Monthly Archives: May 2009

Frenchitude Lesson #37: Bring Hunger to The Table

It is no news flash that the French, especially Burgundians, take meals very seriously.

If you read my blog you know already that a Burgundian “lunch” can often go from 12:00 until around 6:30pm or so. In Franck’s family, that was just about time to break out the apéritif and sit back down again for dinner…

Often, non-French visitors wonder how the French can tuck away such prodigious amounts of food at the table. It is amazing to watch – an activity of stupendous endurance like the gastronomic equivalent of the Ironman triathlon. However, just like those triathletes, don’t forget that the French have had many, many hours – nay years of training.

Aside from adopting a grueling French meal training program, there is a simple thing you can do to enhance your enjoyment (not to mention performance) at any mealtime.

Copy the French – make sure that when you sit down at the table, you are truly hungry. The bigger the meal, the hungrier you need to be. It is optimal to sit down to a true Burgundian meal hungry enough to, as the French would say, manger un gamin de six ans avec le cartable sur le dos (eat a 6 year old child, as well as his school bag still strapped to his back).

This hearkens back to my Authentic France Travel Tip about eating meals at the same time as the French, and refraining from snacking. This has absolutely nothing to do with a dieting technique,and everything to do with that French obsession for enhancing pleasure.

Take this morning, for example, I had an apple for breakfast, instead of my usual tartines avec de la confiture.

I wasn’t being remarkably (okay, bizarrely for me) restrained, but rather I knew we were going to Franck’s tante Renée’s for lunch with my parents and his other aunt and uncle, Jacqueline and Jean.

Renée – at 80 years old – is a truly amazing Burgundian cook. I was starving by the time I sat down, which was a damned good thing because it meant that I completely enjoyed :

Renée’s absolutely delectable crab, vegetable, and quail egg in aspic entrée.

Then her famed Poule au Pot Henri IV. Then an amazing cheese platter, which I was too busy exclaiming over and enjoying to take photos.

And then Jacqueline brought out her contribution to the meal, a huge platter of homemade choux à la crème…one of my favorite desserts in the whole world.

When I bit down on my second delectable choux, I was sure glad I had been hungry to start with.

So if you know you are going to be sitting down to an extraordinary lunch or dinner, be French about it and try to eat very sparsely before (as well as afterwards, that is, if you haven’t simply exploded by then).

Hunger makes everything taste better. Vraiment. It is truly a worthy companion at any meal – from the most elaborate to the most humble.

Off to Saint-Amour (aka Saint-Collapse)!

Franck and I are off to Saint Amour (if there was a village in France called Saint-Collapse we would have gone there, as that’s what we will be doing) in the Beaujolais until late Thursday. Moving while trying to keep up with work, not to mention a one and a half year old out of the ER, has left us very much needing to recharge our batteries.

So there is no Authentic France Travel Tip this Tuesday, but here are some further photos of the Wine Cellar Baptism and Party last weekend at the Le Caveau du Relais du Vieux Beaune and then back at La Maison des Chaumes.

Où Sommes-Nous?

It has been a while since I’ve done one of these, as since the wine cellar baptism I’ve been up to my elbows in basement dust and moving boxes.

Hint – It’s in Burgundy.

Bonne Chance!

Frenchitude Lesson #36: Whenever The Spirit (or Wine) Moves You, Don’t Hesitate to Sing At The Table

I have been struggling for the last half hour to be able to post this video of Robert’s Ban Bourgignon directly on my blog, but it seems to get lost in cyberspace every time.

As you can see, Robert, the Godfather of Le Caveau du Relais du Vieux Beaune was in fine form and gave us all a rousing rendition of Burgundy’s favorite drinking & celebrating song – Le Ban Bourgignon.

I don’t know of many fellow Canucks (with the exception of a few Newfoundlanders) that start singing during meals, but in France this is a regular occurrence. It’s so much more fun (and so much more latin) to shelve one’s reticence and join in.


Wine Cellar Baptism

We’re still recovering, but here are some photos from the baptism of our wine cellar, now officially named Le Caveau du Relais du Vieux Beaune, over the weekend. More details to come…

Merci a tous nos familles, amis, et voisins!

Frenchitude Lesson #35: Screen Time In The Land of Baguettes

Today’s Frenchitude topic was suggested to me by Kecia Welt, who was a recent guest at Le Relais du Vieux Beaune and writes a blog about her quest for a simpler life.
She recently sent me an email: “I don’t believe you have ever touched on “screen time” issue… The time kids spend in front of the television and/or computer. Clearly that is a problem in the U.S. with very alarming statistics. I’d love to learn how the French find balance with these technologies.

First of all, let me start off by saying that I certainly don’t think the French have found the magic bullet to dissuade children from spending the better part of their lives being entertained by a screen.

That being said, I have found that French parents don’t struggle with the “screen time” issue with their little froglets to the same degree as their North American counterparts.

Here is my hackneyed attempt to understand why…

Let me just preface this by saying that I am not one of those anti-screen zealots. Both my girls have Nintendo DS‘ (I think that’s where the apostrophe should go…). Camille’s is turquoise and Charlotte’s is pink with a plethora of horse stickers on it.

When we are stuck in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 after a trans-Atlantic flight and our flight to Lyon has been delayed another two hours, I actually find myself wondering if the person who invented these nifty little wonders shouldn’t, in fact, be awarded a sainthood.

Also, I have also observed that many children who are ill-served by reading programs in primary schools learn to read, and learn to read fluently, via video games. This can’t be a bad thing.

TV watching is naturally curbed in France by the long school days (9:00am to 5:00pm more or less) and the large amount of homework given from Grade 1 onwards. Most French children I know watch almost no TV during the week because there simply isn’t the time.

As for the video games, sometimes when my girls’ friends come over to chez Germain with their Nintendo DS‘, they can spend hours holed up in their bedroom brushing their virtual horses or engaging in battles with their Pokemons. However, this remains a rarity. Most of the time Charlotte and Camille and their friends forget about their DS‘ altogether, and prefer to play Playmobil or the imaginary game of Orphan Children Under The Bridges of Paris.

Now here is where I go out on a très, très shaky limb….

I am undoubtedly making a gross generalization here, but I have noticed that the issue of regulating screen time seems more problematic with little boys than with little girls.

I don’t know what it is in the male psyche that is attracted to screens, and particularly video games, but I am convinced there is SOMETHING different in there.

I would rather cut off my left arm than be forced to play a video game whereas when we were staying in Paris at a friend’s apartment two summers ago Franck kept sneaking off to play some mafia video game in a curtained off alcove.

The huge majority of little girls I know get bored of video games way before parents start to have to intervene. Left to their own devices, they moderate their video game use quite naturally. There are surely little boys out there who do this as well.

In the case of these kind of children, the French take a typically “laissezfaire” approach. If there is no real problem, there is no need for gratuitous parental intervention. Rather, treat the whole video game thing as a positive first step towards autonomy. French parents are as a rule very big on encouraging autonomy in their children.

Then we are left with the children who, if left to their own devices, would go through life with a video or TV screen glued to their right eyeball. This requires a completely different approach – these children really need firm limits.

In the case of one of my French friends, this means deciding not to buy her son, who is the kind of kid who could happily watch 8 hours of non-stop cartoons, a DS or WII or any kind of video game.

She is unapologetic about her decision.

She believes that childhood is short enough, and it is better spent playing outside than staring at a computer screen. She feels that she knows her son, and that if she lets the screens, besides a limited amount of TV, inside the house that it wouldn’t be fair to him; the temptation for him to spend all his time either playing video games or lusting after playing video games would be too great. She feels that as a parent she knows what is best for her son, and truly believes she is doing him a huge favour.

I think this hits on another reason why perhaps French parents have an easier time with the whole screen issue. French parents believe that being a good parent means setting firm limits. This is backed up by the fact that in France, setting parental limits is viewed as concrete proof that you love your children.

Another French friend has a son who loves his DS, but she puts firm limits on how long he can play when his friends come over (usually 1-2 hours). When the time is up and the kids whinge about the injustice of having to stop and inevitably complain that there is nothing else to do, she says to them, “There’s no point in complaining to me about it, because I’m not going to change my mind. You being bored is not my problem. Now, allezvous en!”

Her attitude demonstrates two other reasons why French parents have an easier time with the screen time problem. Firstly, French parents aren’t afraid of looking like the Bad Guy. Secondly, French parents believe that it is not their job to entertain a child or to ensure that their child is being constantly entertained.

The French believe that children, especially when they have friends over, have everything they need to entertain themselves, even without video games. Boredom is viewed as a necessary first step on the path to learning how to entertain themselves, an invaluable skill in life.

Besides, saying a firm non! to children enables them to practice another skill that is essential in French society – protesting.

Authentic France Travel Tip #33: Get Thee to A "Portes-Ouvertes"

This is the time of year where small family run wine domaines all over France host “PortesOuvertes” or literally “open doors.” It is the perfect opportunity to taste wine and sample local food in a very sympatique atmosphere.

Here in MagnylesVillers (where La Maison des Deux Clochers is located) our wonderful neighbourhood wine Domaine, Domaine NaudinFerrand puts on a legendary Portes Ouvertes every May – this year it will be next weekend (May 16 &17th).

Select winemakers from around France are invited, bands play, merguez cook on the BBQ, and everyone has a wonderful time. My parents got such an earful about it that they actually planned their trip this year in order to be able to join in the fun.

To read more about it, just click here.

Franck’s really hoping this fetching winemaker will be there again. As for me, I really doubt that Clem will be in her stroller sleeping this year. She’ll probably be dancing or eating corks off the floor instead.

So if you see a sign for a “PortesOuvertes” as you are travel the wine roads of France, arrêtezvous!

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