Monthly Archives: November 2008

Frenchitude Lesson #11: Cherish Real Food

Frenchitude Lesson #11: Cherish Real Food
I was planning on writing about a completely different topic this week for Frenchitude Friday, but this morning I received a series of emails from my two sisters that made me swivel in my tracks.


The first email was from older sister Suzanne who, on volunteering to bake for a elementary school bake sale back home in Victoria, BC, was informed that the Canadian government has recently legislated that all food at school bake sales has to be “healthy”, meaning containing almost no fat, salt, or sugar.

She was even passed on a government-issued document about how to replace white flour with whole wheat flour, sugar with honey, chocolate with carob, and (dare we even utter the name, rather like “Voldemort” in Harry Potter) butter with margarine.

Here is Suzanne’s reaction,

“Jesus H Christ. Now the bake sale at the school dance has to consist of “healthy” snacks. This just tempts me to bake the chipits recipe for choc. cookies and to insist to all and sundry that it is made with “just applesauce and a tablespoon of honey!!!” Chocolate chips are really just baked potato hunks and crusty boogers! Lots of protein! No Butter! Just fake goo made of chemicals!

When will the idiots get it through their skulls that maybe the children should only eat ONE cookie, but for God’s sake make it a good one. Let’s just make sure all North American children lose the power to think for themselves. As if they will never come across a real cookie out there in the real world.”

My younger sister Jayne responded;

“Perhaps the problems with the obesity in North America is that no one here ever eats anything that HAS ANY FLAVOUR. So they must eat obscene amounts of food to actually get any satisfaction.

I should lend you the “In Defense of Food” book – it’s pretty enjoyable and a quick read – the author basically blames most of the obesity epidemic on the fact that eating has become a scientific act rather than a cultural one (subsequently losing much enjoyment and becoming increasingly associated with “health” and “guilt”)… tres interesting.

One particularly interesting statistic had to do with what words came to mind when people were shown an image of a certain food. When French people are shown a picture of chocolate cake they associate it with “celebration”, while North Americans associate it with “guilt”. Lovely. So, yes, let’s teach the children not to eat lovely foods in moderation but rather to deprive themselves with nasty turd cookies full of chemicals and dairy substitutes so that they gorge when presented with real food later in life. Also, let’s teach them that food is only about nutrition and percentage fat, carb, whatever, rather than a chance to sit down and share something pleasant with friends and family (?!). ”

Sadly due to the nine hour time difference I was sleeping throughout this riveting exchange, but BOY did it ever get my ire up when I got to the computer this morning. I cannot agree more with my brilliants sisters’ eloquent statements.

I cannot believe that the Canadian government is legislating that sugar needs to be replaced with honey and butter with the-devil’s-work-that-is-margarine at school bake sales.

First of all, short of preventing anyone from slipping marijuana into the Brownies, I think governments should stay out of the bake sale arena altogether. Secondly, if they really are serious about teaching the younger generation good eating habits, STOP THE INSANITY!!! THEY ARE GOING ABOUT IT COMPLETELY WRONG!!!

As Jayne’s email mentions in France, children are taught to enjoy a variety of real food as early as possible.

The baby food here in not only safe and healthy, it also tastes delicious. This is a radical departure from the tasteless, gelatinous, no salt-added gloop they serve up to poor North American babies. Clem’s baby food is so damn good that Franck and I can often be found polishing off what is left at the bottom of the jar.

Clem as a French baby (for the moment) is being introduced to the pleasure of good food and the passionate world of flavours in dishes as diverse as “CousCous” and “Pot-auFeu.” French parents are far more obsessed with transmitting their passion of food to their babies than teaching them about low fat substitutes.

When I first arrived in France it took me a few weeks to realize that the French will not put a morsel of anything into their mouth, healthy or not, that is not delicious. This completely altered my world view. I had never felt so satisfied, I had never before eaten such a wide diversity of fresh and wonderful food, I had never before been able to eat what my body desired without feeling guilty. It was heaven on earth, and of course without even realizing it I was beginning to undo the damage of a lifetime of atrocious eating habits. I was eating more healthily than I ever had before in my life.

Leaning on the eminently sane and pleasurable way of eating I have learned in France, these are the habits that I try to gently instill in my girls (more by example than by lecturing);

Lesson #1: It is important to try new things, because if you don’t you may be missing out on a food that you in fact love.

Lesson #2: Eat SOME of everything (and I mean EVERYTHING, including fruit and vegetables) but NOT TOO MUCH of anything. This is a concept that seems to have disappeared in North American teachings – it’s called moderation.

Lesson #3: Food is, and should always be, a source of pleasure. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty for nourishing your body and your soul. If you feel like a piece of delicious cake, enjoy a piece of delicious cake and don’t let anybody try to turn this into a “guilty pleasure”. It is a pleasure, period. Guilt has never been an enjoyable or instructive guest at the table, so don’t invite him.

Lesson #4: Pleasure is enhanced by eating at the table and with friends and / or family wherever possible. Take time to talk, savour, and relax. This time is sacred, treat it as such.

Lesson#5: If you think you don’t like something, try it every once in a while and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Lesson #6: Getting outside and walking, biking, playing, etc. is also one of life’s important pleasures that you should not deny yourself.

I happen to believe that unless you are dealing with an underlying medical condition, “real” food is always better than what I consider fake food. I have never ate a 0% fat yogurt and actually felt satisfied afterward. Don’t even get me started on all the calves hooves and other chemical junk that are in there to give it that gelatinous texture without fat.

Let’s face it – our bodies always find a way to get their satisfaction. Real food, including butter, sugar, cream, cheese, and wine, by its high satisfaction ratio leads us to another key in healthy eating -moderation! I would feel far more satisfied with a tiny sliver of my French Chocolate Cake than with a dozen bran, honey, and margarine turd cookies that will be undoubtedly be sold at Suzanne’s children’s bake sale.

I have never seen a society that is so adept at vilifying real food (i.e. bread, butter, wine, oil, chocolate, etc.) as North Amercia. The damaging and unhealthy attitude towards food is an aspect of moving back to Canada that frankly strikes terror in my heart.

Why don’t the seriously misguided Food Police in North America adopt a bit of Frenchtitude and work on replacing a food culture centred on fear and denial with one centred on enjoyment?

For starters, instead of interfering in school bake sales they could fund a country wide program which could allow students to sit down at a proper table with proper cutlery and enjoy delicious, healthy, diverse, and freshly cooked meals at lunchtime while chatting with their friends and learning the crucial social aspect of eating like here in France. Wouldn’t this be a real improvement over scoffing back a peanut butter sandwich at their desk?

The Food Police have to be made to realize that enjoyment absolutely can go hand in hand with health and excellent nutrition.

Real Food is not our enemy, it is our best friend.

And I agree with Jayne that Suzanne should bake my French chocolate cake and take it to the bake sale. When asked by the Food Police how it can possibly taste so good, or how such a little portion can be SO satisfying, she should just blink innocently and answer, “Can you believe it? I managed to reduce the flour in it to only one tablespoon!”

This is a photo of my friend Isabelle’s famous caramelized pear-chocolate tarte, one of the delicious and REAL FOOD recipes I will be posting over the next few weeks, and adding to my Favorite Recipes category on this very blog.

I swear to you here and now, you will never find a butter substitute anywhere near The Grape Journal.

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

Ether Isn’t Always the Solution

Was chez our lovely French country doctor yesterday in the village of Corgoloin to get a prescription for my yearly blood tests, which I impose on myself every Birthday in order to find out whether or not I need to cut back on my Camembert consumption.

As usual my doctor has all the time in the world and we chat about this and that until we finally land on the topic of ticks. Turns out my French doc is an expert on ticks, and gets so jazzed about the topic that he leaps up to show me a dead tick that he keeps in a glass vial.

“There are a lot of these little beasts in the forests of Corgoloin,” he says. “Every time I go for a walk I have to de-tick myself when I get home.”

“What do you use?” I ask. “One of those tick-pullers you can buy at la Pharmacie?”

Non. I advise using a cotton ball soaked with Ether. It puts them to sleep and then they just fall out all on their own.” He does a convincing impression of an unconscious tick. “Ploof! Just like that.”

“I thought that Ether wasn’t recommend for ticks now.”

“Ridiculous,” he poo-poos. “Some say that the Ether makes the ticks vomit inside you, but in fact by the time the tick has his little hooks in you he has already vomited inside you.”

We both take a moment to savour this mental image.

“Do you have any nuisances like that when you go for walks in the forest in Canada?” he asks.



“There are ticks, but they’re not nearly as problematic as the bears.”

He reflects on this. “Perhaps Ether wouldn’t be quite as effective in that instance.”

I nod in agreement. “Trying to force one to sniff a cotton ball could get a bit dicey.”

Authentic France Travel Tip #10: Eat at a Routier

Authentic France Travel Tip #10: Eat at a Routier

I have long had a passion for diners. This began on a cross-Canada family car trip when I was 12. This particular trip has gone down in family lore as the one where my older sister Suzanne and I were utter gobshites the entire time. At one point my Dad tossed us out of the car somewhere in the middle of the Rockies and left on the roadside (clutching each other and wailing about the possibility of a Grizzly attack) to smarten up.

However, the other thing I remember from this trip is my Dad pointing out the diners along the way. He would choose our meal spots using the following unassailable equation: the diner with the most trucks parked outside = the diner with the best food.

As it turns out this rule of thumb works equally as well in France. The French take their food seriously, and truckers and tradesmen even more so. Franck and I have a love of French diners, also called “Les Routiers“.

We were frequent patrons of the now defunct Jacky’s, and like nothing better than a lunch at the routier in Meuilley and the fabulous Café de France on the Faubourg Bretonnière in Beaune. These restaurants are guaranteed to offer serious bang for your buck – a full home cooked, authentically French, three course meal for between 11 and 13 Euros.

Franck has recently become a dedicated patron of another close-by routier called “L’Auberge du Guidon” just down the road from Villers-la-Faye and MagnylesVillers in the village of Comblanchien. If trucks are indeed anything to go by, “Le Guidon” as it is known, is THE place to eat lunch.

Franck quickly initiated my Dad to lunches at Le Guidon. Often my mother and I would come home around lunchtime to an echoing house.

“Le Guidion,” I would mutter, ticked that they hadn’t waited to take us as well.

For a modest sum of 11,00 Euros at Le Guidon you can have a buffet of entrée choices, the dish of the day (it was boeuf bourgignon on one memorable day), and dessert (my father particularly enjoyed the chocolate mousse) PLUS a bottle of wine PLUS unlimited bread.

If you really want to experience authentic France and a fabulous meal, go and enjoy lunch in a Routier. They are often indicated by a blue and red circular sign like the one on the above photo, written on the restaurant wall just below the arrow sign towards “Villers-la-Faye”.

Here are the rules of thumb for an authentic French experience at a Routier;

1. They are generally open for lunch only during the week, and are closed on weekends.

2. If you are averse to more esoteric dishes such as boudin noir call ahead to find out what the dish of the day is and at the same time make a reservation.

3. Arrive between 12:00 and 12:30pm. Don’t think of arriving at 10:45am or 2:00pm – you will not get served.

4. If you want to truly be authentically French, after you dessert order an espresso to finish off your meal.

5. Miraculously the no-smoking ban in French restaurants seems to be sticking, so you no longer have to worry about acquiring emphysema along with your meal.

6. Bon Appétit!

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

Beaune Vente des Vins Alert – This Weekend, November 14, 15, 16th

Just a quick alert for anyone who will be in or near Burgundy for this weekend (the 14th, 15th, & 16th) to come to Beaune and celebrate the world famous wine auction and city wide party.

The “Vente des Vins” or “Les Trois Glorieuses” happens on the third weekend in November every year in Beaune. The wines which are auctioned off by Christies to some of the biggest wine buyers in the world are produced by the hospital foundation. Throughout the centuries grateful and / or guilty people donated some seriously prestigious vineyards to Beaune’s hospital in an attempt to attain the “bypass-purgatory-get-through-the-pearly-gates” pass. The upshot is that Beaune’s Hospital Foundation has a porfolio of vineyards that can make a grown man weep with jealousy.

The wine is sold in large quantities to buyers who will then in turn bottle and sell it under their own names. The auction is not only an excuse to throw a three day party, but it also is an important indicator of the global market for red and white wines in any given year. There is always a lovely lady, like French actress Fanny Ardant above, present to beautify the proceedings. This is France after all.

Besides the auction there are constant parades, animations, and delicious food stands all around the Place Carnot. Also, Franck’s favorite part sthe legendary winetasting in the spectacular cellars of the Beaune’s Hospices itself. If you survive the mob to get in the cellar door, you will be guaranteed an eye-opening tasting of over 100 wines of the brand new (2008) vintage. I’ll be posting an insider take on the evolution of the new 2008 vintage on here soon.

For all the official poop, just click here;

Franck has also signed up this year for the “Vente des Vins” 10km race through the vineyards, but he informed me yesterday that he is also determined to do the traditional 100+ Hospices winetasting that very same morning. Should be interesting to put it mildly.

Stay tuned.

Frenchitude Lesson #10: Embrace Scarves

Frenchitude Lesson #10: Embrace Scarves (and men, this concerns you too)

Difficle à croire that we are already to the tenth Frenchitude lesson! To catch up if you have missed any aspect of Frenchitude thusfar, just click here.

Today’s lesson is all about the wonder of scarves.

Before my life in France, I was as scarf-deprived as anyone. I thought of scarves as uniformly ugly and scratchy things that my mother forced on me when there was snow on the ground. However, this all changed one day shortly after arriving in France.

That morning I woke up with a sore throat and a hoarse voice. My first host mother in Nuits-Saint-Georges wouldn’t let me out the door to catch the school bus to Beaune without wrapping up my beleaguered throat in one of her many 100% silk Hermès scarves.

At first, I bore the scarf like I always had; with a definite air of martyrdom. I was a hearty Canuck lassie – I needed no molly-coddling. A cold was a cold and it simply must run its course, aided only by hacking and snorting and perhaps, if things got dire, a few glasses of orange juice.

But by the time the bus arrived in front of my school, I had come to the realization that silk felt very nice against my skin – rather decadent actually. As I was getting off I caught a glimpse of myself in the driver’s rear view mirror. I almost didn’t recognize myself; I looked chic, I looked elegante, I looked French.

And to top off my scarf revelation, my sore throat did not turn into a cold. I had found a new miracle remedy far superior to echinacea; it was called Hermès.

My love affair with scarves continues to this day. I have yet to master the classic “tailleur” that apparently all French woman own and can wear in 100 different ways, but at any given time my closet contains about fifteen scarves.

Hermès aside, scarves are generally something I can afford even when I’m feeling skint, which is most of the time. They also come in a thrilling and endless array of colours and fabrics, especially over here in France.

If you’re traveling to France buying one or more French scarves is yet another great souvenir idea that is far more authentically french than a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of the Eiffel Tower (or Heiffel Tower, as Charlotte and Camille call it).

I own many smaller, silky scarves which I wrap twice around my neck and then tie in a knot in the front. Never tie a scarf in a bow, unless you are aiming to look like you have taken a spin in Michael J. Fox’s DeLorean back to the 1980’s.

Then there are the longer, wider scarves like the one I’m wearing in the photo above (taken during a recent spectacular surprise Birthday meal at Ma Cuisine in Beaune which I will be reviewing soon) that I either;

– Wrap loosely two or three times around my neck and tie in a non-chalant knot, as in the photo above, or;

-Fold the scarf in half lengthwise. I put the middle of folded scarf behind my neck and in front of me hold the two end bits in one hand, and the folded part in the other. I put the two end bits together through the fold (which has become a loop) and pull to secure. This method is a closely guarded French secret, so consider yourself one of the initiated now.

And as for you men out there, I must confess that I have a bit of a thing for men in scarves. On cold days I sit in my car in the school parking lot in Beaune and admire all the French men and their scarves, which they wear with that compelling je ne sais quoi.

Although some men, like my gynecologist who I nicknamed Docteur Le Foulard, favour the traditional silk men’s scarf, I prefer the heavier scarf tied in the last way I described above. If any of you men out there are under the misconception that scarves are not masculine, please take a gander at Robert Doisneau’s celebrated photo below.

Now there’s Frenchitude, and then there’s Frenchitude. However, even if none of us could ever aspire to the Frenchitudissime of the couple pictured below, the humble scarf is a mighty good place to start.

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

Wielding her Tampon – Read This Post!

For any of you poor souls out there who have not discovered David Lebovitz‘ fabulous blog about his life and culinary adventures in Paris, click on today’s hilarious post, with the irresistible title “Wielding Her Tampon,” as an introduction;

Enjoy, and tune in here tomorrow for your weekly dose of Frenchitude.

Allez Obama!!!

I try not to get too heavily into politics in this blog…wait, what am I talking about? This blog is pretty well an unedited stream of consciousness and, much to my detriment sometimes, I really don’t enjoy editing myself.

Let me just take a moment to congratulate the American people on electing Obama. That they did just goes to show how progressive and inspiring a country America can be; you should all feel very proud.

The French have never followed a US election this closely or passionately. Most of the major news programs broadcast from New York and / or Washington over the past few days, and all anyone has been talking about here in France is Obama. I know of many French people who stayed up half the night to celebrate.

Let’s face it – due to the major foreign policy disagreement over Iraq, and the general dislike (to use a very mild word) of Bush over here in France – the French and the Americans have been on the outs for much of the Bush administration.

Obama has already gone far in mending these fences. Let me just assure you, my Yankee readers, that your nation is much fêted over here in France today. You have every reason to be proud. Now go out and crack open a bottle of French Champagne! Allez Obama!


*Painting is entitled “French Champagne” by Nicole Etienne

Authentic France Travel Trip #9: Bone Up On WWII

Authentic France Travel Tip #9: Bone Up on WWII

Unlike North America, or to a lesser degree the UK, France still bears the scars of WWII. Walking down the streets in Beaune, you will find street plaques and monuments and cenotaphs all remembering this dark chapter of history. For travellers to France, these reminders provide an opportunity to learn something about the nature of war, and of humanity, that I don’t think we can ever truly digest back home.

Here in Burgundy, the generation of Franck’s grandparents lived through The Occupation. The dividing line between occupied and non-occupied France was very close by, near the town of Seurre. As a result, this region was a hotbed of resistance and people smuggling activity; it paid a correspondingly high price.

Franck’s dearly beloved grandmother Mémé was the only boulangère (baker) in the village of Saint Brun in Occupied France, right near the Demarcation Line. She smuggled the detested “black bread” to those who needed it, refused to take ration tickets from hungry families, and stayed in her village and in her bakery even though she was urged by everyone to leave.

After the war she was offerred a medal by the French government for staying at great risk to herself and her family. Like so many other French, she politely refused it, saying that she didn’t feel she did any more or any less than any other decent person would have.

However, she confided to me shortly before she died that she regretted not accepting the medal. It was always very important to Mémé that her grandchildren understand how it was during la guerre, and she finally came to the conclusion that showing them the medal might have helped them understand.

The more stories one hears about life in France during WWII, the more one comes to understand that things were anything but black and white. There was the black, to be sure, like the suffering of the nearby village of Comblanchien on the night of August 21st, 1944. Many villagers were shot and half the village was burnt down – you can still read the commemorative plaque beside the village church.

But there was also the white. Franck’s Oncle George considered the war years the happiest years of his life. Early on he had been sent to a German farm as a prisoner of war. There, he was finally able to escape his own domineering mother and spent three heavenly years as one of the only men around surrounded by lovely milk-fed German lassies.

Franck’s grandfather Albert, on the other hand, was prisoner in a hard core POW camp in Germany. To this day he can barely stand hearing German spoken in his presence – it brings back too many bad memories.

So even if you have never been particularly interested in the War, a trip to France may open your eyes. Read books about it, for example the fascinating “Wine and War” about Burgundy and Bordeaux during the occupation (non-fiction), and Ken Follett’s rip-roaring suspense novel “Jackdaws” (fiction) which I recently enjoyed.

Just go to our “French Favorites” Amazon store to check them out;

Mémé often talked about a gentle, rotund German soldier who was billeted at their house. It was clear that he, like them, wanted nothing more than for the war to end and to return to his family.

One terrible afternoon Mémé’s sister received the dreaded letter that her husband had been killed in action. That night, the German soldier stumbled in on Mémé crying by herself in the root cellar. He hesitated at the door, surely realizing that of all people Mémé didn’t want invading her grief, a German soldier would top the list. However, he had too much feeling to turn away from her either.

He made his way over Mémé and grasped her hand.

Terrible guerre Madame,” he said in his stilted French, shaking his head in sorrow. He began to cry as well. “Terrible, terrible, guerre.”

Mémé always said that, as far as she was concerned, she and this German were on the same side.

The extraordinary circumstances of WWII forced ordinary people to reveal their true colours. As Mémé always reminded us, the French didn’t have a monopoly on humanity, nor did the Germans have a monopoly on inhumanity.

And if you have the luck while you are in France to hear stories told by people who lived through that pivotal time, take the time to listen.

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

Hot Air Balloon Excitement!!!

Two Sundays ago I was in the midst of preparing for an authentic North American brunch I was giving for my French friends and my Canadian parents (featuring Greek Spanakopita, but I digress…).

I was up to my elbows in making muffins when Franck, who had been down to Beaune to buy fresh baguettes, came flying in the door with the news that there were two hot air balloons (called mongolfières in French) that were taking off just above us on the village Chaumes.

He screamed off again with Charlotte and Camille, still in their pyjamas, to watch. From the photos Franck brought back, Camille looks so excited that I believe she is in danger of spontaneous combustion.

Then about ten minutes later Franck roared back in again (along with my parents now) shrieking “They’re flying over the house, they’re flying over the house!” I took this to mean the balloons, not my two oldest daughters.

And so they were. But wait until I post my Mom and Dad’s spectacular photos of the balloons, coming soon…

Gratuitous Photos of Clémentine at 9 Months

Clémentine is nine months now, so it is more than overdue for some gratuitous photos.

She is such a go-getter (Franck’s genes) that we have had to buy her a helmet to wear at home. As it turns out our Portuguese tiles are not only very lovely, but also very hard on little noggins.

I’ll be posting soon to attempt at explaining the helmet situation, so please don’t alert child services until you’ve heard me out. Until then…