Monthly Archives: December 2008

8 for 2008

This week I’m in my annual maudlin post-Christmas mental funk, exacerbated by the exhaustion that can only come with a 11 month old who thinks anything small enough to insert in her mouth is a yummy “ah-toe” in a household full of Playmobil equestrian centre bits and pieces (little plastic horse poos, little brushes, little riding helmets…).

So my regular posts will be suspended until next Monday, when the big girls head back to Saint-Coeur in Beaune, and I can shovel all the Playmobil horse utopia back into their bedroom and shut the door.

However, my friend KC Dyer sent me an email that requested the following;

“I’ve been noodling around with the idea of doing a ‘Top 8 of ’08’ list for my blog. I’m inviting a bunch of my fellow-blogging addicts and I wondered if you might like to participate as a Guest Blogger. If you have a minute and want to play — awesome!

Just give me a list of your favourite 8….anything. Books, movies, tv shows, friends, blogs, artists, writers….whatever you feel like talking about. Be sure to limit your list to 8 items (if you can). You can either put it up on your own blog and I’ll link to it, or you can send it to me, I’ll put it up and link you in. Let me know if you’re in!”

Haven’t had much time for watching TV, tragically ditto for reading, however one big realization that has been dominating my psyche (the part that isn’t occupied with trying to prevent Clem from choking on plastic horse poos) as 2008 draws to a close is that in 2009, only a few days away, we are taking the big leap and are moving back to Canada.

I love France, I believe I will miss France and the people I love here like an arm that has been cut off, but here are 8 favorite things that I am really looking forward to about moving back to Canada (besides being closer to my entire family, which is of course a given);

1. Driving along the waterfront and seeing how the ocean is different every single day.

2. Having my friend Andrea live just up the street.

3. The fact that my girls will learn art and music and sports in school, instead of just academics.

4. Hearing the Sea Lions bark during the winter.

5. Beachcombing with a Latte in hand.

6. Being only a (scenic) ferry ride away from the SIWC writing conference that KC so brilliantly coordinates, instead of a 24 hour trans-Atlantic trip.

7. Waking up to a fog horn on winter mornings.

8. Kayaking on Shawnigan Lake in the dead of winter with only the loons for company, and then going back to the cabin to warm up by the fire.

Christmas Eve Escargot Scoff

Many French people celebrate their Christmas on Christmas Eve – known as “Le Reveillon de Noel” – rather than on Christmas Day itself. Franck’s family, however, traditionally has the big celebration at lunchtime (but, this being Burgundy, “lunch” goes until around 7:00pm) on Christmas Day at my sister-in-law Stephanie’s house.

We had big plans for Christmas Eve, going to the evening Mass, maybe having friends or family over for dinner…But we were so blinking tired by the time the 24th rolled around, not to mention the fact that Clem had come down with a fever and a cold, that we just opted for a family evening chez Germain.

Franck bought 4 dozen escargots and we settled down to a Christmas Eve escargot feast – something that was so delicious, easy, and fun that I think it may become a new Germain family tradition.

Here they come out of the oven, piping hot and smelling of garlic and parsley.

Charlotte and Camille were deft in their use of escargot pinchers, and tucked into their dozen with enthusiasm. Clem was in her high chair, eating “ah-toes” of course.

As far as Camille is concerned, snails are far more finger-lickin‘ good than chicken.

And here are my three girls, two with tummies full of 12 escargots each, and one with “ah-toes”…next year we’ll start her with a half-dozen.

Joyeux Noël from the Germains

Here is our special sled which holds traditional French Christmas Chocolates (called “papillottes“). The reindeer of my grandmother’s is being a bit slack on his watch, because I find myself filling up the sled about five times a day.

I hope Santa and the good digestion fairy visit you all, and a very Joyeux Noël from here in Burgundy.

The Petit Gateau Monster

The Gateau monster is in the bottom right hand corner there…the one with the helmet.

On Wednesday I was conducting a Christmas cookie making session with Charlotte, Camille, and their cousin Lola.

Clem spent a happy hour after getting up from her nap crawling under the table eating every little bit of squashed cookie dough and rainbow coloured decorative balls off the floor.

Yes, let me just take a moment to confirm that whereas your parenting principles start to slip with child #2, they go into a blistering nosedive with child #3. I just couldn’t work up the motivation to be up to the herculean task of trying to stop Clem from hoovering up the baking detritus from the kitchen floor. If I recall correctly my thoughts were along the lines of, “Good! Nice to see she doesn’t have an allergy to raw eggs, and at least the floor will be clean.”

You’ll also notice that Camille wanted to take her shirt off so it wouldn’t get mucky, and even though it is December and was snowing outside I just gave a mental shrug and figured that wasn’t worth being one of my battles of the day.

Anyway, I eventually put Clem in her high chair and gave her an actual baked sugar cookie to try. She ate it with relish, chattering away to herself while I dealt with a food colouring crisis.

After the crisis had abated I realized that Clem kept chanting the same word over again, “Ah-toe, ah-toe, ah-toe.” Then it struck me; my daughter was saying “gateau” as in the “petit gateau” (meaning “cookie” in French).

“Ah-toe” is now her favorite word, and she wakes us up at 6:00 am every morning chanting it over and over again in her crib. She must be dreaming about “ah-toes” all night long.

Frenchitude Lesson #15: Make Tarte Tatin

About a month ago I decided that the fact that I live in France, love baking, love apples, and had never yet attempted a Tarte Tatin – the uniquitous French apple upside-down cake – was simply too ridiculous. It had to change.

So off I embarked on an attempt to fine-tune the perfect tarte tatin recipe. Truth be told all the attempts were pretty darn delicious – how bad can the combination of apples, butter, sugar, and vanilla possibly be? – and were gobbled up by myself and my family before I could even snap a photo.

However, I was still not satisfaite. There was a bit too much caramel and I didn’t taste the apple flavour distinctly enough. Also my pastry was a bit bland – I figured using salted butter would help with that, and as you will see below, j’avais bien raison.

I kept fiddling around until this Sunday I hit on tarte tatin nirvana. Here is my recipe, that I have now included in the oeuvre in progress that is my recipe binder;

– half of Charlotte’s Pâte Brisée recipe made with salted or half-salted butter

– 5 to 7 cooking apples, I swear by “Goldens

– 1/4 of a cup of salted or half-salted butter

– 1/2 of a cup of regular white sugar with a package of vanilla sugar OR teaspoon of vanilla extract


– Peel and cut up apples into quarters, remove core

– In a skillet on element, or in proper tarte tatin dish is you have one (but I don’t, I never seem to have the right equipment as I go through life), melt butter over medium to medium-high heat.

– When butter is bubbling nicely, sprinkle sugar, vanilla sugar OR vanilla extract over butter. Using a wooden spoon or spatula stir together (still over medium to medium – high heat) until they start to become golden – about 3 minutes.

-Place apple chunks on caramel mixture. Careful for splatters – caramel is VERY hot.

-Turn heat down to medium / medium-low so that it is just bubbling. Let bubble away for about 15-20 minutes, turning apples occasionally so that caramel coverage is maximized.

-During this time on floured surface roll out pastry in a circle about half an inch in diameter bigger than the round cake pan where you are going to transfer apple caramel mixture and cook tarte tatin, OR half an inch in diameter bigger than your bona fide tarte tatin pan if you are using one (pssst…is your name Martha by any chance?).

– If not using a tarte tatin pan (i.e. me) using wooden spoon or spatula transfer bubbling caramel and apple mixture (again, carefully) to buttered round cake pan. With spoon arrange apples in the closest fit possible. Leave five to ten minutes to cool, then lie pastry circle over the apple mixture and tuck in firmly underneath apples around the edges. It will look something like this;

– If your name is Martha and you are using a tarte tatin pan just do the same thing with the pastry directly in the pan.

– Pop confection into preheated oven at about 400-425 degrees (205-215 Celsius) and let cook for 25 minutes or so until pastry on top is golden brown (but not dark brown).

– Take it out, and on to flat wooden board or largish plate FLIP your cake on it so apple side is now looking up.

Voilà! You have now made the Frenchest of French desserts, the divine tarte tatin – the delicious french upside down apple cake. It tastes the best, as with so many things in life, served with really good quality vanilla ice cream.

This is what mine looked like when I brought it back in the kitchen after serving it. YUM!

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

Ladies and Gentleman…Check Out Our Racks!

While I was left alone to fend for myself and try to erect and decorate our needle shedding, sapin miraculeux, Franck was busy working all last weekend with our mystery wine cellar consultant.

Over the past several months they have been busy in our basement pouring the concrete pieces of what is to become our wine racks in the Beaune cellar on carefully constructed frames.

Last weekend it was time to take out all of the pieces, saw them apart, and then put them together like puzzle pieces in the Beaune cellar.

Sounds easy, I know, especially compared to my travails but the concrete pieces weighed about 100 kilos each and Franck and our mystery consultant are both what we would we refer to in France as “les forces de la nature” in regards to their capacity for physical labour. They lifted, sawed, and reassembled these 100 kilo pieces from 9:00am on Saturday to 10:00pm, then did it all over again on Sunday.

Here’s a photo montage of their efforts;

They really earned the delicious tarte tatin I made them for dessert on Sunday, and the recipe for which (waving to Karen here) I’ll be posting tomorrow.

A demain!

Behold Our Sapin Miraculeux

This is the sapin miraculeux currently residing in our living room. It is a miracle tree because;

– We lent out our tree stand last year to somebody, can’t remember exactly who, so don’t know who to call to get it back.

– There are absolutely no tree stands left for sale in Beaune.

-Franck was working on the Beaune cellar ALL WEEKEND so I was on my own with my bevy to get the tree up and decorated.

-French Christmas tree lights don’t come in single strings but rather circles so you basically have to lasso your tree. If you think this sounds easy, you have clearly never tried it.

– Our sapin sheds about a thousand needles every time somebody breathes in the vicinity, not to mention lassoing.

– Clem is currently in a lovely phase where she slithers around on her stomach and hoovers up everything in her path, including pine needles.

– I decorated our sapin with an almost 10 kilo needle-hoovering baby in one arm and with the “help” of two tired big girls who had “creative differences” regarding their “visions” of the sapin and which ornaments should be used.

– I am totally knackered, and have a bad cold.

So our tree is truly a sapin miraculeux because it is truly a Christmas miracle that it got up and decorated without an emergency room visit or holiday homicide.

P.S. Those chairs underneath are a nice touch, n’estce pas? They are a barricade for Clem (though, truth be told, not a very effective one). Clem can now often be found straddling the top of the barricade, reminding me of Cosette in Les Misèrables. I’ll let you know if she breaks out into a rousing rendition of “Do You Hear The People Sing?” before Christmas.

Authentic France Travel Tip #14: Laura’s Primer on Winetasting Etiquette

I received a few emailled questions about winetasting etiquette in France after my last Authentic France Travel Tip entitled “Don’t Be Intimidated by Winetastings“.

So without further ado, here is Laura’s Primer in Winetasting Etiquette that I include in all the information binders at our properties.

Rule #1

If you would like to do a BIG tasting where no wine purchase is expected or required, go to one of the big Domaines such as Patriarche, Bouchard, or Reine-Pédauque where you pay for a tasting.

Another fabulous possibility is to take part in one of the MANY wine festivals in France such as our local Saint-Vincent festival in late January, the Beaune wine auction in November, or the Fête du Vin Bourru in October in Nuits-Saint-Georges. In all of these places you pay for a glass and / or tickets and can then winetaste to your heart’s content. These events are a blast, and definitely give you an authentic experience of France’s wine regions.

Rule #2

At the smaller, family-run Domaines, winetastings are almost always free. There is never an obligation to buy, but do keep in mind that making wine requires a lot of hard work. If you like the wine, it is good manners to buy a bottle or two after the tasting. This is one of those unspoken yet understood points of etiquette.

Rule #3

Many people drop in to the smaller Domaines without an appointment for impromptu tastings. While this is indeed accepted practice, all the winemakers I know here are always saying how they prefer an appointment. This way they can set aside time in their busy days to consecrate to the tasting, and a more relaxed, more involved tasting is inevitably the result.

Rule #4

Don’t keep going back to the same (small) place expecting tastings every time you come to buy a bottle or two. Better to vary the places you visit, and besides, this is the best way to discover the unbelievably diverse world of French wines!

Rule #5

You are not expected to swallow everything you are given to taste, though you can if you want. It is perfectly polite to spit. Complain about those nasty gendarmes patrolling the routes with their alcohol tests and you will be viewed as un type sympathique. If the spittoon isn’t conspicuous, ask for one; this is infinitely preferable to spitting into the Sterling silver family heirloom champagne bucket by mistake.

Rule #6

If they offer you a free bottle of something nice at the end of your tasting, by all means accept it – they wouldn’t offer it if it wasn’t heart-felt; that’s the Burgundian way.

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

Frenchitude Lesson #15: Equip Your Child With Cute Shoes

One thing that many visitors to France remark upon is the gorgeousness of the children’s shoes. It’s true. Take a gander, for example at Clémentine’s first pair of “real” shoes that I bought her in Beaune a couple of months ago.

I swear to God, they are so cute, at times I wonder if I’m not going to eat them.

But as you can see in the above photo of Clem, the gorgeous shoes are not just for looks. They are properly designed to stabilize the child’s ankles to help them stand up and walk, and support the little muffin feet.

And proper, leather shoes are not just for babies. In France, parents generally only allow their younger children to wear running shoes, which are referred to here as les tennis or les baskets in an interesting bastardization of English sports terminology, for playing sports.

But shoes of such undeniable cuteness must cost a fortune, you say? Mais non! Clem’s little boots cost me 19.00 Euros at La Halles Aux Chaussures across from E.LECLERC in Beaune.

Clem, like many French children, only has this one pair of shoes. I find one pair is all she needs.

Older children such as Charlotte and Camille usually have two pair; les tennis specifically for playing sports, and then a pair of really beautiful leather shoes in neat colours and with whimsical design for school and gadding about town with the parents.

Below is a photo of Clem gadding about at her friend Mauhault’s house in Beaune in her French shoes.

And this week, Clem has been taking her first steps in her first pair of shoes. I think after she’s grown out of them I’m going to have to frame them or something.

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