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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Week Ten in France: Vin chaud and pumpkin pie

My gorgeous aunt and a gorgeous tree in Place Kléber, Strasbourg – the Christmas capital!

23/11/2019: What. A. Day. J. and I headed out in the early afternoon en route to Strasbourg, where we wandered around the insanely crowded but adorable marché de Noël, ate a leisurely lunch at a small café and visited the vast and beautiful Parc de l'Orangerie. After a long day mostly spent outdoors in the cold, we met up at a warm brasserie with my friend L., who is doing a Master's in France and whom I haven't seen since our Northwestern days. It was so fun to catch up with an old friend over hot chocolate with a literal mountain of chantilly. I spoke a lot of French today with J., so it felt good and familiar to take a little English break with L. The ride home was long and dark, and I almost fell asleep, but I rallied once we arrived back in Brunstatt. I quickly changed and hurried out to go to a fellow teaching assistant's birthday party in town. The whole room was filled with a wonderful mix of Spanish, English, German, Portuguese and French speakers, a glorious array of snacks (including Spanish tortillas made by the birthday girl herself) and lots of red wine, specifically Beaujolais nouveau. We talked, danced, ate and drank all night long, and I don't think I've felt this free and happy and included in a long time. Thriving!

24/11/2019: Not thriving this morning, though. A brutal hangover means sleeping in and eating plain pasta with butter for lunch. This is going to be a crazy week, what with Friendsgiving, many hours of classes, seeing my family in Strasbourg and celebrating Thanksgiving with a big party at our place on Friday, featuring all of my landlord and landlady's friends, colleagues and family. I needed to rest and prepare myself, so I don't really feel bad for spending literally all day in bed.

25/11/2019: Back on the hamster wheel. During a break in between classes, I went back again to Le Nid for pancakes and fresh juice (carrot, apple and orange). I can't stay away! It was delicious, but my anxiety was spiking because of the busy week ahead. I planned out a meticulous, down-to-the-minute to-do list and felt no better. But I know I have so many things to look forward to this week, and I will get through it, as long as I stop procrastinating and stick to my schedule. So, after a very full day of school, this evening was packed with grocery shopping, cooking for tomorrow's Friendsgiving and planning lessons for the next few days. Of course, I had to take a break for L'amour dans le pré, a beloved French TV show starring farmers trying to find love.

Friends and food and fun!

26/11/2019: Thank goodness, the to-do list is coming along nicely and I feel a bit more relaxed today. After a full day of classes, it was time for a mad dash home and right back out again to my friend I.'s place to celebrate Friendsgiving! When I arrived, my lemon & thyme roasted chicken thighs in tow, I walked into total chaos. All 10 guests were packed into the tiny kitchen, finishing dishes in the oven, looking for serving plates and pouring glasses of wine. Eventually, we got everything on the table and sat down to eat while listening to a wild playlist of German, Irish and French songs, plus a heavy dose of 2000s American pop music, of course. The food was all delicious, from the savory Turkish fried pastries to the spinach lasagna to the Banoffee pie for dessert. I really couldn't be more grateful. My friend A. said it best:

"Friendsgiving, actually the most important and heartwarming tradition that truly makes me miss home. So lucky to celebrate with some amazing people this year."

27/11/2019: Hump day, payday, still riding a high from last night. What's not to like? My class about climate change solutions went super well today, and the kids were so engaged, but my stress is surging again. I really need to make some progress on my Pop-Up Zine idea, but I feel like I've been expected to just snap my fingers and make it happen, and it doesn't really work like that. I don't even have a room to myself where I can work with the kids at specific times during the week yet! Like I said, I have detailed plans that will help things along, but I don't want to feel like I'm just here to churn out content. It's a lot of pressure. I know it'll work out, though – I'm so excited for it to really get started. More Starbucks for breakfast after class: my favorite hazelnut caramel latte and a French toast-style brioche, then a bit of shopping and more cooking for Thanksgiving in Strasbourg with my aunts tomorrow. Tonight consisted of tutoring with my favorite student, lesson planning, laundry and leftover chicken thighs; you know the drill.

28/11/2019: Today was such a busy day, I really didn't have much time to eat, besides a three-day-old chausson aux pommes for breakfast and a vending machine cappuccino for lunch. Class, finishing a lesson plan, class, tutoring, class, run to the train station. By the time I arrived in the beautiful Christmas heaven that is Strasbourg, I was absolutely starving. After some big hugs from my aunts and marveling at the view from our Airbnb, which was perched right above the market in the Place Gutenberg, we grabbed vin chaud and a bretzel while we walked around seeing the sights. We stopped in at least three classic Alsatian restaurants, but every single one was complet (totally full) for the evening. Thank you, tourist season. So, instead of a traditional choucroute, we found an adorable restaurant called Calmos for our Thanksgiving meal. And what a good decision that turned out to be! The space was decked out with pink tiles, beautiful tableware and chic cloth napkins that we may or may not have taken home with us. We started with a celebratory pastis toast, where we teared up about how grateful we are to be able to spend Thanksgiving together with our loved ones in such a special place. Then came the foie gras, filled with what can only be described as pure holiday flavor, followed by a delicious duck breast, cheesy mashed potatoes, squash and truffle risotto and a juicy burger with salty and crunchy frites. We strolled home, stuffed, for a cup of tea and a slice of the pumpkin pie with a speculoos crust and crème fraîche swirl that I'd made and transported all the way from Mulhouse. Our little Thanksgiving à la française was a major success.

29/11/2019: But the festivities didn't stop there. The next day was our second Thanksgiving (must be pronounced in a French accent), hosted annually by my British landlord and landlady, T. and E. Armed with several umbrellas, the aunts and I headed to Mulhouse in the afternoon, after a little obligatory Black Friday shopping in Strasbourg. Even though they didn't stay long, it was so nice to introduce my American family to the people who are quickly becoming my French family, from my flatmate S. to T. and E. and their three dogs. The house was truly full of love, and in the blink of an eye, it was full of people, too. By the time the party really got going, at least 60 guests were packed into every corner – upstairs, downstairs, outside on the terrace. After a lively apéro, we finally swarmed the dining room table close to 9 p.m. for delicious turkey, salmon and a vast number of good-looking sides (including cornbread, my favorite food!). There was chatting, singing, piano, guitar, dancing, little children doing magic tricks, French, English, wine, whiskey and, of course, dessert. According to some partygoers, the top two pies were my pumpkin and J.'s homemade tarte citron meringuée.

The evening was everything I'd imagined and more, and I went to bed with a huge smile on my face, ready for even more excitement the next morning – I'm spending the weekend in London!

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