Having all manner of bizarre nightmares including nightmares of bugs crawling on me.

{Not exactly Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Bonjour, Pah-reee!}

The unfortunate housing disaster turned into a happy event because I got to meet the legendary Nora, who resides near Paris, and stay with her for the month, during which time my dear husband demolished her deck and built a new one, my son slipped on a wet floor in Franprix and broke his leg, an old man exposed himself to me while I was walking with my (mercifully oblivious) children, the Franprix denied any liability for the unmarked wet floor because we didn’t “report” the accident at the moment it happened (because, obviously we needed to report a 4 year old shrieking in pain as uniformed employees gaped at us?) My other son got heatstroke, and, THANK GOD, my mom visited for a week.

take it from my son. never let a broken leg stop you from taking the opportunity to sit on larger-than-life bear statues.

Because we were headed to Germany next, we sent our luggage on with a baggage service, Sernam, that somehow managed to “lose” the one bag with lots of adorable petite ladies’ clothing from my sister-in-law’s cooler than cool store.

{I do not think that was an accident. Sernam, I won’t go all Mattie Ross on you because when it comes to revenge I’m much more Les Miserables than Comte de Monte Cristo, but stealing that bias-cut polka dot dress with the red sash that made me feel, however improbably, like a 1950s film star? That? That was cold.}

Oh, and then, on the taxi ride from our beautiful guardian angel Nora’s to the train station, Graeme vomited all over himself and me. And then, when we arrived in Goettingen, Tim got stuck on the train, leaving me with several small bags and two small boys, one of whom had a thigh-high cast. (The other was a mere 16 months old.)

And yet? I still think fondly of our time in Paris. Why?

Well, our friend there. What a gift to have met her. We clicked immediately and laughed ourselves silly over everything and nothing and ate and drank and enjoyed life together. When I think of her hospitality in contrast to the series of unfortunate events we experienced in France, I am as profoundly grateful as I was on that August Sunday when her adorable convertible pulled in front of that crazy apartment in the 2nd arrondissement. More so, actually.

And, yes, you knew it was coming: the food. It’s not that every meal in Paris is haute cuisine. It’s just that the food there, to a much greater degree, is raised and prepared and served with so much care, so much attention to detail, so much love. So much joy. I’m not sure what magic they’re working with food there, but they even have a whole store of frozen food that’s quite delicious, Picard.

{David Sedaris mentions his love for Picard in his hilarious contribution to the Americans in Paris episode of This American Life. You can listen online for free here.}

Yes, good French baguettes really are that amazing. And the breakfasts we shared each day–nothing fancier than coffee with cream and baguettes with sweet butter and various delicious preserves–were some of the best breakfasts of my life. And then, of course, there was the pain au chocolat. And the beautiful, fresh summer salads. And the filet of beef Nora made, barely cooked. And the gratin d’endives au jambon, made by the same lovely person.

Not fancy food. Not “healthy” food, to our American notions of health. Just simple food, prepared well, and enjoyed in good company.

Oh yeah. You knew it was coming. French goats!

Sure, we visited the Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, and so on. It’s not that the food was better than those things, or even in the same category, really. But when I think of our time in France, in the cost-benefit analysis, what balances all the crappy things is not having seen the Mona Lisa, or the Louis XIV’s palace, though that was cool (but the Musee d’Orsay was cooler). It’s having made a friend, and, for a time, having lived as a family with that friend, and the means of that grace was then–and is now, when I make Nora’s potatoes to remember–food.

Food, a means of grace and remembrance?

(Sound familiar?)

you NEED to make these cookies!

This is what my mom and I will be baking this weekend, as the week ahead holds the traditional cookie-exchange parties and other standard church-lady get-togethers. It is a seriously yummy cookie–almost chewy-brownie-like, yet still a cookie–perfect with a glass of milk.

It’s kind of like:+ (PLUS) +

YUM.

I brought some to the library (to thank them for their unending patience with my unending interlibrary loan piles) and to A.’s violin teacher (also a fount of unending patience.) Plus, Tim took some to work.

(And I may or may not have eaten one with milk before dinner. Don’t tell.)

And so:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream together until light and fluffy:

1 cup of butter

3/4 cup of brown sugar

3/4 cup of white granulated sugar

When light and fluffy, beat in thoroughly:

1 large egg

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Meanwhile, blend together with a wire whisk IN A SEPARATE BOWL:

1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour

3/4 cup of unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

Pinch of salt

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until just blended–do not overbeat.

Fold in:

1 cup of peppermint bark, whirled a few times in the food processor

(For the bark, you can substitute 1/2 cup chopped white chocolate and 1/2 cup broken peppermint stick pieces)

Roll into 1-inch balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet, at least 1 inch apart. Bake in center of oven for 6 minutes, rotate pan, bake another 6 minutes.
Let cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove to cooling rack to cool completely.

{Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies. Inspired, as many things are, by Elise @ Simply Recipes.}

MAKE SOME TODAY!

The Food Companies Own You

Did you hear a bit of buzz about potatoes being banned from school lunches and tomato paste on pizza counting as a vegetable?

That was part of Congress’ push-back against new regulations proposed by the Department of Agriculture, which administers the National School Lunch Program.

Instead, Congress wrote a spending bill that has done the following:

~refuses to allow the USDA guidelines to limit starchy vegetables–including corn, potatoes, and peas–to two servings per week. (The goal here was to cut down on french fries, which many schools serve daily.)

~allows the USDA to continue to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The USDA wanted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable–but that’s much more than goes on pizza.

~requires “further study” on USDA sodium-reduction requirements. (seriously.)

OK. So why would Congress block measures to make school lunches healthier?

Quite simply, because Big Food Companies make big money from processing food. As Lucy Komisar wrote in the New York Times this weekend:

“Schools get the food free; some cook it on site, but more and more pay processors to turn these healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets, fruit pastries, pizza and the like. Some $445 million worth of commodities are sent for processing each year, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2006.”

So let’s say a district gets a box of chicken worth $10 for free as part of the USDA commodities program, and it’s up to them to prepare the stuff. Or they can contract with Sodexho, or Aramark, or some other multinational, who gets the free box of chicken and turns it into a box of chicken nuggets that costs over $30. There are big profits to be made in processing.

I think Jamie Oliver said it most clearly on Jimmy Kimmel:

the food companies of America own you…these moron frozen food companies — pizza industry, french-fry industry — have basically bought, bribed, bullied Congress, who have completely let everyone down, into basically making it okay to feed [students] french fries every day.”

Any wonder childhood obesity continues to rise?

And let’s not forget: it’s the poorest kids who most depend on school food for their nutrition.

Our kids deserve better than this.

 

 

Breastfeeding Roundup

At the top of the list for weirdness in breastfeeding news this week, the UK’s biggest restaurant, Cosmo, charged a woman 3 pounds for her exclusively breastfed 6 week son to “occupy space” in the restaurant. To their credit, the restaurant apologized, indicating that the employee who charged the fee was in error.Next up, protests were scheduled to be held in Paw Paw, Mich., yesterday, following the incident in which a woman, Natalie Hegedus, was called out by Judge Robert Hentchel for breastfeeding her baby in court. “Do you think that’s appropriate in here?”  The baby was sick, she said, and he was hungry. And, for the record, breastfeeding in courtrooms is perfectly legal.

{I wonder, would the judge have been upset had Ms. Hegedus been bottle-feeding the baby?}

And in both the Daily Mail and Cafe Mom highlighted the unusual but admirable effort of adoptive mothers to breastfeed their adopted babies–sometimes with the help of medications, sometimes with supplemental feeding systems. Mothers who’ve breastfed adopted babies cite the desire for physical bonding–as well as health benefits–in explaining their decisions.

Rounding out the week’s breastfeeding news is this story in the Washington Post: Rhode Island has become the first state in the Union to eliminate those free bags of formula from its hospitals. Just 38% of RI mothers nurse their babies 6 months after birth, compared to 44% nationwide. Rhode Island’s health director hopes that ending the formula giveaways will bring the state’s breastfeeding rates up. Giving away formula in hospitals and at doctor’s offices sends a mixed signal, many health and lactation professionals say–with their mouths doctors and nurses say “breast is best,” but when they hand you a bag of free formula, it looks a lot like an endorsement.

And that’s the week in breastfeeding news! Clearly, breastfeeding sometimes complicated, sometimes messy, sometimes embarrassing yet still very, very worth it.

{You can read previous breastfeeding posts here (Breastfeeding and Justice) and here (Advertising Formula Works…But for Whom?}