Tag Archives: 31 Days of France

The Power of a Photograph

Photo taken of Abe and Frank Francisco at a Linn Park rally for immigrants in July 2010.

Facebook memories can provide wonderful surprises some days.  It’s a wonderful way for me to check in and see how far things have come, and in some cases, it’s a new discovery.  Like this past Monday…I quickly looked through Facebook memories when I saw a photo I took 7 years ago (2013).  I was tagged in it by my friend and community activist, Helen Rivas.  The photo was of a gentleman by the name of Abe Francisco who had been the victim of a home invasion and was severely injured.  Helen tagged me in her post because I had taken the photo at a Celebration of the Immigrant Community rally in July 2010 in Linn Park and she was sharing Abe’s story of resilience.

And then, as I looked closer at this photo, I realized I knew the other young man in the photo…it was Abe’s brother Frank!  Frank Francisco had been a Fiesta Scholarship recipient in 2008 when he was attending University of Alabama at Birmingham and studying optometry.  I remember him to well because he had the best smile and was always so humble.  In the photo, Frank is holding a small American flag and looking at his brother Abe, who is holding a sign that said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” 

This photo just made me smile.  I especially remembered Frank from a 2008 scholarship reception we had at the Birmingham Public Library with Storyteller Antonio Sacre.  It was such a wonderful event and I got to introduce him to those gathered, give him a little hug and then he went on to speak about the scholarship and what it meant to receive it.  Frank is the youngest of five children of Indigenous Mayan Guatemalan immigrants who moved to Albertville, Alabama in 1994.  He speaks both Spanish and Qanjobal and he volunteered at HICA – the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama – an organization that I have been involved with since 2001.  Everyone at the reception loved talking to him.

The following year, Fiesta made posters of all the recipients to display at the festival.  We also got quotes from each of the scholarship recipients and Frank’s quote was “My dream of becoming a Doctor of Optometry has been made possible by the financial support of the Fiesta Scholarship.”  The Fiesta board loved being able to show the faces of the Hispanic students receiving scholarship awards and sharing their stories.  I mean, this is why we have Fiesta…so we can award scholarships to deserving Hispanic students!

Frank’s photo and bio at Albertville High School in 2019

In January 2019, I was at Albertville High School to photograph a show choir competition.  My daughter is the show choir director for Boaz middle school and high school and her students were performing that particular weekend.  As we walked to the classroom where the kids had changed into their costumes, we passed photographs all along the hallway.  The photos were honorees of Albertville High School’s Hall of Fame featuring graduates from the school who had gone on to wonderful achievements.  I was surprised to recognize several people and then I spotted Frank.  I had no idea he was a graduate of Albertville High School!  I had only known that he attended UAB in Birmingham.  It was also exciting to see what he had accomplished since his 2008 Fiesta scholarship award.  I excitedly showed my daughter and some of her students Frank’s photo and when I went to my next Fiesta board meeting, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone!

One of the other photos I took of Frank and his brother Abe in 2010.

Now, back to that photo that my friend Helen posted seven years ago…  I clicked on to Abe’s Facebook page on Monday and scrolled a bit.  That’s when I saw the video of his brother Frank’s induction into the Albertville High School Hall of Fame.  I watched the video and listened to his story up to 2018.  He graduated in 2014 and in addition to his work, he mentors other Hispanic students to help them reach their scholastic goals.  I heard that and said to myself…” of course he does!”  Then I saw it…the photo that I took in 2013 as part of the slide show about Frank’s life and achievements.  It literally stopped me in my tracks.  It’s amazing how far a single photo can take you with its story, isn’t it?

NOTE:  November is National Scholarship Month, established in 1998 by Scholarship America.  It was created to build awareness of scholarships.  This month, Fiesta, Alabama’s largest Hispanic cultural festival awarded $10,000 in scholarships to eight Hispanic students in Alabama. 

French Dining in Hoover, Alabama

Chicken Fricasee – our end of France trip dinner!

Or Chicken Fricassee a la Julia Child…

When my food and wine trip to France was cancelled early this year, it was disappointing to me and my husband, to say the least.  Creating the #31 Days of France Project was a nice diversion but I felt like I needed something really big to end on.  So, on the day we would have returned from France, I decided to make a French meal for us to enjoy.  (Related Reading: 31 Days of France – Part 1 and 31 Days of France – Part Deux)

This may not seem like that big of a deal, but I’ve never been that into cooking.  When my kids were little, they used to ask me that inevitable question, “Mom…what’s for supper?”  And I would say, “why are you asking me?  You know your dad is the one who cooks!”  I mean, I do have certain things that I like to make but for the most part, Eddie is the one thinking ahead about what to make for meals.  But for our French dinner, I wanted to be the one to tackle this one!

After reading a book about Julia Child, and watching the movie Julie and Julia, I got inspired to try one of her recipes.  I thought about her beef bourguignon, but honestly, I was a little intimidated.  So, after a trip to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients, I was ready to prepare our French inspired dinner on Friday, May 29th

Some of the Chicken Fricassee ingredients

The ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lb. skin-on-bone-in chicken thighs
  • Kosher Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 9 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp. thyme leaves

The directions called for heating the olive oil in a skillet.  Then I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper and put all four pieces into the skillet to cook until “golden” – five minutes per side.  This is when things started to get a bit smoky.  I had the fan on over the stove, opened the back and front doors to get the smoke moving!  I was worried the smoke alarm would go off!  Luckily that didn’t happen.

Once the chicken was browned, I put it aside to pull the other ingredients together.  In the same skillet, I added butter, onion, carrots, celery and mushrooms to cooked until soft.  This took about 5 minutes.  Then I added flour and cooked it all another minute or two before adding the wine and scraping the skillet to get anything on the bottom of the pan mixed in.  I let this concoction cook for about 6 minutes. 

Next came the broth and cream and then the parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.  Once combined, it was time to add the chicken and simmer all together for about 15 minutes while the chicken continued to cook and the sauce thickened.  I have to admit…it looked fantastic and I told my husband I hoped it tasted as good as it looked! 

Before we enjoyed this meal together, I made us each a French themed cocktail with Lillet, a French aperitif wine.  Very refreshing!  That’s when we facetimed with our friends, The Pruitt’s, who were supposed to be on the trip with us.  They were having their own French themed dinner that night too.  We shared cocktails and then said our goodbyes to enjoy our meals.  I had found a 60s French Pop Radio station on Pandora earlier in the month and really enjoyed listening, so for our meal I had it playing softly in the background. 

After a lovely fresh salad, we were ready for the main course.  And BOY!!!!  It did NOT disappoint!  We topped it off with a Chateauneuf duPape red wine that I had found on a recent trip to the Clairmont Piggly Wiggly.  They have an amazing French wine selection there.  On our trip, we would have been sampling this particular wine at a special event so this made up for it just a tad bit.  For dessert, I went simple with chocolate eclairs and macarons.  Magnifique!

My chicken fricassee dinner was a delicious end to my #31 Days of France project and I have to say, it got me interested in cooking too!  Well…maybe just a bit. 

Of All the Gin Drinks in all the World…She Made a French 75

All set to make French 75 cocktails!

When I thought I was going to France this year, I began researching food and drink to prepare for this adventure.  One of the drinks I had always heard about and yet never tried was the French 75, or in French, a Soixante Quinze.  When I knew we wouldn’t be going to France, I figured I would find the drink recipes and make them myself!

Naturally, I was curious about how the French 75 got its name and just how popular of a drink it really was.  A quick google search revealed that it is considered a classic cocktail and it is also considered a celebratory cocktail – probably because of the champagne.  In fact, many people refer to it as a champagne martini.  The French 75 was even featured in the 1942 film classic – Casablanca!  Remember the Humphrey Bogart infamous line,” of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

This drink is thought to have been created by the owner of Harry’s American Bar in Paris with the inspiration coming from the 75mm Howitzer field gun used by the French and the Americans in World War 1.  This gun was known for its accuracy and speed, and the French 75 drink apparently packed a kick equivalent to being hit by this weapon. 

I had all the ingredients at home and I was trying to find the perfect time to make one of these cocktails.  Then my friend Katy dropped by to bring me some beautiful French postcards that she had found at home while doing some reorganizing and wanted me to have them since I didn’t get to take my trip.  The day she dropped them by, we ended up talking in my front yard for over an hour!  I told her she needed to come back and we could socially distance on my deck and enjoy French 75 cocktails and snacks!  This was my perfect opportunity to make these cocktails! 

So, on Memorial Day weekend, Katy and I made plans to get together for cocktails and I prepared individual charcuterie (a French word) boards for us to enjoy.  Now mind you, I’m not a cocktail type of person.  I’m that person looking for the perfect bottle of wine and all I generally need is a wine glass and a cork screw.  Luckily, I found an entire stainless-steel cocktail set at the thrift store last fall and was excited about putting it to use that day. 

The recipe calls for:

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • ½ ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 3 ounces of champagne (or sparkling wine)
  • Garnish with spiral lemon twist

To Prepare:  Combine the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker.  Fill shaker with ice, cover, and shake vigorously until outside of shaker is cold – this takes about 30 seconds.  Strain the cocktail through a strainer or a slotted spoon into a large flute.  Top with champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

I was surprised at how easy this was to make and enjoy!  In fact, Katy and I enjoyed not one, but two of these delicious cocktails that day.  Granted it was a rather warm day sitting outside on my deck under the gazebo even with the fan blowing.  But it was such a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the company of  a friend and have a few cocktails and appetizers while social distancing.  My French cocktail experience was complete!

31 Days of France – Part Deux

This is part two of a two-part story of my cancelled trip to France this year due to the pandemic and how my husband and I celebrated from home.

As May approached, I decided to get my #31daysoffrance posts organized.  It really got me pretty excited too!  I mean, what else did I have to do while sheltering in place, am I right? 

My first post on Instagram on May 1st was a photo of four French wines that I had recently purchased.  My post stated: “Two weeks from today, Eddie and I were supposed to be on our way to France for our dream retirement vacation – a food and wine river cruise.  We knew in early March this wouldn’t happen for us this year.  Luckily, we have been able to rebook for next year and I’ve optimistically said that maybe that will give me time to learn some French!  (NOTE:  I did take French in 3rd grade when I lived in Puerto Rico, but most of that is long gone!)  So, for the month of May, I plan to pull as many French items into our lives as I can from the comfort of our home.”   I went on to ask for French wine suggestions and I actually got a few!

It became a great daily activity for me as I searched my home for French related items to post about.  I started with a can of Café du Monde coffee which I had just started drinking at home along with a coffee mug I found at the thrift store earlier in the year.  It contained the famous Audrey Hepburn quote – “Paris is always a good idea.”  When I saw it, I felt like it was meant to be!  I think it was the universe telling me that I was going to be using it quite a bit for this #31daysoffrance project! 

Other posts featured books I was planning to read, including “My Good Life in France” written by Janine Marsh.  This was a book recommended to me by my friend Lisa Pruitt who was also mourning the loss of our trip this year.  I signed up for Janine’s newsletter and started following her on social media and was thrilled when she acknowledged my photo of her book and the fact that we had to cancel our trip.  I soon became one of her Facebook page’s Top Fans. 

Some other posts included a wonderful Taste of France magazine, an Eiffel tower necklace made from an old watch (found at the thrift store), an Eiffel tower figurine – again, something I found at the thrift store leading up to my trip, – an Eiffel Tower tray that I used next to my recliner in the family room.  There were so many little things that I didn’t even realize I had collected in anticipation of our trip.

On my weekly grocery shopping outings, I looked for French related foods from Brioche bread, French butter, yogurt (Oui), of course French cheeses (I got into a lengthy conversation with the guy at the Whole Foods cheese counter one day), French toast, croissants and naturally French wines!  These posts were fun and I loved staging them just right and then enjoying the food and drink afterward.  I also loved listening to 60s French music on Pandora as I went about my day.  Really great listening!

When May 15th arrived, the day we were supposed to be flying to Paris, I started posting about our trip and what we would have been doing.  I had the itinerary provided by Tauck so I knew exactly where we would each day.  This made me want to do more research into what we would be experiencing.  I began sharing screenshots of places, wines, food and other things we would have been doing.  I learned a lot about France from the safety of my home for the next few weeks.  Or at least the places we would have been visiting.

I mean, we would have been making dessert at the Cordon Blue, visiting museums like Musee Rodin, and Musee D’Orsey, enjoying a chef demonstration by Chef Anne Sophie, sampling French cognacs at a dinner at the restored chateau and ground of the medieval Duchy of Uzes.  The list goes on and the experiences would have been breathtaking and unforgettable, I’m certain! 

Chicken Fricasee – our end of France trip dinner!

We were due to return from France on Friday, May 29th.  So, in honor of this, I prepared a French dinner for Eddie and myself along with a lovely French cocktail.  We facetimed with our friends, the Pruitt’s, during cocktails to toast to the trip that didn’t happen.  Then Eddie and I enjoyed a wonderful meal in our dining room with French music playing in the distance and toasted to an inspired #31daysoffrance experience this May 2020, during the pandemic of 2020.

NOTE: Look for my post about the French dinner I prepared for me and my husband in celebration of the end of my #31daysoffrance project.

#31 Days of France – Part 1

The Paris coffee mug I found at the thrift store in January set against some fragrant lavender on my dining room table.

This is part one of a two-part story of my cancelled trip to France this year due to the pandemic and how my husband and I celebrated from home.

Going to France has always been on my list of places to visit and explore.  Our friends, Lisa and Johnny Pruitt went two years ago for a long trip and really enjoyed it.  Lisa is such a Francophile and was even taking French lessons.  I loved seeing their photos and hearing their stories of that trip and it just made me want to visit all the more.

Then they decided they would go again this year and put out the word to close friends to see if anyone was interested in joining them.  Well, I was all in!  The timing of the trip hit perfectly with my husband, Eddie’s plans for retirement this year.  I mean, why not?  I had retired in July 2017 and we really didn’t do anything special since it happened rather quickly .  This would be a celebration of both of our retirements!  I was pumped!

Paris themed tray I found at the thrift store earlier this year.

Lisa and I started making plans.  This trip was a food and wine river cruise and we would begin our journey in Paris – the city of lights!  We would spend a few days there with various exciting events planned by our tour planner and then be transported to Lyon for the river cruise.  We chose a Tauck trip because Lisa and Johnny had used them when they went the previous year and were really impressed with what they offered.  Lisa said they were planning to add a few days on the front end and back end of the trip because they wanted to do a little more exploring and hoped we would too.  I figured, what the heck!  Eddie and I had traveled to Namibia, Africa several years prior and I was still disappointed that we didn’t do a little more while we were there so this seemed like a chance to make that right!

Lisa selected several side tours for us and I was all for them.  She kept asking me what we wanted to do but in all honestly, I had no idea.  I mean, I was ready to do whatever they wanted to because they had been there and knew what was worth visiting.  My only requests were the Eiffel Tower, the chance to see the Moulin Rouge and maybe visit a French flea market.  Other than that, … I was wide open for suggestions. We made our final payments for the trip including airfare and all we had left to do was wait for May 15th.

But in February we began to get a little concerned.  There was talk of a global pandemic and we weren’t sure what all of that meant for us.  In all honesty, I didn’t pay much attention to it thinking it was something that would quickly pass.  I’m sure many of us felt that way…and how wrong were we?!  I was in Colorado visiting my daughter and son -in-law when Eddie, Lisa, Johnnie and I began texting and Eddie was the one being pessimistic that we wouldn’t get to go.  I really thought he was overreacting.  Surely by May things would settle down, right?  I got back to Alabama and a few weeks later I was headed to Torreon, Mexico for a friend’s wedding.  At this point though, I was a little concerned.  I had heard talk that the president might close the borders because of the pandemic that seemed to be hitting Europe pretty badly.  For a bit, I wasn’t sure I should go to Mexico but went ahead.  While there, none of us were really paying much attention to what was going on in the world with all the festivities going on until a few days into the trip when one of our group said, “what the heck is going on with toilet paper back in the states?!”  Our final day at the hotel, notices went up about using hand sanitizer and a few other precautions.  No one was talking about masks yet.

When I got back to Alabama it was pretty clear the trip to France wouldn’t happen.  In fact, I returned on March 10 and by March 16, my husband was officially working from home and my daughter who is a teacher said her school had closed and teaching had begun virtually.  It was so disappointing but we were able to rebook the trip to May 2021.  Now we just have our fingers crossed that the pandemic will be gone by then so we can make the trip.

So, when it got close to May, I was really starting to mourn the loss of this trip.  I mean, we had been planning for a year and it was to be a celebration trip.  I started thinking about ways to experience France in the safety of my home when it occurred to me that I could find ways to celebrate France for the entire month of May!  I called this celebration #31DaysofFrance and I began posting about it on social media – mainly insta-story – as a way to celebrate the trip that didn’t happen.

In part two of 31 Days of France, I’ll share some of the things that I did to celebrate our France trip from home.