Monthly Archives: January 2009

Authentic France Travel Tips #16: In January, Eat A Galette

If you are lucky enough to be in France during the month of January (which is actually a great time of year to be in France, as you will read in next week’s tip) and you want to live like the French, eat a galette.

These special cakes are traditionally only made in January to celebrate Epiphany. They’re absolutely delicious – flaky pastry filled with almond paste. Better yet, inside hides a fève which used to be a bean but has now, much to the joy of children all over France, been replaced by a ceramic person or object.

Charlotte was the lucky one this weekend, and the fève in her case was a statue of the Virgin Mary (I think) or maybe Carla Bruni on a State visit to an Arabic country…

The galette always comes with a cardboard crown, and the person who finds the fève in their slice gets crowned le roi or la reine. They can then choose a reine or a roi to share in their glory (but not their fève!).

My parents came over last January to help us when Clem was born, and they discovered the joys of Epiphany in France for the first time in their lives. For the last 10 days in utero Clem enjoyed at least a galette a day.

Here is Charlotte, so delighted to be la reine that she forgot to choose a roi. Too bad for Franck, because as the only male in our household he would have been a shoo-in.

Here is a close-up of Charlotte’s Virgin Mary / Carla Bruni Sarkozy in Iran before she gets added to the girls’ ever increasing fève collection. C’est dommage that January only has 31 days…

*”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 #17: Consider "Fighting French"

Sorry the posts have been a little thin on the ground this week. After the holidays there is a LOT of catching-up to do but things should be back to normal by next week.

However, I do have a Frenchitude topic that has been just itching to be written, so here it is;

Frenchitude Lesson #17: Consider Fighting Like the French

When I moved back to France five years ago one of the first things that hit me was how many French adults seemed emotionally suspended in childhood. Unlike the North American adults I knew (including myself) the French didn’t even make an effort to do what adults are supposed to do; suppress or hide their emotions.

When the French are sad, they weep openly, when they are happy, they laugh hysterically and grab each other around the necks, and when they are mad…they yell.

At first, this was deeply disconcerting. I was brought up in a society that taught me there was only one proper way for adult couples to “fight”. They, being adults, should have the self-control to discuss the “disagreement” rationally and fairly without raising their voices or throwing objects against the wall. A little bit of pouting was allowed, as long as it was done in such a passive – aggressive manner that when your partner asked you what was wrong you could stiffly respond “nothing’ as you make the bed with unwarranted viciousness.

But the French are utterly comfortable with conflict. French people have no problem yelling and screaming at each other, or hugging each other five minutes later. Such open conflict and quicksilver emotions made my head feel like it was going to explode.

But time passed, and without realizing it, I too began to fight in a more French way.

I know that many couples say they never fight. While living in Canada I often felt very bad that Franck and I were not one of these couples.

Franck and I get along beautifully for 95% of the time, but then there is that other 5%…that percentage is even higher during the first year after a baby is born, though I must say it really helped to know that going in this time around.

Before coming to France our fighting styles were very unmatched. Franck would raise his voice and let all his griefs come gushing out while I would sit there on the couch trying to be fair and rational and above all, adult. As a result, all of my rage was directed inwards instead of outwards, where I now believe it belongs.

Since adolescence I have had an irksome tendency towards panic attacks, at times very debilitating ones. After years of grappling with this issue I have come to accept that my panic attacks are largely the result of a glitch in my cerebral make-up which I am proud to share with many riveting characters, most notably (albeit fictionally) Tony Soprano.

While I don’t think panic attacks will ever be so kind as to leave me altogether, my new habit of letting out my emotions certainly seems to have reduced them dramatically. I now wonder if my anxiety issues were not exacerbated by trying to shoehorn what is essentially an emotional, tenacious (Franck would say stubborn), strong-willed nature into the accepted North American mould of a restrained, pliable, and, god forbid, “sweet” female.

Fighting “Canadian” may work for some people, but it sure as hell wasn’t working for me.

Now when Franck and I fight, I yell, I holler, I shake my finger, and I slam doors. I (mostly) restrain myself from throwing things. I meet Franck’s anger head on with my own, and let me tell you; I have discovered that my anger is a strangely beautiful and awesome thing to behold.

It feels so GOOD to get all of that OUT of me rather than having it roil away inside, eating away at me in the name of rationality and self-control.

The French view conflict as a natural and integral part of being human and, as a consequence, of any human relationship. A lack of conflict is seen as far more menacing than raised voices, because it symbolizes that death knell of marriages; indifference.

Franck and I are not completely juvenile about our fighting. We try to hustle the children out of earshot, we don’t hit each other, and we try not to say anything too damaging (though we don’t consider “YOU’RE ACTING LIKE A TOTAL GOBSHITE!” damaging in the least).

If our kids do question the noises of warfare emanating from the living room I try to be honest with them.

I tell them that most couples fight, that it is normal for most couples to fight, and that it just so happens that their parents both have very strong personalities which means that, while their love is very strong, their clashes can be equally as strong. I reassure them that we are not getting divorced, that we love each other, and reiterate that conflict is a normal part of life.

Many people may disagree, but I am convinced that seething and unspoken resentment can be far more frightening for children than open, honest conflict.

And I find one of the best things about fighting French (besides reducing panic attacks far more effectively than Prozac) is that the fights are remarkably short-lived. You get it all out, you make up, then you move on.

And once the storm clouds have cleared, I feel light inside, and notice that the sky has never looked so blue.

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

Authentic France Travel Tip #15: Eat Fromage!

France is truly the land of yummy cheese. The dairy aisles at the local supermarkets are an epicurean’s utopia, not to mention the cheese stands at the local French markets.

The French like to say that there are 365 different types of cheese in France, one for every day of the year. However, you don’t have to be a math whiz to figure out very quickly that there are WAY MORE than 365 different types of cheese in France. Almost every region, and then every little part of every region, boasts one or more varieties of their own local cheese.

Check out the cheese platter(s) served at our New Year’s feast at Charlotte Buffet’s house. That blurry hand is our friend Martial, who brought a delicious selection of cheese from the neighbouring Jura region where he works, describing each cheese to us.

Just a word to the wise, don’t be scared off by smelly cheeses, they are often very mild in taste and you may find yourself developing a penchant for them. Camille never misses the cheese course. She sniffs around the platter like a bloodhound and then asks me, “which do you think is the smelliest?”

It is invariably a Munster or an Epoisses, and that is the one she chooses. She often turns away cheeses such as Comte because in her words,”it isn’t smelly enough.”

Tasting French cheeses gives you a glimpse of the mind-blowing diversity of France’s regions and cuisine. Here are few of my local Burgundian favorites;

Fromage de Cîteaux

We pick up this round, mild cheese whenever we go to Vespers at the local Cistercian monastery just outside of Nuits-Saint-Georges. The monks make it themselves, from milking the cows to wrapping the final product up in its traditional blue and white wrapper.


A local cheese that is renowned for its smelliness (it is one of Camille’s favorites). However, even though it can make you think perhaps you have left a pair of filthy socks in the fridge by mistake, its taste is surprisingly mild and creamy. It is matured using repetitive washes of marc de bourgogne, which is the hard alcohol made with the grape stems left over after the grapes have been pressed for wine. We always buy Epoisses made by Berthault – in our humble opinion it is the best by a long shot. They also make a wonderful Soumaintrain, which is a larger, milder form of Epoisses.

Ami de Chambertin

This is probably my favorite local cheese, and is pictured at the very top. It is basically a smaller, stronger version of Epoisses. I was introduced to this cheese by my first host mother when I was freshly off the plane from Canada, and the love affair has continued ever since.

Delice to Pommard

This is an extremely mild, triple cream goat’s cheese that contrasts very nicely with stronger cheeses such as Epoisses. It is a ball shape and rolled in crushed mustard grains (Dijon mustard being another one of our famed local products here in Burgundy). This cheese is made by Alain Hess, one of the best cheese makers around and who also runs a gorgeous store on the Place Carnot in Beaune under his own name. Not to be missed, for the smelly smells alone!

Our 2009 Plans…

Following my last post, I’ve received lots of emails asking;

1. When are you moving back to Canada?

2. How can you possibly be considering moving away from France?

3. Are you going to sell your vacation rentals?

4. Will you still be blogging back in Canada?

Let me just preface my answers with the story of a warm summer evening back in 1991 when I was a fresh-faced 18 year old, and Franck a dashingly older man at the age of 23.

Franck and I had met only two months previously and were still in the first throes of our head over heels coup de foudre. We went for an evening walk in the vineyards just behind his parents’ house (and, incidentally what is now La Maison de la Vieille Vigne), and started dreaming out loud about our future. Despite the problems of immigration, finances, and language, it was a given that we would figure out a way to stay together.

Our fingers knitted together as the sun bathed the bright green vines in citrus light. Our life as a couple would have one foot in Burgundy and one foot in Canada’s West Coast, we decided (even though Franck had never even been on an airplane at that point, let alone visited Canada). We concluded that for as long as we could humanly manage it, we would decide NOT to decide between our two homes.

Fast-forward 17 years…so far, though at times not without struggle, we have managed to mould our lives according to that pie-in-the sky dream.

In the past five years here we have not only bought and renovated La Maison des Chaumes which will be our base here in Burgundy now that our family has outgrown La Maison des Deux Clochers, but we have created La Maison de la Vieille Vigne and Le Relais du Vieux Beaune that not only allow many adventurous travellers to get an authentic taste of Burgundy, but also give us a reason – practically and financially – to continue moving back and forth between France and Canada.

So, to answer;

Question #1: When are you moving back to Canada?

We’re pretty decided to take the leap around July 20-25th, 2009. From the end of July 2009 onwards, then, our house here in Burgundy, La Maison des Chaumes, will be available for rent whenever we’re not here. I’m currently working on getting some information posted on our website

Question #2: How can you possibly be considering moving away from France?
Franck and I and our bevy love France. It is half of all of us, not to mention a large chunk of our individual and family history.

Nevertheless, Victoria is a pretty darn nice place to live as well, and it is the other half of ourselves and our life, and as such shouldn’t be neglected.

This is our fifth year living in France and for a lot of reasons Franck and I both feel that the time is right to move back to Canada for a while. However, just because we are living for the majority of the year in Canada does not mean France will not continue to be a part of our lives

Franck will be coming back on a regular basis to maintain the quality of our vacation rentals, do repairs, and just deal with the in-person stuff such as meetings with bankers and accountants, painting shutters, and trying out new restaurants for us to review!

As a family we’ll be coming back at least once a year, and staying at our house here, La Maison des Chaumes. When we come back to France we generally stay for a while – usually 5-6 weeks – and during that time we’ll not only be catching up with family and friends here in Burgundy, but also meeting guests, fine-tuning the decoration and equipping of the gites, and just taking care of all the stuff that needs taking care of.

So even though we’ll be based in Canada, France will continue to be half of our life, which is the way we like it.

Question #3: Are you going to sell your vacation rentals?
Definitely not! As you can read above, they grew organically out of our lives and are part of what make our lives make sense. We owned and rented La Maison des Deux Clochers, our first vacation rental, for several years while we lived in Canada, so a bit of remote management doesn’t faze us. Luckily we also have family, friends, and a network of tradesmen here who ensure that any problems are dealt with promptly and that the high quality of our places is maintained.

Question #4: Will you still be blogging back in Canada?

Time permitting, I sure hope so!

I have about a 5 page list of ideas for both Frenchitude and Authentic France Travel Tips posts, so I won’t be stopping those any time soon.

Moreover, I think that between our trips back and forth between France and Canada, our whole family’s readjustment to North American life, the remote management of our vacation rentals, and dealing with the lack of escargots in Victoria, I’ll have plenty of blogging fodder.

As always, a Grand Merci for reading, and Bonne Année!