Monthly Archives: October 2008

Frenchitude Lesson #9: Bring Flowers

Frenchitude Lesson #9: Bring Flowers

One of the things I like most about having people over for lunch or dinner in France is the fact that the French have a really hard time coming over to someone’s house for a meal and NOT bringing flowers. It’s like it’s ingrained in their cerebral pathways or something.

I love flowers. I love having flowers in my house. However, I almost never buy myself flowers to enjoy in my own home. Clearly, I don’t read enough Oprah magazines over here in France.

So when people bring me gorgeous bouquets like this beauty brought to me by Franck’s aunt Renée on Sunday, I am reminded just what a charming tradition this is.

I figure if we apply a little Frenchitude and all buy flowers for each other no matter where we live, we can be excused from the self-worth work required to actually start buying them for ourselves.

Sometimes flowers are replaced with this, especially in Burgundy. Just for the record, this option suits me just fine as well.

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

The Germain Reunion Salad


I have been delaying posting this recipe because I still don’t have a “food porn” photo of it to get you salivating. However, the reason for this is that this salad is so very, very refreshing and delicious that it is always gobbled up before I can take one.

I tasted it for the first time at a big family reunion we had for Franck’s Dad’s side of the family (The Germains) just after we returned from Canada. Franck’s cousin Sylvie had made it and I demanded the recipe after only three forkfuls – it’s that good. Better yet, making it is as easy as falling off a log.

So I’m posting it along with photos of our French family reunion, including the ubiquitous game of pétanque, to get you in the mood.


Ingredients

1 English cucumber – seeds removed
4 large tomatoes or 6 medium – seeds removed
1 cantaloupe or Cavaillon style melon – seeds removed
1 block of feta (about 200g) that is NOT marinated in oil and / or herbs
few sprigs of fresh mint (optional)

My dead easy French vinaigrette made preferably with a lighter tasting oil (i.e. vegetable rather than olive oil) and a white wine vinegar rather than a red or balsamic. This makes a lighter tasting vinaigrette that goes better with this salad.

Instructions

– Once you have removed seeds from the cucumber, tomatoes, and melon, cut all three ingredients into smallish cubes. Size isn’t as important as the fact that the cubes should all be more or less the same size.

– Make vinaigrette.

– Thoroughly toss cubed fruit and veg with vinaigrette in big bowl until well mixed.

– Cube feta into cubes same size, mix cubed feta delicately with rest so as to coat with vinaigrette but not to break up feta more than necessary.

– Snip few leaves of fresh mint on top just before serving.

* You can either serve the salad in a big bowl for a potluck style offering, or cute little glass bowls or cups if you want to make it look a bit more elegant. I often serve it in glass bowls as an entrée before the main dish; the combination of colours looks smashing.

* I added a few snips of freshly cut mint on my bowls before serving, and this really brought out the fresh taste of this delightful concoction. However, you can eliminate this if you don’t have any kicking around or don’t like mint.

* My friend Charlotte has also made this recipe a few times with great success. One time she couldn’t find any melons so she substituted nectarines and it was apparently delicious. Once again, use your imagination!


The Eagles Have Flown Le Nid

Message to sisters Suzanne and Jayne:

Franck transported The Eagles to the train station in Dijon this morning (only running three red lights – remarkable restraint) and they should now be winging their way somewhere over Greenland on their way towards you both.

Jean and Jacqueline gave Dad a lovely bottle of wine on Sunday of course (a Gevrey from the 1980’s if memory serves correct) but as a change of pace they also gave MOM a bottle of her own – a 1991 Monthélie. While translating Mom and Dad’s thanks I told Jean that I would be betting that we would be drinking Mom’s bottle first and, quelle surprise, I was right.

Dad is holding it with such pride that one would think it was his wine he was offering up, but I digress*…we very much enjoyed it last night for my B-day dinner. Wished you were here in theory, but frankly the bottle wouldn’t have been big enough for all of us.

Even before we opened it I liked it; 1991 was the year Franck and I met, after all.

It was delicious – very smooth and velvety with quite a bit of elegant fruitiness.

Totally off-topic – Do you like my new table cloth? I got that for my B-day too, as well as two shiny tiaras from Charlotte and Camille with fake jewels and fluffy balls stuck all over them. I am taking this to mean that I have attained royal status along with the ripe old age of 36.

Let me know when The Eagles land safely.

Bisous,

Your ancient sister xo

*Actually Dad did bring up lots of his bottles to drink during their stay, and they were very good indeed. However, it is just too fun to tease him about this.

Authentic France Travel Tip #8 : Learn to Drive a Stick-Shift

Authentic France Travel Tip #8 : Learn to Drive a Stick Shift
The French love driving cars with stick shifts. As a consequence it is often a bit complicated, not to mention more expensive, to rent an automatic car over here. They are simply a rare commodity in France. Stick shifts are the rule rather than the exception.

If you don’t already know how to drive standard it may indeed seem like a hassle to go to the trouble of learning it in preparation for a French vacation. But for you non standard drivers out there, be honest, isn’t learning to drive standard something you have always secretly wanted to master?

It certainly was for me. Like most fellow Canucks I got my license (on an automatic) the day I turned 16, but somehow managed to never learn to drive a stick shift. That meant that when we came over here to Burgundy on vacation I found myself in a French version of “Driving Miss Daisy” with me as the incapacitated old lady clutching her handbag and Franck as the stalwart chauffeur.

However, Franck being Franck, he wasn’t all that stalwart of a chauffeur. He would leave to “pick up a baguette” at 7:00 in the morning and not come back until around 11:30am. First, he had remembered that he had to drop something off at his parents, then while he was there he couldnt not take up their offer of a morning coffee with them, then once in Beaune he realized it was market day so of course that necessitated a stroll around to see the sights, and, wouldnt you know it? he’d bumped into a friend that he hadn’t seen in years and it would have been unpardonably rude not to go for a quick café

So I knew that when we moved here full time four years ago I had to learn how to drive standard. Before we left Canada I made a few half-hearted stabs at getting my Dad or Franck to teach me on my Dad’s temperamental Suzuki Samurai that has the shortest clutch in the Western Hemisphere. They both quickly threw in the towel, however, my Dad citing the risk of a coronary and Franck, divorce.

This experience, while painful, taught me an important lesson; don’t ever ask someone who you feel comfortable berating to teach you to drive a stick shift.

So one of the first thing Franck and I did after arriving in Burgundy was going and signing me up for lessons at the ABC driving school in Beaune. As it turned out, this was an auto-école for masochists, as the treacherously steep driveway backed out directly onto the 3-lane ring road that allows motorists to roar around Beaune in a circular fashion.

I was bequeathed to a chain smoking 50-something instructor named Cyril. I couldn’t yell at Cryil when a minute into my first lesson I stalled half way up the ABC driveway and half-way stuck out on the ring road; I was still far too Canadian for that. However, between frequent stalling I did subject the poor man to an hour long exegesis on the pointlessness of standard transmissions.

Fortuitously, Cyril was a taciturn sort of the tobacco soaked variety. He just nodded, took another drag on his cigarette, and directed me along one of the driving routes he had devised which passed by the window of every lingerie store in Beaune, some twice.

“Why look at something ugly when you can look at something nice?” Cyril reasoned.

From time to time he would point out a lace ensemble that particularly caught his eye and comment, “There are certainly less pleasant things to look at.”

The long and the short of it is that I have never, in recent memory, felt like such an incompetent ass as during those weeks when Cyril taught me how to drive standard (and the location of every lingerie boutique in Beaune).

Stick shifts were a ridiculous anachronism, I concluded. They were designed for men who had insecurities of a Freudian nature.

And then one day Cyril declared me ready to drive on my own. Sweating bullets I went to pick up Charlotte and Camille from school in Beaune. It was awful. I lurched and stalled, and trying to back in to our rental house in SavignylesBeaune I was attacked by one of the huge stone pillars which flanked the gate and made an enormous dent in the car door.

I loathed standard cars. I seriously considered starting a company to import automatic cars into France.

And then one evening shortly after we had moved to Villers-la-Faye, I found myself rocketing down the vineyard slopes towards PernandVergelesses on the way to pick up the girls. Reacting instinctively to the hills beneath my wheels, I smoothly shifted from second to third, and then to forth and back again.

Exhilaration pulsed through my veins. For the first time in my life, I felt like a driver. I was free. I was independent. I was a female version of Jacques Villeneuve!

Stick shifts were awesome!!!

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

Voici Yoda

Franck and I are ensconsed in our couch watching a DVD of “The Revenge of the Sith” we’d rented from the Beaune library.

Besides abysmal dialogue that only Ewan MacGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi is able to salvage, the flick also features a kick-ass, younger, greener version of Yoda.

Yoda being Yoda, he constantly comes out with lines like;

“Suspicious of the Chancellor, I am.”

“Be wary of The Dark Side, we must.”

And my personal favorite, “Worried, I remain.”

At one point Franck turns to me. “Is Yoda French?”

Frenchitude Lesson #8: Salad Dressing Doesn’t Have to Come Out of a Bottle

Frenchitude Lesson #8: Salad Dressing Doesn’t Have to Come Out of a Bottle
The very first recipe I ever learned in France, when I was only 18 and freshly off the plane, was for a basic vinaigrette. It was my first host mother, Mme. Duperret in Nuits-Saint-Georges who taught me how she did it. Her recipe is still one I use once, if not twice, a day.
Although there are certainly many good bottled salad dressings on supermarket shelves these days, in my mind nothing is as versatile, inexpensive, or tastes as good as a home made vinaigrette. Learning how to make it is like riding a bike or learning how to drive a stick shift, once you get the hang of it it becomes second nature.
It is wonderful, of course, in a humble salad, but it is also the base for countless other French recipes, a few of which I’ll be posting on here over the next two weeks.
Trust me and try this recipe. If my 18 year old self who for years before then had practically subsisted on smoothies and burritos, and couldn’t boil and egg could learn it, so can you.
Ingredients:
– 2 tbsp of good quality mustard, preferably Dijon style (definitely NOT French’s mustard)
– 1 tbsp of good quality vinegar (balsamic, wine vinegar, flavoured vinegars, etc. all fine)
– 2-3 tbsp of good quality oil, either vegetable, olive oil, or flavoured oils (i.e. walnut, etc.)

Instructions:

**It is essential that you follow these in the proper order, and not to add a new ingredient until the previous ones are well-mixed and homogeneous** ;

– With a soup-sized spoon or measuring spoon put mustard in the bottom of clean glass bowl

– Add the tbsp of vinegar. With a fork or whisk (I always use the humble IKEA kitchen fork!) mix ingredients together rapidly until they look homogeneous (takes about 30 seconds)

– Add 1 tbsp of oil. Again with fork or whisk mix rapidly until the mixture is homogeneous. Add each additional tbsp of oil ONLY after the previous tbsp is mixed in.

Ta Da! You have just made a proper homemade French vinaigrette. Simple, satisfying, and delicious – that’s what Frenchitude is all about.

Now as to the variations on the basic vinaigrette, your imagination is the limit, and the versatility of this recipe is truly mind-boggling. You can of course vary the quantity upwards or downwards by adjusting the amount of ingredients to use – just keep the basic proportions roughly the same.

You can also;

Vary the type of mustard and use grainy mustard, tarragon flavoured mustard, spicy mustard, mild mustard, etc. etc.

Vary the type of vinegar and use balsamic (white or red), any kind of wine vinegar, cider vinegar, tarragon vinegar, raspberry vinegar (Maille makes a great one) etc. etc.

Vary the type of oil and use walnut oil, olive oil (makes a heavier tasting vinaigrette ideal for salade nicoise and other Mediterranean dishes), vegetable oil, or any other fancy or plain kind of oil you can get your hands on.

Add-ins – Here’s where it gets really fun! However, always remember to make your vinaigrette with the mustard, vinegar, and oil FIRST and then add in your add-ins only after the completed vinaigrette is homogeneous. Otherwise, it won’t mix properly. Experiment and come up with a few versions of your signature vinaigrette.

I love adding in one of more the following things when the inspiration hits me; freshly ground pepper, freshly cut parsley like in the photo below, sliced shallots, minced garlic, Herbes de Provence, toasted pine nuts, sliced almonds…your taste buds are the limit!

Beware! Whenever you whip up vinaigrette with your expert tour de main you may find yourself suddenly talking with a French accent.

Switzerland, Continued…

As promised, here are further photos of our recent flit to Switzerland, sans enfants.

It only takes two hours by car to get from Burgundy to a country where you are thanked for drinking your coffee in three languages.

Where you can visit the small but astounding “Musée de l’Art Brut” in Lausanne.

Where you take the time to stop and admire the swans on Lake Geneva.

And of course the beautiful wooden chalets.

Where you are serenaded by the sound of cow bells ringing around the valley all day long.


Where you can eat lunch looking out to this view.

Where you eat cheese fondue for lunch; then eat cheese fondue again for dinner.

And if you’re Franck and I, where you can go for an evening walk in a deep valley, feeling drunk with freedom.

Authentic France Travel Tip #7 : Spend Quality Time on a Café Terrace


Authentic France Travel Tip #7 : Spend Quality Time on a Café Terrace

If you truly want to experience authentic France, it is crucial to budget time to do absolutely nothing. A very French way of doing nothing is idling away the hours on a café terrace.

Here is the instruction manual;

1. Find a little spot outside with some sun and warmth

2. Park yourself there

3. Order whatever beverage suits your fancy – an espresso, café au lait, a jus d’orange


4. Sit back

5. Sip leisurely

6. Watch the world go by

7. Repeat as required

You simply cannot get more French (or pleasurable) than that. Just look at the French dog below, who although a canine clearly has a strong grasp of what Frenchitude is all about.

Why I Love Burgundy – Reason #5

Why I Love Burgundy – Reason #5 : Because when you decide it’s time for a short break and a little change of scenery, you can flit over to Switzerland.


And discover the beautiful Lavaux wine region on the banks of Lake Geneva.

And take the train to Gstaad.



And admire the beautiful old wooden chalets.

Another Authentic France Travel Trip coming tommorrow, just like every Tuesday, but more Switzerland photos coming on Wednesday…

Frenchitude Lesson # 7 : Men, Don Your Speedos!

Frenchitude Lesson #7 : Men, Don Your Speedos!

Along with the French attitude towards vasectomies , Speedos are another aspect of French culture that can just about give Anglo-Saxon men a coronary.

Many of our guests decide to go down to the municipal pool in Beaune or Nuits-Saint-Georges to cool off during one of our hot summer days here in Burgundy. When they arrive, they are distressed to discover that the billowing bathing trunks almost all North American men, with the exception of the Olympic swim team and creepy guys with a penchant for animal prints, are banned in French pools.

There are signs to this effect everywhere, and if anyone looks or sounds even remotely foreign they will be informed of the Speedo-only rule about a hundred times before they can even get as far as the changing stalls. The pool in Beaune has even installed a Speedo vending machine so as not to deprive surprised foreigners of their swim.

I have found that the Speedo dictate is, unlike so many other French rules (i.e. legal parking, speed limits, lining up in an orderly fashion, etc.) categorically closed to “interpretation”. As far as I can tell, a male of any age who is not wearing a Speedo-style bathing suit will not be allowed into any public swimming facility in France.

The reason that is always cited is “hygiene”. Rather than go into detail I prefer to leave you, dear reader, to ponder the how and why of that.

I cannot tell you how many of our male guests have decided that cooling off with an invigorating swim is simply not worth the trade-off of having to don a Speedo. They are beyond mortified at the prospect, and while I listen sympathetically to their harrowing near-miss Speedo incidents I can’t help but have a little vindictive thought float through my head, Why should women be the only ones wearing body revealing bathing suits?

In contrast, French men like my husband Franck wear Speedos as a rule. Granted, his is the more socially acceptable shorts-style, but a Speedo by any other name is still skin-tight.

My Canadian brother-in-law Greg has also taken to wearing Speedos of the same style. He finds them so much more comfortable than having a metre of wet fabric billowing and flapping around your legs when trying to swim or water ski. However, he’s noticed that while he and Franck are sporting their Speedos many of his North American friends of the male gender, so profound is their discomfort, can barely look at the two of them.

Why should the comfort of Speedos be forsaken in North America? What is there to be ashamed about? The Speedo divide illustrates to me that North American women aren’t the only ones feeling bad about their bodies.

One of our close French male friends still wears his beloved khaki Speedo he was issued about twenty years ago during his military service.

It is about three sizes too small now, but as he says, “Why should I care how it looks? It’s comfortable. I’ve fathered several children; I have nothing left to prove.”

Powers of seduction are highly prized in France. However, someone who is “bien dans leur peau“, or “comfortable in their own skin”, like our military-Speedo-wearing French friend, is seen as far more seductive than someone who possess what North American society would consider a “perfect” body yet obsessively checks themselves out in every available reflective surface.

Here, bodies are prized more for what they can do – walk, swim, run, hug, make children, etc. – and the pleasure they can give us, than how they measure up against some unattainable standard of Adonis-like “perfection”.

So, for you North American men out there, if you find a Speedo more comfortable than your billowing trunks, just slip one on along with some Frenchitude. Don your Speedo with pride!


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