Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Hands of A Burgundy Winemaker Right About Now

These are the hands of our winemaker friend, Marc-Olivier Buffet of Domaine Buffet in Volnay, look like at the moment. The black-purple colour comes from mixing the huge vats of pressed grapes from the 2008 harvest as they macerate and begin to ferment.

The freshly squeezed grapes and their juices act as a very potent dye, as you can see here!

This is also a hazardous time of year for winemakers who spend a good portion of their days leaning over and mixing their enormous cuves (vats) of the macerating 2008 vintage. The carbon dioxide thrown off during the fermentation process can sometimes make a winemaker pass out – which is a major problem if you are hanging over or are actually inside a several metre high liquid-filled vat.

Then again, no-one ever said winemaking was for the faint of heart, or people who like to have lily-white hands…

Authentic France Travel Tip #6 : Ask IN DETAIL About Bathing Arrangements

Authentic France Travel Tip #6: Ask In Detail About Bathing Arrangements

I am personally convinced that there must be some special French Gene that is responsible for the ability French people have to kneel in a bathtub and wash themselves with one of those little handheld shower thingies.

I am always dismayed when I go into a French bathroom and find only a bathtub and a shower handle. Even though I am the proud holder of a French passport, I am definitely missing the French Bathing Gene.

This is how it works for me. I get undressed and climb into the bathtub. I curse the cold. I turn on the water from the tap and then try to figure out which lever needs to be pressed or pulled or which incantation needs to be chanted to make water come out of the shower attachment. This usually takes a good five minutes, by which time I am shivering, and involves much bilingual cursing.

I finally and by complete fluke figure out how to make water come out of the shower attachment instead of the tap. By this time, however, I am invariably holding the shower attachment hole side up; the water explodes skywards like an Icelandic geyser.

I try to wash my hair and body with the shower attachment, but only end up getting half way clean. I’m still cursing, as one half of my body is of course always wet and freezing cold. During this edifying process I manage to create a flood of Biblical Proportions on the bathroom floor. Truth be told, often walls and ceilings are involved as well.

By the time I have cleaned up most of the water damage and have hung the sopping towels to dry I want to hit someone.

Unbelievably, many of my French friends and family bathe this way every day, and even more bizarre, they accept it as completely normal. Through some act of magic (or genetics) they manage to get themselves squeaky clean and not even get as much as a drop of water on the bathroom tiles.

I know…incroyable.

With age comes acceptance, and among the many things I have now accepted (i.e. The Fact that I will never be sylph-like, The Fact that I will never know which French nouns are feminine and which are masculine, The Fact that I cannot go through a day without spilling stuff down my front, etc. etc.) is The Fact that I am missing the necessary gene for the kneeling-down shower technique.

So if you too are Bathing Impaired, beware that many French and European hotels, B&B’s and vacation rentals have the coordination-challenging bathing arrangements as detailed above.

For this reason, whenever I am booking somewhere in Europe I always ask the following questions;

1. Is there a bathtub?

2. If there is, is it a standard sized bathtub?
There are all sorts of miniature bathtubs in France that are far more suitable for gnomes than actual people.

3. Is there a shower attachment?

4. Is the shower attachment mounted on the wall so that you can shower without having to hold the attachment in one hand all the time?

5. Is there a shower curtain?
You wouldn’t believe how many times there isn’t, as most Europeans aren’t Bathing Impaired.

I have equipped all of our vacation rental bathrooms for the Bathing Impaired such as myself. Both La Maison des Deux Clochers (above) and Le Relais du Vieux Beaune have regular sized bathtubs, wall-mounted shower hook-ups, and BIG shower curtains.

In La Maison de la Vieille Vigne (below) we carved the bathroom out of the old chicken shed so I had to choose between a bath and a shower. I chose a deluxe shower.

So if you too are lacking the French Bathing Gene and wish to lower the risk of flooding during your next trip to France or Europe, ask the above five questions.

If not, you may want to think about asking for extra towels.

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

Burgundy Restaurant Review – L’Auberge du Côteau

Franck recently took our recent guests Micca and Alan on a guided walk, and they invited him for a wonderful lunch at “L’Auberge du Côteau” in the nearby village of Villers-Fontaine.

This auberge used to be great, and then it changed hands and went downhill for a while. About a year ago some new people bought it, and it is better now than it’s ever been. It’s a great spot for a simple, delicious meal in a rustic setting.

Lunch menus rotate around 12-15 Euros for a “prix fixe” and you will find many Burgundian specialties such as jambon persillé, coq au vin, and the ubiquitous escargots.

I don’t have a photo unfortunately, but the restaurant is the only one in Villers-Fontaine, and is just to your left as you come into the village. There is a nice patio area for the nice weather too.

All in all a great address – highly recommended by Franck!

Auberge du Côteau
21700 Villers-Fontaine

Open for lunch and dinner / closed on Mondays and Tuesdays


*Always good idea to make a reservation if you can – it is popular!

Micca & Alan’s Special Day in Burgundy

Our lovely guests Micca and Alan Hutchins came back for a second visit to Burgundy this year, and this time they brought their family with them!

One day Franck and I were taking Clem on a pre-nap stroll around the Mont Saint Victor and what did we see? A group of very chic-ly attired people ahead of us who turned out to be Micca and Alana and their gang.

Turns out they had just performed a renewal of their wedding vows with their delightful family for an audience and the vineyards as a backdrop. They were then going to retire back to La Maison de la Vieille Vigne for a delicious meal.

Congratulations Micca and Alan, and Burgundy is looking forward to having you back for your “second” honeymoon! Micca and Alan obviously have a firm grasp of what Frenchitude is all about.

Frenchitude Lesson #6: Refuse to Give Money the Respect it Doesn’t Deserve

Frenchtitude Lesson #6: Refuse to Give Money the Respect it Doesn’t Deserve
Money – or lack of it – is a very hot topic these days. As the Western World teeters on the brink of a recession (dare I day depression?) a wave of panic at having less money than before is sweeping over most of us.

As a rule North Americans talk about money, and people who have money, much more than French people.

In Canada this summer, I couldn’t help but notice that North American society evaluates an individual’s worth on ludicrous criteria; weight loss success for one, wealth for another. The same reverent, stars-in-their-eyes tone is used for discussing both these facets of the North American dream.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that wealthy people don’t deserve respect. What I am saying is that, unlike North American society would sometimes have us believe, the wealthy don’t earn that respect for their bank balance alone.

In a society that was built largely on immigration I can see how the wealth = worth equation came into being.

Let’s face it, the bulk of immigrants to North America were not moneyed aristocrats. Mine were dirt poor scullery maids and the like who had nothing to lose. A miserable job, no money, and no hope of change was the best motivation for risking a perilous sea voyage and trying to carve out a new life in a rough new world.

In North America, the new arrivals found the playing field was far more level than back in Europe. They were a pragmatic bunch, and stripped of titles, families, and history, the simplest way of measuring a person’s success (or failure) in the New World quickly became the amount of money they amassed.

As is still the case today, in North America even people who became wealthy through somewhat nefarious means (think claim jumpers back then, leaky-condo developers now) were still granted grudging respect for the fact that they had come out on top. Survival of the fittest wasn’t an abstract concept.

However, two to three generations after my ancestors emigrated from Europe to Canada, I can no longer buy this belief that the wealthy have somehow acquired personal worth along with their scheckles.

While hard work can lead to material wealth, it doesn’t always. I am also convinced that Lady Luck has a lot more to do with becoming rich than many would have us believe. Also, this overly simplistic wealth = worth assumption doesn’t take into account people who, for example, spend their lives obsessively amassing money but neglect their children. Such a life is a failure in my book, no matter what the bank account says.

Here in France, wealthy people are not worshipped. If anything they are regarded with un peu of suspicion. In France, significant monetary wealth is a tip-off that the person in question has likely been neglecting the truly important things in life.

I would go as far to say that in France the wealthy are, if anything, pitied. The French seem to associate big time moola with intellectual starvation. After all, if someone is spending so much time and mental energy nurturing money they clearly don’t have sufficient time to enjoy stimulating conversations with friends, fall passionately in love, reflect quietly about a good book or a riveting philosophical debate…

The fact that wealth is given very little respect here in France is one of the main reasons why there is a lot less conspicuous consumption i.e. big cars, McMansions, obvious brand name clothing, etc. than back in North America. Make no mistake about it – there are certainly a good percentage of wealthy people, especially in towns such as Beaune – but the whole thing is kept very subdued.

As one of my close French friends, who sometimes struggles like many of us to make the ends meet at the end of the month, says, “Sure it would be nice to have a lot of money, but as long as I have enough to be able to have people over for meals and a roof over my head I’ll be happy. It’s just not something I think about very much.”

However, this distinctly French lack of respect towards money almost made me crazy at first.

When we arrived in Burgundy four years ago, I couldn’t believe the differences between the French banks and our bank back home in Canada. At the time, the Canadian banks were literally throwing low-interest mortgage loans at us as well as proposing (and approving) huge lines of credit. Franck and I went to Beaune to take out a small mortgage for La Maison de la Vieille Vigne, blissfully assuming it would be a cake walk.

Ah, mais non.

Five months later we had been turned away from every bank in Beaune except one. The bankers in France seemed supremely disinterested in approving loans, or in fact lifting so much as a finger to help someone get a small business off the ground. While this attitude doubtlessly contributes to the social stagnancy that remains a problem in Europe, it certainly forces French people turn their attentions elsewhere than making a quick buck.

And while what I’m going to write next will doubtless illustrate my meager grasp of micro- economic principles, I do have to wonder whether this insatiable thirst for wealth in North America – of both the banks who cashed in on the real estate boom like sharks in a feeding frenzy, and the people who overextended themselves with delusions of becoming real estate magnates- isn’t partly responsible for the current economic crisis.

After pitching our vacation rental project to French bankers they more often than not just looked at us with bemusement over steepled fingers.

“But why do you want to do this?” they kept asking us.

Finally I broke down and stated the obvious, “To make money, of course.”

At this point, one of the bankers shrugged eloquently and swiveled around in his office chair. He picked up something off the floor behind him.

“Take this,” he said, handing us a bottle of Premier Cru from one of Pommard’s best winemakers. “I can’t help you with the loan, but enjoy this bottle of my client’s wine. After a glass or two the loan just won’t seem to matter as much.”

And you know what? He was right.

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for how to inject a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Newfoundland or New Zealand.

The Eagles Have Flown the Nest

The Eagles Have Flown the Nest, I repeat, The Eagles Have Flown the Nest.

This is the code that my sisters and I use when tracking the frequent international travels of my globe-trotting parents. Yes that’s right, Bryan and Lynda left their house in Victoria, Canada a few minutes ago to bravely embark on the long trek over here to visit us in Burgundy. Hooray!

We’ll be picking them up in Dijon tomorrow at around 1:00pm or so. Yes, it’s a LONG trip.

I’m currently reading and adoring Ken Follett’s novel “Jackdaws” about a crack team of women Resistance Fighters during WWII, so the codes seem like second nature. I’ll be adding it to our Amazon Affiliate “French Favorites” store in the next few days.

Authentic France Travel Tip #5: Bring Your Pantoufles

Authentic France Travel Tip#5: Bring Your Pantoufles

The ubiquitous tile and flagstone floors in France, such as the 100 year old cement tiles in La Maison des Deux Clochers above, and the large Portuguese tiles in La Maison de la Vieille Vigne below, are extremely charming.

They are also extremely, extremely cold.

While this feels lovely on one’s tootsies during 35 degree weather in July and August, it is a significantly less fetching prospect in November.

Every French person I know owns a designated pair of pantoufles, or slippers, for this very reason. As soon as they come in the front door, they slip off their street shoes and slide on their warm, comfy pair of pantoufles. I strongly suggest you do the same.

Either pack your favorite pair of pantoufles in your suitcase, or buy a pair shortly after your arrival at one of the larger grocery stores such as E.Leclerc in Beaune. Along with a French market bag, this is yet another original souvenir to take home.

Another word for slippers in French is chaussons, but I vastly prefer the onomatopoeicpantoufles” – pronouncedpahntoof“.

Along with the word “poubelle” (which means a garbage can) it has to be one of my all-time favorite French words. Just try saying it three times in a row as fast as you can.

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

Enfin! The Grape Rentals Website Is Launched!

Enfin! It has been a long time in coming, but our new website is now officially on-line and ready for you to explore.

Just click here and go wild!

Like all new websites, we will surely have a period of test-driving and trouble-shooting. If you come across any problems or have any suggestions, please email me directly – my email is plastered all over our new website, but I don’t want to post it here so as not to be spammed to death.

We will keep the website up and running during this transition period, but everything that is on there (and much, more more) can be found on the new website.

You can also email me at either my old email address or my new one – they all come to the same in-box.

Happy surfing!

Frenchitude Lesson #5: Make Your Own Pastry Whenever Possible

Frenchitude Lesson #5: Make Your Own Pastry Whenever Possible

Wait a second! Before you surf on to other websites, just let me get one point across; MAKING THIS FRENCH PASTRY, or Pâte Brisée, RECIPE IS AS EASY AND QUICK AS FALLING OFF A LOG!!!!!!

All my friends know that I am absolutely, without a doubt, the first person to take advantage of short-cuts on the domestic front such as store-bought pastry. However, this recipe, bequeathed to me by my very French, very talented friend Charlotte Buffet, is a shortcut so incredibly short that even I am willing to take it.

It takes about two minutes, never fails, and garners rave reviews every time.

To quote Charlotte directly, using this recipe for homemade Pâte Brisée when making any kind of quiches or fruit tartesfait toute la différence.” It is the difference between a ho-hum tarte aux pommes and one that makes you want to kiss the person sitting next to you.

This recipe is what Frenchtitude is all about – emphasis on those little details that provide a heady effort / pleasure ratio.

If you want a photo of the tarte crust just have a look at the recipe for Mémé Germain’s tarte aux pommes . Otherwise you can enjoy the photo of Charlotte and our friend Martial (Clémentine’s godparents) above. As you may be able to tell, we’d had a bit to drink that particular night.

Charlotte Buffet’s Pâte Brisée Recipe

250 grams of flour
125 grams of butter
1/2 small glass (about 1/3 cup) of water
Pinch of salt

Tools Required
Food processor with blade attachment
Kitchen scale (metric)


OK, brace yourselves…this is really tough…

– Measure ingredients and add in no particular order into food processor.

– Press on “mix” button until ingredients have formed ball-like form which has detached from sides – takes about a minute or two.

– Remove pastry (see, you have just made pastry!) ball from food processor, flatten into disc, wrap in cellophane and put in fridge for at least an hour before using.

– 1/2 of the pastry ball is perfect amount for 6-8 person quiche or tarte

*Freezes wonderfully, so you can always have some pastry, not to mention some Frenchitude, on hand.

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for how to inject a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Toronto or Tuktuyuktuk.

Mémé Germains’s Apple Tarte

This time of year brings apples, and apples for me mean apple tartes.

Nobody could make une tarte aux pommes like Franck’s grandmother, the fabulous Mémé Germain, who passed away last winter just five days before Clémentine was born.

Every time I set out to make a tarte aux pommes I think back to all the times we’d stop at Mémés studio in Beaune on the way home from school and she would have made us one for our goûter.

I personally believe Mémé is up there in heaven drinking her beloved cassismousseux and whipping up delicious french dinners for the Cherubims and Seraphims. However, in the meantime making her tarte aux pommes brings her back to us for a while.

Mémé Germains’s Tarte Aux Pommes

1 unsweetened pastry crust (and if you don’t know how to make this, tune in tomorrow)
3-4 Golden Delicious apples (the only kind Mémé would use)
3-4 tablespoons of applesauce
1 tablespoon of butter
Sprinkling of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of clear jelly (i.e. apple, quince, etc.) + 1/4 tsp of hot water

– Butter and flour pie or tart pan (size 6-8 servings)

– Roll out pastry on floured surface until you have circle big enough to fit into pan with a couple centimetres extra to go up the sides. Put pastry in pan.

– Poke pastry here and there with a fork.

– Spread applesauce over bottom of pastry. Right now I use a small jar of “baby food” applesauce or pear/apple-sauce that we always have on hand for Clem. This is handy if you don’t have any applesauce kicking around and don’t feel like making any. One small baby food jar is the perfect amount

– Peel apples and cut in quarters off the core. Slice quarters into even pieces about 1/4 of a centimetre thick.

– Arrange, overlapping (the apple slices shrink a bit when cooked) over applesauced pastry into an outer ring and then a smaller, inner ring. Use imagination and make pretty patterns as desired.

– Pick little chunks of butter off tablespoon amount and drop at random intervals on top of apple slices.

-Lightly sprinkle with brown sugar.

-Put in 200 degree Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit) oven for about 20-25 minutes or until apples and pastry are nice and brown.

-Once removed from oven let cool on rack or in pan. When cooled mix jelly with hot water in bowl and using pastry brush brush mixture over crust and gently over apples. This was one of Mémé’s tricks for making it look as good as it tastes.

* Still working on the quality of my “food porn” photos. Progress has been made but as you can see there’s still some way to go…