Monthly Archives: February 2009

Authentic France Travel Tip #20: Manège Your Heart Out

No decent sized French town lacks a manège, or merry-go-round. Beaune’s lovely one sits in a place of honour in the middle of the Place Carnot, where children can see it from every direction and beg their parents or grand-parents for a ride.

I’m always amazed how such a simple ride – horses bobbing up an down, the twirly cup, or the rooster, rotating in a circle to accordian musak, never fails to captivate children of all ages and nationalities.

My oldest daughter Charlotte, who is turning nine but is about the size of most 12-year olds, still doesn’t consider herself too old for a merry-go-round ride. Indeed, if and when that happens it will be a sad day.

So when you are travelling in France with your children, don’t miss out on the simple pleasure of a manège ride. It is such a fun, and such a french thing to do.

That’s Clem on her fourth or fifth manège ride, along with Camille, my friend Emmy from Oxford, and her daughter Isolde.

*”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 #21: When The Going Gets Tough, Make Crêpes

February gets me every time. As my sister Jayne pointed out, February is like the Tuesday of the winter. It’s not the beginning like Monday, which is never as bad as you imagine, but it’s not anywhere near the end either.

I want warmth and sunshine and Spring, but like any French person for now I’ll just have to settle with crêpes.

Crêpes are French comfort food, and in our family we try to make them on most Sunday nights for dinner during the winter – and they are never more needed that when we are stuck in the dirge-like depths of February.

Here is our family crêpes recipe; a balm for our souls, especially in February.


500 grams of white flour
6 eggs
8 centilitres of vegetable oil (not olive or anything strong tasting)
1 litre of milk (2% or up best)
1 pinch of salt

fine-meshed sieve
crêpe pan or if not a small Teflon frying pan


How to Make Batter

– Mix flour and salt together with whisk in bowl.

– Make a hole in the centre of the flour mixture with your fingers.

– Add eggs and oil into hole (doesn’t matter if it runs over).

– Mix gently with whisk – batter will be stiff and lumpy – this is perfectly normal, while mixing wet the batter with a quarter of the milk, mix milk in…

– When you more or less have a homogeneous mass of batter, pour the rest of milk in all at once.

– Keep mixing delicately with whisk until you have smoothed out as many of the lumps as possible.

– ***THIS IS A CRUCIAL STEP*** We always, at this point, pour the batter through a fine-meshed sieve (called a chinoise here in France) into an empty water bottle (also using a funnel), although you can always pour it into any sort of bowl and / or pitcher. This step eliminates the lumps without toughing the batter. We have found an empty water bottle the perfect device for pouring the batter into the crêpe pan, and then storing any leftover batter in the fridge.

– You must then leave the batter to “rest” for at least one hour before using.

How to Cook Crêpes

– When the batter is sufficiently rested up, you oil a crêpe pan – while a regular Teflon style frying pan will do in a punch, a real crêpe pan makes a huge difference; they are actually concave which allows for better cooking – with a piece of paper towel (wiping off any visible traces of oil) and then heat up the pan so it is very hot.

– Pour your first crêpe, using just enough batter to cover the pan, tilt the pan this way and that to get maximum coverage. When you see bubbles popping in the middle of the crêpe, very similar to when you make pancakes, loosen the edges of the crêpe with a plastic or wooden spatlula and using your fingers flip it over to cook other side briefly (only about 30 seconds).

– Just for the record the first crêpe is usually very weird looking – this is normal. The following ones will always be better. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of this particular mystery yet.

– We usually do a round (or three) of savory crêpes filled with ham, grated cheese, and a few dabs of crème fraiche – these are all added in the pan on the flipped crepe so that they heat up and melt, fold the crêpe over in half on top of ingredients and serve.

Here I have prepared the savory ingredients, along with a nice little glass of Claire Naudin’s wonderful local red for the chef (this also helps with the February blues, by the way, though watch out as it would be all too easy to become an alcoholic in February).

– Then we do a round (or three) or dessert crêpes that we either fill with jams of any variety, sugar, or Nutella is you are in particular need of a mood boost.

I am very proud that I can now expertly flip crêpes just like any good French passport holder. However, as Charlotte informed me amidst gales of laughter “Maman, you have such a double menton when you do that!”

Sadly, she was not making reference to the lovely town of Menton on the French Riviera but rather pointing out how flipping crêpes gives me a whopper of a double chin. So go ahead and try to flip, but be warned that a blow to your vanity is the price you will have to pay for such culinary razzmatazz.

Maybe I do have a double menton, but I make damn good crêpes

Authentic France Travel Tip #19: Go To Church

Unlike Franck, who found throughout his errant French youth that the prime place for meeting fetching girls from neighbouring villages was catechism classes, I didn’t spend much of my formative years in churches.

Well into adulthood I was deeply intimidated about attending religious services. This was a darn shame because French churches, from the largest cathedral to the smallest village Church like the Roman one across from La Maison des Deux Clochers in the above photo, are capsules of beauty and history.

At the few Catholic masses that Franck managed to drag me to I felt like everyone there spoke a language that I had never bothered learning. They knew when to stand up, when to sit down, how to make the sign of the cross without bonking their neighbours, when to chant, what to chant, when to kiss their neighbour and when (and how much) to drop into the collection basket.

Going to church anywhere, especially in France, made me feel like an idiot in very much the same way as when I had to learn to drive standard.

Then one day when we were working hard on La Maison de la Vieille Vigne we went to a Mass conducted in majestic style by Franck’s priest friend the Père Frot. That day, up to my ears in paint colour choices, our financing falling through, and trying to find a plumber, I was too exhausted to even attempt the standing up and sitting down and all the rest of that cryptic Catholic stuff.

Pinned down by the centrifugal force of exhaustion, I just sat. I sat and listened to the hymns. I sat and watched the play of light shining through the stained glass windows. I sat and actually ended up experiencing a very welcome moment of peace.

It dawned on me then that you don’t have to know the religious “language” to attend a church service.

Now I enjoy going to church. I still don’t know when to stand up or sit down, but I’ve realized that simply having the desire to step out of the mish-mash of life for a moment is all the Church-ese I need to speak.

So many aspects of French culture are rooted in the Catholic religion; attending a local church service helps you understand it on a whole new level. I have found that it is one of the most peaceful ways of taking part in French life.

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

I just had to include this photo of my niece and nephew lighting a candle and praying for the departed souls of their dearly beloved cats in Notre-Dame while visiting Paris.

A Sneak Peek At Grape Trips

If you are on our mailing list you will have already heard about Franck’s first ever “Grape Trip” planned for the week of March 28th to April 4th. If you are interested but these dates don’t work for you, there is also the possibility of organizing other Grape Trips during any week where there is availability at one of our properties between now and July 15th.

On his Grape Trips Franck will be taking guests staying in either La Maison des Deux Clochers or La Maison de la Vieille Vigne on three half-day guided bike rides through the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. The week will also be punctuated with wonderful meals and many delectable surprises such as a very special winetasting in the vineyard below.

This isn’t any vineyard. It is the Premier Cru appellation Clos de la Rougeotte in the famed winemaking village of Volnay.

Our friend Marco (who is the one wearing shorts, I always berate him for not wearing something warmer on his legs when the trois amigos go for their Sunday morning bikes rides) manages the Domaine that has the monopoly for this very wonderful Volnay terroir.

That’s right, Domaine Buffet, Marco’s family Domaine since the 16th Century, is the only one in the world who grows and produces this particular wine.

Franck will take his Grape Trip guests to taste some of this exclusive wine in the vineyard you see in the photos. This is of course where the actual grapes are grown, and Marco will be on hand to give his thoughts and to answer any questions.

See that cherry tree by the stone wall? It is apparently what gives Clos de la Rougeotte its rich and unique flavour of red berries. Marco (not at all biased, of course) says is the very best Volnay in existence.

We’ll be sending out more information about Franck’s Grape Trips in our next Grape News which I’ll be posting here. But if you have any questions before then you can always find my email address at