Monthly Archives: January 2008

The Name Game – Part I

I have to say that one of the funnest things about expecting a baby is choosing a name. There are so many great names out there, all with their own special nuance, that I can understand why some people just keep having child after child.

For Franck and I, we have always searched for names that sound good in both English and French.

With our first child, who we were both convinced was a boy due to seeing what must have been a stray bit of umbilical cord on the ultrasound, we had picked out the names “Hugo” (for Victor Hugo, and also Franck’s favorite author Hugo Pratt who wrote the “Corto Maltese” series of books that he devoured when he was a boy) and “Jack” (my grandfather’s name). So, we were all geared up to have a Hugo Jack Germain.

Luckily for Charlotte, we had also picked out a girl’s name just in case. “Charlotte” not only sounds nice in English and French, but it also honoured Franck’s two summers spent as a fishing guide up in the Queen Charlotte Islands, a place that will remain sacred in his heart until the end of his days. For a second name I had always loved the name “Adèle” – not sure why, I just always loved it. I also really liked the idea of my children having an accent somewhere in their names to remind them of their french half.

So when she came out feet first (C-section, thank GOD) and they said “It’s a girl!”, and once I recovered from my shock and Franck from his belief that the doctors were just playing a joke on the poor french guy, Charlotte Adèle Germain had arrived, albeit upside down.

We were also sure baby #2 was a boy, due to that darn umbilical cord on the ultrasound again. So we were all geared up to use our “Hugo Jack” boy name, and still hadn’t agreed on a girl’s name when they were wheeling me into the operating room. We had several contenders, among them “Juliette”, “Capucine” (french for “Nasturtium“), and “Camille”. Even though I really thought baby#2 was a boy too, on the off chance it was a girl I was set on having the second name being “Agnès” like my grandmother, except pronounced the french way with a soft “g”.

At the last minute, just as they were helping me hoist myself onto the operating table and Franck was being led away to change into his scrubs we decided to stick with the initials C.A.G. and went with “Camille Agnès Germain”. Lucky we decided, as Camille (pronounced the french way “Cam-eeee” rather than the English “Cam-eel” which never fails to evoke a horsey image of Camilla Parker Bowles in my mind’s eye for some reason) was born minutes later.

And now six years later we have been reflecting and debating on the perfect name for the glow-worm for the past nine months, and I must say we’ve gone back to the drawing board completely.

To be continued…

Making Dad Green Part II

Franck’s 40th Birthday falls this February 11th, a time when the glow-worm will theoretically be about three weeks old, which means of course we will no doubt be up to our ears in dirty diapers, bottles, and severe sleep deprivation. A big blow-out party may be a tad unrealistic.

So on Saturday night (after polishing off the bottle of 1967 at lunchtime) we united our closest friends here in France – Nicolas & Joelle, Martial & Isabelle, and Charlotte & Marco and had a rather raucous dinner party to informally celebrate the 40th Birthday that Franck won’t be celebrating on his actually B-day, besides changing a Happy Birthday diaper or five.

Between us four couples there were 10 children – not counting the one in my stomach – which in our three bedroom house made it instantly feel like a crowded nightclub for the under-aged.

Franck brought out several bottles including a Magnum from Domaine Naudin in MagnylesVillers and – get this, Dad – his bottle of 1969 Aloxe Corton that Martial had given him as a wedding present. There’s also a 1972 for me down in our basement cellar but may I just take a moment to say I am a whole FIVE years away from the big 40. Just a young’un.

Now if you are quicker on the math uptake than I am (and frankly most people are) you will have caught something wrong with the date of the bottle Franck brought up from the basement. Franck of course was born in 1968. However, 1968 is not only known in France for the widespread riots and strikes but also because it was one of the worst, if not THE worst year of the century for wine.

Terrible weather meant that the 1968 vintage was almost undrinkable, and you would be hard pressed to find any surviving bottles. It was so bad most winemakers just drew a cross over that year and threw the wine away. However, 1969 was, on the contrary, a very good year so Martial very cleverly bought a bottle of 1969 and with a magic marker turned the “9” into an “8”. What can I say? Our friends are smart as well as generous.

Here is the doctored bottle.

And here is Martial and my (gasp!) almost 40 year old husband and the doctored bottle. Just an aside, I can’t believe I’m married to someone who’s almost 40. Good God, that’s old. They look their age here as they had just single-handedly commandeered a meal of waffles and Nutella for the 9 children (Mahault isn’t quite at the waffle and Nutella stage yet) while everyone else sat in the living room quaffing the Champagne Charlotte brought.

Opening up a very old bottle of wine is an extremely delicate business. If you are dealing with the original cork, as was the case with all the old bottles we have drunk recently, it can literally disintegrate on removal. Franck got half out initially, and here he is with Martial consulting on the very grave matter of how to extract the other crumbling half (which they did very successfully by the way).

Once decanted we had a sniff and a taste and it was, well…delicious. It was completely different from Nicolas’ bottle of 1967; it was very meaty and almost had an earthy taste to it. The glow-worm gave a hearty kick of approval.

And as it is near Epiphany here in France there are delicious gallettes de roi being sold in every bakery. Nicolas and Joelle bought one in Beaune for dessert and Martial and Charlotte Buffet found the feves (little ceramic figurines representing the firemen of Beaune this year) so as ephiphany tradition dictates here in France they were crowned the kind and queen of the evening. As you can see from the photographic evidence below, the excellent wine (or was it the Champagne?) put everyone in a rather festive mood.

So to sum it up Dad, we drank all of the 1912, 1967, and 1969 wine over the past week (but you’ll be happy to know that we did think of you while doing it), but I’ll see if I can scrounge up a galette or two when you come next week. Maybe you’ll find the feve and be able to wear the crown as consolation.

Making Dad Green with Envy

My good friends here in France know by now that any time a particularly good bottle is brought out in my vicinity I simply have to take a photo – not only for posterity, but more to the point to make my wine-loving Father extremely jealous. They even join in the game, posing for me while sipping Burgundy’s finest nectar as languorously and blissfully as possible.

I didn’t think I would have fresh opportunities to make my Dad green so close on the heels of the amazing line-up of wine Marco brought out for our New Year’s Eve celebration in Beaune (to catch up on that, just click http://grapejournal.blogspot.com/2008/01/bonne-annee.html ) , but this weekend proved I was sorely mistaken.

Our friends Nicolas and Joelle (Joelle of the lovely studio rental in Montparnasse that I can whole-heartedly recommend http://www.latelierdesbeauxarts.com/ehome.html ) and their children Violette and Valentin came for the weekend.

Franck had recently missed out going up to Paris for Nicolas’ epic 40th B-day as he was desperately painting day and night here at La Maison des Chaumes to get it ready before Christmas. I also happen to know he was fiendishly driven by a recurring nightmare of me going into early labour before he the house was finished.

However, in the end Nicolas brought the party to us in the form of a 40 year old bottle of 1967 VosneRomanee. Here he is hamming it up with a glass in one hand and one of Franck’s freshly baked gougeres (recipe for these coming up soon on my blog). Note the date on that bottle, Dad. That’s 1-9-6-7.

I of course had to have a taste (once again, I take my obligation to introduce our glow-worm to his / her cultural heritage as early as possible very seriously indeed). It tasted spicy and rich and almost a bit like Madeira. Yum. Also note the lovely and freshly painted yellow wall of our new kitchen behind Nicolas.

So in the end we have a freshly painted house and an opportunity to celebrate Nicolas’ birthday with a superlative bottle of 40 year old Burgundian wine – who says you can’t have everything in life?

But Dad, it isn’t over yet! Read more tomorrow…

Another Nostril Baby

At my ob / gyn appointment the other day the doctor searched for about ten minutes with the Doppler to try and find the baby’s heartbeat with no success – always a very soothing moment in a woman’s life.

Luckily in France most ob / gyn’s have an ultrasound in their office, so we went next door and he quickly was able to discern that the glow-worm’s heart was beating just fine, but that in his words “this baby is one of the highest I’ve ever seen”. Indeed, the doctor was looking for the heartbeat down around my bellybutton area where it should be by this time, when in fact it was to be found just under my sternum.

Just like my other babies, the bigger the glow-worm gets the higher he / she gets, and once again I have this nagging feeling that he / she has inherited my notoriously bad sense of direction, and is trying to emerge into the world via my nostrils.

La Voila!

There she is! That’s Charlotte in the white top taking a (very) brief break from the kitchen and baby soothing.

And there’s me in the middle (Charlotte had whisked back into the kitchen by this point) actually tearing my eyes off the oysters for long enough for the photo to be taken.

Bonne Annee!

Our dear and very energetic friend Charlotte invited us over for a New Year’s dinner last night. There was also her husband Marco, and her friends Juliette, Nicolas, and Benedicte from Blois and Lille respectively. A delicious and relaxing evening which was just perfect for my very pregnant self. Also, my stomach is feeling quite a bit better, so I am diversifying (perhaps more than my doctor would like, but then again does he need to know everything?) somewhat, ahem, widely these days from rice and pasta.

Mahault also kindly joined us for the evening. As you can see she’s rather pleased with this state of affairs.

Of course, this being New Year’s in France, there were raw oysters…

Now I did try slurping one of these during my first year in France and I still retain the vivid memory of how it felt like swallowing the hugest booger in existence. Worse than that, I could feel it moving in my stomach afterwards. Needless to say I have become one of the non-oyster people around holiday tables here in Burgundy. Charlotte was the other one (people either love or hate raw oysters here in France, which breeds much lively discussion and debate, as well as numerous disgusting oyster-eating stories). She really likes the oysters going down, but in her case they have a stubborn tendency to make the return voyage in short order.

Anyway, Charlotte and I feasted on the lovely foie gras that Juliette and Nicolas brought from Blois with fig jam and toasted brioche – one of my favorite flavour combinations on the planet.

Nevertheless, I love watching other people eat raw oysters, and do so with the same morbid curiosity that rivets me during documentaries on shark attacks.

Here are Franck and Benedicte gearing up for a good ‘ole slurp. The big red bowl was for the shells – there were a lot of those.

And here are Juliette and Marco looking very happy with their plateful of gooey iodine.

And here is me in the middle, still riveted on the oysters as you can see.

I can’t believe it but I don’t have a single photo of Charlotte as she was running around preparing us the lovely dinner of tournedos with a great cheese course and a lovely lemon homemade sorbet desert, as well as jiggling Mahault who had a bit of colic. What can I say – she’s a wonderwoman.

Marco lined up a truly superlative wine list, which began with Champagne which I had a bit of, as I have been informed by my french brother-in-law that it has unparallelled anti-inflammatory properties.

Next was a Corton-Charlemagne from Domaine Jacob that I sipped from Franck’s glass. Amazing. Then a Grand Cru Echezeaux 2001, seen here that went superbly with the beef and cheese courses. Again I allowed myself a few sips – I have a moral obligation to acquaint the glow-worm with his / her cultural heritage after all. Yum.

And the grand finale was a wine Marco had taken from his family’s cellar in Volnay. He wasn’t sure of the year as the bottles before 1920 weren’t marked. That’s right, this bottle was close to 100 years old, from a year between 1900 to 1919.

The nose was incredible – spicy and fruity with no signs of oxidation. The taste didn’t disappoint as it can so often in really old wines. It was amazing to think that this was a wine that could never again be duplicated or reproduced – the methods used to make it are now obsolete, and the people who made it are long in their graves – but yet they have left something of themselves and of Burgundy almost a hundred years ago in this bottle.

A silence fell spontaneously fell over the table as Marco poured as you can see from Franck there, looking suitably reverent in the background.

All in all it was a wonderful way to ring in 2008 here in Burgundy – and a heartfelt Bonne Annee and Bonne Sante to everyone and best wishes from our little corner of the world, no matter how far from Burgundy you may be today!