September 06, 2013

The French Invade Canada

It is September and I haven't written anything about my Nacel experience.  It be time, people.

Nacel Canada is a not for profit organization that pairs international students with hosts, "promoting international understanding and language education... enhancing cultural and linguistic awareness".  So in a nutshell, London and area families host one or more French students (from France, not Quebec) for a period of 3 or 4 weeks.

Payment is $600 for four weeks.  This is not a money-making venture.  A three week stay pays $450.  You are expected to pay for all the student's meals (includes dining in restaurants) and incidentals.  The student pays his/her own admission to places like Canada's Wonderland.  I found that with all the sightseeing we did, we spent a LOT more than $600; however, I was perfectly happy to do so.

You can click here to read a more detailed account of the first half of this story.  If you don't want to read the first part because you are lazy, disinterested and/or pressed for time, here's what you need to know:

In July, Nacel's program administrator, Gayle, called me and inquired about the possibility of us hosting a student for a month.  She had an emergency situation and was desperate.  I stepped in because I like to play the heroine.  :-)

Clémence, a seventeen year old girl from Nantes, arrived on July the 4th.  Before we met, I did worry that she might be a big French freak!  My concerns were completely unfounded.  She was friendly, had a good sense of humour and she quickly made herself at home.  By the "making herself at home" part, I mean that when I told her I didn't make breakfast for my children, and lunch was often serve yourself, she wasn't shy about getting acquainted with the kitchen.  I suppose that if you are hungry (and every day there exists a very good possibility of experiencing said hunger) you will seek out food.  At 17, you should be able to fix up some food for yourself.

C was a typical teenager:
  • she was attached to her tablet by umbilical cord 
  • she had a deep and abiding love of potato chips and "Starbuck" (she couldn't say it with the 's'!).   
  • she liked to sleep and hang out in her room
She also did a fair bit of jogging; I am uncertain whether that is typical of the youth of today.

I was supposed to homeschool C but she would have none of it.  Her words:  "I didn't sign up for that".


I didn't think that it was my job to sit her at our dining room table and force her to read the newspaper and discuss current events, especially as her English was already almost parfait, much better than my French.  And so, my homeschooling efforts were more surreptitious:   we talked a lot, played board games (Rummikub, Cartagena and Rummoli), we cooked together (muffins - I have posted two recipes below), we went for walks and hung out.  These are all excellent ways to learn a language.  We also went on a bike ride, but I couldn't get her into the pool (too cold!) or get her on White Water Canyon (her hair!) at Canada's Wonderland. 

Before you read about all the fun things we did while C was here, I should let you know that we hosted another student in August, who was also in an "emergency" situation.  What is with Nacel and all of these emergency situations?  The second student was fifteen years old, also from France (Toulouse) and had been staying in London with a family of 5.  Both parents worked and the children were cared for by a nanny, who had her own newborn to look after in addition to the others.  Without going into too much detail, no outings and an army of small children who require care do not make for a fun trip.

Jeanne fit in to our family amazingly well.  She was quiet, helpful, considerate and very good-natured.   She and Gwenny, my seven-year-old daughter, loved doing each other's hair and cuddling.  They were very cute together.

By no means an exhaustive list, here's what we did over the course of July and August:

Sunfest is an annual summer festival held in Victoria Park that promotes music, dance and visual arts.  The day we attended was bloody hot.  Clémence seemed to enjoy the tunes and the artisans.  My kids? Not so much.  Their highlight was hanging out with a large group of pierced, tattooed and grubby hippies in a drumming circle.  Gwen hula hooped and Nathaniel slack-lined.  The odour of patchouli was overwhelming.  One girl's shirt read Fuck Malls.  I was glad that Gwen couldn't read.   

Cottaging near Parry Sound
My awesome neighbours, Nic and Caitie, invited us up to their heavenly spot on McKellar Lake.  We swam, fished, feasted on the fish we caught, played games, toured Parry Sound, read mags and thoroughly enjoyed Canadian cottage life.

Nic and Nathaniel, and a little fish-wrangling.  This is one of Nathaniel's big catches that we later dined on,  I think.

view from the Parry Sound water tower

top of the water tower - it was windy!

Self portrait

Sunset and thin slice of moon, ahhhhhhh...

Grand Bend
My sister-in-law and her family hosted our student for three days at their cottage. GB is a teenager's paradise:  there is a trashy and expensive strip with shops selling beachwear and souvenirs, and divey bars and restaurants all frequented by the scantily clad youth of today.  I think Clémence enjoyed it.

Here we are enjoying a lobster boil (mini potatoes, shrimp, chorizo, lobster and corn) in honour of my niece's birthday.

Paul and the giant pot
I annoyed and disgusted everyone at the party by discussing how the lobsters are boiled alive.  I think it's important to acknowledge how your food gets to the table and how it is prepared.  This doesn't always make me a popular person, but I can't help myself.  So while I am not comfortable dunking a live lobster in a pot of boiling water, I did eat the cooked lobster.  I guess that makes me a hypocrite.  It seems to me that there must be a more humane way of killing lobsters than by boiling them to death.  As I have never hosted my own lobster boil, I have not researched potential solutions to my ethical dilemma.

Here I am, ostracized by the rest of the guests.  :-)  At least DjingDjang still loves me.

Django and I before our haircuts.  

Now, we both look idiotic.  Who am I kidding?  We look idiotic here too.

Salty brine (water, lemons, garlic, paprika, salt and peper, herbs) prepared by Paul

The big dump.  

I drank a third of a cup of butter.  As disgusting as it sounds,  I dipped everything in butter,  even sausage.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are awesome, generous hosts and they really know how to prepare a feast.

Clovermead, Sparta, Port Stanley
I took Clémence and two Spanish girls that my friend was hosting to Clovermead, which is an apiary near Aylmer.  There's a shop that offers samples of flavoured honey and an historic "town" that you can tour.

The Spanish students and Clémence, in front of one of the many bee displays
We also visited Sparta, which was a first for me.  Sparta is purportedly the candle capital of Canada

Try to say "candle capital of Canada" five times fast!

The entire town reeks of a scented candle.  Of course, we had to visit the main candle shop and I got sucked into buying an infuser that I later gifted to Clémence.  Why, you ask?  Because:
  • it stank like the town
  • C wanted it and offered to buy it from me.  There was no way that I was driving back there to suffer another visit to Stinktown
  • I was feeling generous and wanted to give her a going-away gift.

The girls made me stop the car and take many pictures of them beneath a Sparta town-sign, which they thought was hilarious!

I think they've seen too many Sparta Remix videos on youtube:


A word on Sparta remixes.  Do NOT look them up on Youtube unless you enjoy maniacal, anxiety-inducing, hyperspeed technosynth interspersed with King Leonidas screaming THIS IS SPARTA!  Here, I've made it easy for you, if you are indeed curious.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

As pour moi, the "Spartan" highlights were leaving the sickeningly sweet smelling candle shop and  yes! finding a mouldy twenty on someone's front lawn.  I treated everyone to ice cream and the shop we visited even had my favourite flavour - coconut!

Port Stanley Little Beach
After P.S., we stopped at Picard's Peanuts for a nut fix.  Well I wanted a nut fix, I am uncertain whether anyone else actually craved nuts.  I purchased a lot of chocolate covered items (toffee, peanuts, raisins, chips and pretzels).  I looked for some chocolate covered olives but I couldn't find any.  The chocolate covered carrots were also missing. ;-)

Our last stop was the Jumbo monument in St. Thomas.  This reproduction of the giant pachyderm has always appealed to me - it's very kitsch.  I can't help but wonder what it must have been like to see the train bear down on poor Jumbo.  And the elephant carnage on the tracks! Oi!  How did they remove Jumbo's body?  There's a story percolating...  I think I might have to do some research in the London Room...

The girls adored Jumbo.  Not as much as they obsessed over the Sparta sign, but still!

There's more to tell, but I will save that for my next post.  In the meantime, here are two of my go-to muffin recipes.  I use both of these recipes ALL THE TIME.  I am going to vent here for a minute.  You know what I hate?  People who refuse to share recipes.  I used to work with a woman who made lemon squares and she wouldn't give me her recipe and I love lemon squares.  So I share.  Because that woman really pissed me off.  As George Eliot wrote:
"What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"
Clémence contacted me two days ago on FB and asked me for some of my muffin recipes because she missed them!  That made me feel really good.  I know my muffins are yummy, but I didn't realize that C actually enjoyed them.  I mean, she ate them and all, but I thought it was for sustenance more than pleasure.  I have tweaked the recipes A LOT, and I can assure you that they are delicious and more nutritious than anything you will buy at the grocery store.  I usually make double batches, giving some muffins to my neighbours, keeping a dozen out on the counter and freezing the rest for lunchboxes.

I am assuming that most of you have a basic understanding of baking, so you will already know that you first mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, then mix up the remaining ingredients (wet) in a different bowl, and then combine the two.  Mix them together just until the flour disappears.  Don't over-mix or you will have tough muff.  From the Joy of Baking:
Mixing too much overdevelops the gluten in the flour which will cause a tough muffin with tunnels and a compact texture.  Only 10 to 15 strokes are needed to moisten the ingredients.  The batter should be still (sic) lumpy and you may still see a few traces of flour.  
A note on butter versus oil.  You will see that both of these recipes call for vegetable or canola oil.  I am pro-butter myself, but I have found that these two recipes have a better result with the oil -- the muffins are more moist.  And I am all about moist.  Hockey pucks masquerading as muffins will be rejected by this baker's maw.

Sorry for the chickenscratch below.  I actually tried to write neatly! I was going to take pictures of my recipe cards but they look disgusting (big greasy stains all over them) and make no sense to anyone but me.

You can use any combo of white and whole wheat flours, brown or white sugar and I often omit the salt.  To make cream cheese frosting, just dump some cc in a bowl, add icing sugar and milk or cream to thin it.  You can also add some vanilla extract.  Don't buy the fake vanilla extract.  Buy the real stuff.  

You don't have to use an electric mixer.  I usually just use a wooden spoon, because I don't like doing dishes.

Sept 11, 2013 - I just made the double chocolate zucchini today.  They ROCK! 


Soundtrack:  Martha and the Muffins.  Echo Beach