Yearly Archives: 2008

Christmas Jaunt to Alsace

I’ll be missing my “Authentic France Travel Tip” posting this week as Franck and I are taking our bevy up to one of our favorite French towns, Colmar.

Teething baby permitting, we’re planning on enjoying the wonderful Christmas markets that Alsace does so beautifully, and drinking lots of mulled wine.

To find out more about Alsace’s amazing Christmas festivities, just click here;

And in Colmar specifically;

I’ll be back to post my Frenchitude lesson this Friday, and will return with another Authentic France Travel Tip next Tuesday.

Now must go and try to figure out how to fold up the pack & play…

Scenes From The Beaune Saturday Market in the Wintertime

I found some perfect apples for making a tarte tatin, a new fetish of mine.

We can never go to the Beaune market without stopping Chez Sabatier, which sells the best charcuterie in the galaxy. They also give out free slices of saucisson sec to the girls, so everyone is happy.

Two very warmly dressed little girls, après saucisson sec.

Who decided they couldn’t go any further without the sustenance of a fresh pain au chocolate.

Saucisson and pain au chocolat are a match made in heaven, didn’t you know?

Frenchitude Lesson #14: Limit Baby Paraphernalia

Who wants toys when Mom’s magazines are lying around?

Now this is a subject very close to my heart, particularly in December when the toy catalogues start clogging up our mailbox.

Two years ago my younger sister Jayne visited her French friend Claire, who had recently had a baby boy, and Jayne commented several times on the surprising lack of baby clutter in Claire’s tiny Marseilles apartment.

Ahhhhhhh….the utopic vision of a place where both babies and adults can live in harmony. I have to say, I have almost found it here in France.

The French don’t go in for the gee-gaws and huge play apparatuses that North American parents seem to feel obliged to litter their house with once Baby arrives on the scene.

Not only do the French object to how the clutter clashes with the carefully chosen décor of one’s interior, but they believe that little children aren’t that interested in toys when it comes right down to it. Rather, babies tend to be drawn to things they see the bigger people “playing” with. In our house this translates into the measuring spoons, the big girls’ dolls, and my magazines. I’m also deeply troubled and ashamed to admit that Clem has an obsession with the TV clicker.

In Canada, I had an obscene amount of brightly coloured plastic crapola for Charlotte and Camille, and the truth was that they played with it very little.

For Clémentine, however, I find myself doing the baby stuff in a far more minimalist, French style. For one thing, we have a relatively small house for a five person family, as is the case with many French people. I have learned that the smallest babies really only need clean diapers, soft clothes against their skin, someone to give them a bottle, a squeezy teething giraffe named Sophie, and a comfortable place to sleep to be content.

In this light, I had a lot of fun adding a “French Baby Essentials” section to our “French Favorites Store” on Amazon. To have a boo, just click here;

Besides Sophie La Girafe and Petit Bateau bodysuits, this time around I found myself, like many French people, only allowing one baby apparatus in the house at a time.

Right now it’s the hand-me-down play park where I can pop Clem if I need to do something and can’t be distracted by the prospect of falling furniture or the flotsam and jetsam she will eat off the floor. Otherwise, she enjoys cruising around on her own (with the helmet, of course, as befits a trainee hockey player).

She has a drawer in the living room she knows is hers filled with books and the odd piece of Tupperware. Clem’s most prized possession, the one she covets above all else, is a broken old TV clicker she keeps secreted away in her drawer. She shrieks when anyone gets too close to her TV clicker, like a mother bear over her cub.

For Christmas, Charlotte and Camille were in a fizz about writing a list to Santa Claus for Clem, but I told them that here in France the Père Noel knows that babies like wrapping paper more than presents.

I have bought her a Fisher Price telephone from us, and a gold bracelet with her name engraved on it (called a “gourmette” here in France) from Santa with some of the money that I would have, when Charlotte and Camille were babies, spent on space-consuming “educational” toys that we would have tripped over for two years and then ended up chucking in the dumpster.

And c’est tout! Ho, Ho, Ho. Joyeux Noël!

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Annecy or Atlanta.

Ah Oui…About The Helmet…

A while ago I posted some photos of Clémentine at 9 months, and included one of her in her “casque“. So in an attempt to defend myself, here is my explanation of the helmet…

Clem has always been one of those babies who likes nothing better than standing up. She does crawl, but it is basically only useful as far as it gets her from Point A, where she is standing, to Point B, which looks like another promising place to stand up.

Here she is flipping through my La Redoute catalogue. It’s very boring to do that sitting down, n’estce pas?

And we’re getting more and more of this kind of thing lately…that is, letting go of furniture and standing up all by herself. It’s tricky, but fun.

Falling down on the wooden floor of the Office is one thing, but falling down on the Portuguese tiles of the living room and kitchen is another thing altogether. They are hard, unforgiving, and necessitate protection for little heads.

Hence the baby helmet. No, it’s not particularly fun or fashionable, but it is very useful for protecting the little noggins of little girls who like standing up. That’s what I’m telling Child Services anyway. What Clémentine will tell her therapist years from now is entirely up to her.

Authentic France Travel Tip #13: Don’t Be Intimidated by Winetastings

If you have even the remotest interest in wine, it would be a shame to visit one of the myriad of France’s wine regions and not experience a winetasting.

As discussed in the comments of my last Frenchitude post, the big commercial tastings that you pay for are fine if you want to taste a bunch of wines with no obligation to buy, or tour really impressive cellars. However, I persist in believing that the heart and soul of French wine culture resides in the smaller family-run Domaines.

There are of course hundreds of these all over Burgundy, but it is not always easy for a visitor to summon the courage to push open their doors and venture inside.

Many visitors to France know little about winetasting technique or appellations or terroirs. French winemakers, by definition, know a lot. It’s definitely outside most people’s comfort zone to willingly enter into such an unbalanced situation. As adults, most of us are not big fans of feeling ignorant.

However, allow me to let you in on a little secret…the least favorite tasting clients of my winemaker friends here in Burgundy, by a long shot, are the ones who have spent years building up an encyclopedic knowledge about wine, and who are dead set on showing it off.

I regularly hear complaints from local winemakers about this brand of client. One superb but low-key winemaker I know has said of them, “they are so focused on trying to impress me with what they think they know that they spend all their time pointing out the flaws in my wine. They don’t appear to enjoy the wine they’re tasting, and I know that I’m certainly not enjoying myself.”

In my opinion, trying to impress a Burgundian winemaker reeks not only of the pretentious, but of the ridiculous. Consistently I have found that the more a French person knows about wine, the less they need to show off that knowledge.

One amazing tasting I did at the Domaine Comte de Vogue in Morey-Saint-Denis was ample proof of this. Francois Millet, the winemaker, obviously possessed an other-worldly knowledge of wine, and one taste of his “Les Amoureuses was proof enough that he also boasted a winemaking talent of the same breadth and depth.

Yet Monsieur Millet spoke very little, mainly letting his wines speak for themselves. When he did answer a question about winemaking technique, he answered plainly and simply. In France, and perhaps especially in Burgundy, trying to impress everyone with your store of wine knowledge is the best way of illustrating how little useful information you actually know.

Instead, consider winetastings an opportunity to discuss and learn. With this attitude, you will make yourself welcome and appreciated at all kinds of Domaines, from the biggest to the smallest.

Also remember there are no right or wrong answers in regards to how a wine tastes. As Aimé Guibert, a Languedoc winemaker, rhapsodized in the film Mondovino, taste is “an internal symphony”. He describes taste as the marvelous alchemy between what you have inside you and how that relates to the wine you drink. It does, and should, vary widely from person to person.

That is precisely what makes wine, and winetasting, so fascinating.

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

Scenes From Franck’s Sunday Ride aka "Winter Has Arrived in Burgundy!"

Here are some photos Franck took on his Sunday morning bike ride with Martial and Marc-Olivier. As you can see, it is very, very froid here in Burgundy at the moment. The vines behind Franck have fallen into their deep winter sleep.

Two days ago when I went for a run / walk my IPOD actually froze like the water coming out of this village fountain, below.

Frenchitude Lesson #13: Enjoy Red Wine

My Dad, an avid adept to this aspect of Frenchitude, recently sent me a link that tells how, as well as combating cancer and heart disease, drinking red wine may also have another health benefit, preventing Alzheimer’s.

In Burgundy it goes without saying that red wine, even more so than bread or water, is viewed as the staff of life. It is seen as an indispensable way of nourishing the body, and even more importantly, the soul.

Burgundian winemakers take pride in austere, chemical-free wines that don’t benefit from any special assistance such as irrigation or fake oak flavouring. Made as purely as possible, wines become the link between man and the Earth. One cannot exist without the other, and together through an act of almost mystical alchemy they produce the sublime nectar in your glass.

The French have long known that drinking good red wine (emphasis on good) is a highly agreeable way of putting important compounds and minerals from the earth back into your body. It is also, and no less importantly, a way to commune with Mother Earth. The result is not only a bit of protection from the nasty tricks our bodies can play on us, but even more importantly a lovely sensation of being at one with the world.

The key to enjoying red wine the French way is twofold.

First, of course, is moderation. The French aren’t susceptible to the AngloSaxon tendency towards the “if one glass is good for me, a bottle must be even better” mentality. The French have long grasped that too much of anything detracts from pleasure, and pleasure, not health, is always the primary goal.

Second, the wine has to be good. This does not mean that the wine has to be expensive. Our winemaker friend Claire Naudin in MagnylesVillers is producing a new table wine that is not only inexpensive but as pure and gorgeous as all of her other wines.

I for one have tasted many a hideously expensive bad wine. When looking for wine to drink, don’t look for the most expensive bottle on the shelf. Search for a parsimonious use of sulfates and other chemicals, as well as a winemaker who has expressed a commitment to pure, honest winemaking.
Only eat and drink things that give you pleasure, especially red wine. That is the Frenchitude way.

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Washington or Wisconsin.

Mom’s Hot Air Balloon Photos

As promised, here are my Mom’s photos from our morning of hot-air balloon excitement during my parents’ recent visit to Burgundy.

By the way, if anyone has a hankering to try this themselves, the local company we always recommend to our vacation rental guests is Air Escargot. I’m pretty sure these balloons were theirs. The company has been around for a very long time and are their outings are reputed to be very safe, professional, and enjoyable.

For more info. just go to their website;

Here are the balloons coming over the village of MagnylesVillers, which will seem rather familiar to anyone who has stayed at La Maison des Deux Clochers...

Then they floated over the valley between us here in Villers-la-Faye and MagnylesVillers. Anyone who has stayed at either La Maison de la Vieille Vigne or La Maison des Deux Clochers will be familiar with this little chapel between the two villages. It was built to thank the Virgin Mary for sparing (relatively) the two villages during the Occupation in World War II.

WHOOSH! Goes the flame!

They float closer to our deck here at La Maison des Chaumes, which looks out towards the valley and MagnylesVillers.

They were flying so low I was worried they were going to collide with the round tower of Villers-la-Faye’s very own Chateau (or what’s left of it) on the bottom right hand corner of the photo.

Mais non! They merely glided above it as though they do this sort of thing every day, which they probably do – Air Escargot’s admirable track record remains unblemished for another day! Soon I’ll be posting my Dad’s photos, which are pretty amazing as well.

And n’oubliez pas, tomorrow is Frenchitude Friday again…

6 Things…

Middle Way tagged me to reveal 6 things about myself that readers might not necessarily know, so here’s my five minutes of narcissism for today:

1. I have banned myself from watching all medical shows on TV, including ER, House, and even Gray’s Anatomy, because the medical crisis’ freak me out too much, and I am systematically afflicted with the very same ones for weeks afterwards.

2. I have signed up for the Nuits-Saint-Georges Wine Auction 10km race on March 21, 2009 and am currently walking / running three times a week. I’m using the Vancouver “Sun Run” 13 week prep program so am currently running 2 minutes, walking 3 minutes, and repeating. I will be exploring my reasons for doing this in a future blog post (the free wine has a lot to do with it), but let me just say that if I end up being able to finish the 10k, anyone can do it.

3. I eat about four mandarin oranges a day at this time of year.

4. Seeing as I’m still struggling with my personal devastation on learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, I am currently tortured over what answer to give my very innocent, but currently very questioning, oldest daughter.

5. When (trying) to ebb the tide of panic before being wheeled into the OR before my first C-section (Charlotte) I didn’t fantasize about palm trees swaying in the breeze, but rather the compounding interest of the money I was saving for a down payment of a house. It calmed me down far more than palm trees ever could. Must be the Scottish blood.

6. Last night Franck went out rock climbing with some friends and I was planning on working. Instead, I popped in the Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley in the DVD player, snapped a piece of 72% black chocolate off the bar in the kitchen cupboard, curled up on the couch under a quilt, and indulged.

So now I am going to *evil cackle* tag a few others:

A Novel Woman
Chez Lou Lou
French Letters
Unlikely Nomad (to get her blogging again)

Authentic France Travel Tip #12: Follow The Locals For The Best ‘Nosh

Ma Cuisine is emblematic of Burgundy, and especially Beaune, in its obsession with good wine.

Authentic France Travel Tip #12: Follow The Locals For The Best ‘Nosh

When we went to Tuscany three years ago we took along a Rick Steve’s guide. The corner of Tuscany we chose, however, was rather obscure so the only time we pulled out “The Rickster” was during a day in Florence.

We used it to choose a restaurant for lunch…big mistake. Besides the waiters, there was not a single Italian in the place. Rather, we were surrounded by a mob of other North Americans, all with their Rick Steve’s guides under their arms. The food was merely passable, the service perfunctory, and the atmosphere anything but authentic.

We promptly realized our error of ways and ditched the guide. Thus began a covert spy mission which involved sussing out locals and following them to wherever they went to eat. This technique earned us many memorable meals, from a street-side humble pizza to a divine pasta feast in a local nunnery in Sansepolcro.

Looking for the best and most authentic meals anywhere new? Easy – follow and / or ask the locals.

Never hesitate to simply ask store clerks or anyone else without a Rick Steves guide under their arm which restaurants THEY would recommend.

I know when I’m travelling I fully expect to land in a couple of disappointing tourist traps during my trip, but using the above technique we tend to find much more good nosh than bad nosh, and sometimes we even find truly LIFE ALTERING nosh.

Here in Burgundy, we are constantly asking around to friends and family for restaurant recommendations. One name that we kept hearing was the restaurant “Ma Cuisine” in the Passage Saint-Hélène in Beaune.

Much to my well…surprise…Franck surprised me with a dinner there to celebrate my 36th Birthday. Comme d’habitude, the locals’ recommendations were right on, and my delicious dinner of rabbit paté and chicken breast with a cream sauce, accompanied with an amazing selection of hand-picked local wines, REALLY made the extra year easier to swallow.

Ma Cuisine
Passage Saint-Hélène
21200 Beaune


*Open only 4 days a week which vary. Reserve as early as you possibly can, as this restaurant is very popular with the locals!

Don’t miss this simple yet amazingly satisfying restaurant when you are in Beaune. Its low-key, understated atmosphere provides the prefect backdrop to its unfussy yet perfectly executed cuisine. In the evening enjoy a prix fixe menu for 22.00 Euros with choices such as delicious home made terrines, foie gras, kidneys, chicken breasts in cream sauce, etc. etc.

The restaurant boasts one of the best – if not the best in my opinion – wine lists in Beaune. All the bottles are hand-picked, and there is a generous selection of half-bottles for those pour souls such as Franck and I who have to drive home afterwards (however, if you are staying in Le Relais du Vieux Beaune, you are in easy stumbling distance).

The desserts (crucial for me) are just as simple and sublime as the rest of the meal. Franck had a gorgeous hunk or tarte tatin and I had a selection of three different kinds of crème brulée. Miam.

So make like a local; reserve a table at Ma Cusine, go, eat and drink divine things, then enjoy feeling at one with the universe…

Other places locals go to for a lovely evening meal in Beaune:

La CibouletteFaubourg Saint-Nicolas

Le Petit Paradis – rue Paradis

Le BenatonFaubourg Bretonnière (has a Michelin star, and the higher prices that go with!)

*”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.