Monthly Archives: September 2009

Authentic France Travel Tip #48: Don’t Eat Salmon in France, and Please Sign This Petition

To the French people, salmon is a real delicacy. Often in France I will go to someone’s house and they will announce they have made salmon for lunch or dinner. This is supposed to be a special treat.

My reaction (though I’m not so gauche to say it out loud) is invariably “eh, meeeeeeeeeerde…”

The fact of the matter is that if you are served salmon in France, you can pretty much guarantee that it is farmed salmon. The wild salmon stocks have been all but wiped out, in the very same way that all of the virgin forests have been wiped out.

Let me think how to put this….hmmmm….okay…..FARMED SALMON IS DISGUSTING.

That about sums up my feelings on the matter. It is a question of taste (as is so often the case with me). Farmed salmon is a pale, fatty, insipid imitation of its lovely, firm wild equivalent.

On the few occasions when I was obliged to eat some farmed salmon in France so as not to offend my host or hostess, I invariably got a terrible gallbladder / indigestion attack. This is my body telling me that there is something very WRONG about farmed salmon, and that my body doesn’t appreciate being given it one bit.

Salmon is, in my mind, one of the few exceptions to the amazing culinary greatness of my adopted country.

I was very lucky in that until I went to France I don’t believe so much as a flake of farmed fish had ever passed my lips. I was the daughter of an avid sports fisherman, so salmon for me was freshly caught wild salmon.

Of course I didn’t appreciate this at the time. I whinged and moaned about having to eat salmon – baked, poached, or barbecued up to three times a week.

Oh the torture. Tantamount to child abuse, I tell you.

I actually kicked up such a ruckus about eating salmon that one day my parents made good on their threat that if I didn’t eat it for dinner, I would be eating it for breakfast.

That’s right – one morning when I was around eleven I balefully sat down at the breakfast table and had to choke down a chunk of cold salmon from the night before. I vaguely remember doing my best to make my parents feel as though they were subjecting me to medieval torture.

Mon Dieu. Come to think of it, it’s a testament to my parents fortitude that in light of all my pissing and moaning they didn’t make me eat an entire fish – scales, eyes and all.

Luckily I grew up (in spite of the medieval torture practiced at home), travelled to new places, and realized that the salmon back home was pretty darn good.

And since we have moved back here to Victoria my Dad has made sure that we are never without several huge rosy fillets of wild freshly caught salmon in our freezer. Thank goodness my daughters are not as obtuse as their mother. They LOVE salmon.

Frighteningly, however, BC’s wonderful and precious wild salmon stocks have been put into grave danger by poorly regulated Farmed Salmon Practices all up and down the coast.

The wonderful Alexandra Morton is fighting to save BC Wild Salmon by demanding a reform of Fish Farming Practices.

I was privileged to hear Alexandra Morton speak (along with that colourful old sea dog Bill Proctor) just before I moved to France, and I think that now her battle is more relevant than ever.

So in the name of good food, the environment, and the desire to have our children know what a wild salmon tastes like, sign Alexandra Morton’s Petition by clicking here.

Merci.

Frenchitude Lesson #50: Hating Aspects of Parenthood Doesn’t Mean You Hate Your Children

Sometimes I wonder if God isn’t some evil scientist.

This is because there are days when I would swear upon a Bible that my children have been genetically engineered to drive me into a mental institution.

This is especially the case during the toddler years. I know, I know…I’m neglecting those teenager years, but for right now I am putting adolescence firmly in the mental box labeled “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Please indulge my need to maintain my blissful ignorance for as long as possible.

Case in point. Yesterday morning Franck was away on a business trip. I had to get the bevy up, dressed, fed, and out the door to school and daycare all before I had actually woken up (just for the record, this happens around 1:00pm most days).

While making breakfasts I carefully cut up Clem’s banana into small pieces so that I wouldn’t have to deal with a choking episode alone. You may remember that I have now officially developed a full-fledged choking paranoia due to several near-death experiences with my girls.

So does Clem pick up my carefully cut up pieces and chew them nicely?

Oh no, that would be far too easy.

Instead she shoves the entire contents of the bowl (equivalent to an entire banana) into her tiny mouth and then tries to swallow it. Without chewing. After all, chewing is so boring! What a waste of time. Who needs it?

Luckily Charlotte is more awake than I am, so I hear her yell while I am in the middle of packing lunch bags (and let me just say – lunches – ugh! the French cafeteria system is SO much better for Moms) “MOM, CLEM IS CHOKING!”

My heart stops yet I somehow manage to run to the table, grab a banana-stuffed, choking, rapidly oxygen deprived child, turn her upside down, do baby Heimlich, plus fish out banana with my finger. Finally I am able to clear her airway. The sound of her cough, and then her cry, is akin to the bells of paradise.

It takes a good minute or so for my heart to start back up again, but do I have time to collapse somewhere and recover? No. I still have three girls to get out the door.

I have to say that as far as parenting moments go, the whole choking thing is one aspect I unequivocally, completely, totally hate. Same goes for cleaning up barf, and your child telling you that they have lost yet another item of their brand new (and very expensive) school uniform.

In France parents are very realistic -some would say blunt -about hating, yes, hating, certain aspects of parenting.

One of my French friends whose son has recently crossed over into teenagerhood unapologetically told me, “I hate how he smells now and oh-my-God are teenage boys ever hideous looking! Their noses are huge and they have zits everywhere. Plus he is always getting in trouble and doesn’t listen to a thing I say anymore. So far I am just hating this stage.”

I somehow don’t feel as free here in Canada to fess up to the fact that although I love my children, there are moments of parenting that as far as I can tell, have absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Well…except along the lines of my beloved “You can’t scare me – I have kids” fridge magnet.

North American society seems particularly in love with platitudes. I often hear parents here bang on about how they “love every minute of it.”

And I feel like saying, “Really? Do you really love every minute of it? Do you truly love that shaky, adrenaline-sick feeling that overcomes you just after you have fished a foreign object from your child’s windpipe or just barely whipped them out of the way of an oncoming vehicle?”

Yet I don’t say that here, because I find that it is hugely frowned upon as a very unpolitically correct thing to say. The people love their platitudes, damn it, and if you question them you must be a Bad Parent. Worse yet, a Bad Person.

Society at large here seems to be so black and white about parenting that when we admit that we hate certain aspects of it, it is somehow inferred that we hate our children too.

For their part, the French have always been better at accepting that aside from little bits of black and white, life is mainly made up of grey areas (just watch pretty much any French film like Cedric Klapish’s “Paris’ for confirmation of this).

The French don’t go in for platitudes, or indeed anything that oversimplifies this crazy, up and down roller coaster that is the human experience. To oversimplify it is to do it a disservice.

They believe that it is precisely those paradoxes – like hating aspects of parenting yet still loving your child – that make parenting so rich and so human.

And you know what? So do I.

Où Sommes-Nous?

This week’s “ Sommes-Nous?” is actually in two parts:

First of all, where are we?

Secondly, what is going on in these photos (what event is being celebrated)?


The correct answer (et non, tu n’as pas le droit de repondre Géraldine…) will earn you limitless prestige and glory.

Authentic France Travel Tip #47: When in Paris, Eat a Fallafel

I admit it, when you think of all the wonderful things there are to eat in Paris, Fallafels may not spring to mind.

They should.

On our Valentine’s Day trip to Paris last year Franck and I had a lovely stroll in the Marais topped off by a Fallafel for lunch on the Sunday before heading back down to Burgundy.

That Fallafel was so damned good that I actually DREAMED about it for several nights afterwards. I am thinking of rerouting our usual flights to France from Lyon through to Paris (and brave Charles de Gaulle) just so I can stop off in the Marais and eat a Fallafel. They are the stuff of which obsessions are made.

They are also one of the best lunch deals to be had in Paris. Here are Laura’s Paris Fallafel tips:

1. The best place to buy Fallafels in Paris is in the rue des rosiers – the Jewish quartier which is extremely interesting and worth a visit in its own right. The best Fallafel place is hands down “L’As Du Fallafel” in the rue des rosiers as seen in the photo below.

Just one look at the lunch-line up will confirm this assertion. If you get lost, just follow la foule, and you will find your Fallafel.

2. If the line-up is big, an employee will come down the line and take your order and give you a ticket in exchange for payment (my advice, bring cash). They are not trying to rip you off – this is just part of the extremely efficient lunch-time system they have devised.

3. After you have devoured your delicious and very Kosher Falaffel, head across the street to what has to be one of my very favorite Boulangeries / Pastry shops in Paris for an unbelievable Jewish pastry.

The entire lunch will only set you back about 10.00 Euros per person, and it will guarantee many happy Fallafel dreams to come.

Frenchitude Lesson #49 : See That Wine and Running Are Perfect Partners

Remember when I took part in last March’s Nuits-Saint-George’s Wine Auction 10 Kilometre race?

This was me, wheezing my way to the finish line. I have to admit I wasn’t motivated by an inner sense of competitiveness, or by accomplishing a long-held goal, or even by getting fit.

It’s time to ‘fess up.

The only thing that kept my feet going until I had passed through that finish line was this;

This is the bottle of wine I received, like every participant, for finishing the race. This is what kept me huffing and puffing all those kilometres.

Well, that and the cool race T-shirt that I still wear almost every time I run.

OK d’accord, I must admit those little snacks of paté and glasses of white wine at the lovely refreshment table in VosneRomanée was a definite pick-me-up. And I have to thank that volunteer who was manning the table and was yelling at everyone who ran past “DON’T CHOOSE THE WATER! THE WHITE WINE IS FAR BETTER FOR YOU!”

Frankly though, I was at no risk of choosing the water, even without his sage advice.

Spaces are already starting to fill up for Franck’s first Grape Trip: “Burgundy Wine Auction Race & Revelrysince we first posted the details last week. If you missed reading over his awesome fun (and wine) filled program, just click here;

http://www.graperentals.com/grapetrips/GrapeTrips_2009-11-Trip.pdf

But – never fear – there are still a few spots left for those of you who want to experience this fabulous alternative universe for yourself. Just email Franck or I if you have any questions or if you would like us to reserve your place.

Burgundy’s wine-sponsored races don’t seem at all strange to the French, who truly, unequivocably belive that things like Burgundy’s fine wines and running go hand in hand to create a healthy, satisfying life.

Those two lovely (and running) bunches of grapes up above have it all figured out…

2009 Harvest Report

For you wine-lovers out there, here is insider information in regards to Burgundy’s 2009 Vintage.

The harvesting is just drawing to a close all over Burgundy. The summary below comes straight from my friend Charlotte who is celebrating the traditional “Paulée” that marks the end of harvest with all of the vendangeurs that worked at the family’s DomaineDomaine Buffet in Volnay probably…well, probably at this very moment as a matter of fact!

“MO ets très satisfait de ce qui est rentré, une quantité normale plus mais surtout de très beaux raisins, peu de pourris et des très bons degrés…”

This translates that her husband, who is the Domaine’s winemaker, is very happy with the superb quality of the grapes which are both high in sugar and troubled by very few cases of rot or mildew.

The good news from the harvest has been pouring in throughout this week all over Burgundy. The overwhelming consensus is that 2009 is a Burgundy vintage to watch for in the years to come. Some are saying that it may prove as good, or even better, than the now-famous (and long-ago sold out) 2005 vintage.

In Vino Veritas!

Authentic France Travel Tip #46: Avoid School Parking Lots At Pick-Up / Drop-Off Times

Better to Take Your Bike Than Brave a School Parking Lot in France…

I was warned repeatedly about the parking lot at my big girls’ new school here in Canada. There were just too few parking spots and too many cars, I was told. As a consequence, for the past week I have been doing the daily drop-offs and pick-ups, expecting parking mayhem to erupt at any time.

It hasn’t.

The worst I’ve had to do is park about a minute’s walk (and enjoy a gorgeous stroll along Victoria’s stunning waterfront) away from the school itself. My mind is still spinning over the ease of parking here. Everything happens in such an orderly fashion. People actually obey the rules and excercise self-restraint. I feel like saying, “You think this is difficult parking!? HUH! You don’t KNOW about true parking problems.”

From what I’ve seen so far, I can conclude that Canadian parents are pretty much the exact opposite of French parents picking up and dropping off their children at school.

The parking lot at Saint-Coeur (the girls’ school in Beaune) was the closest thing to true anarchy that I have ever experienced. Toddlerhood is a close second, but I think the Saint-Coeur parking lot still wins out.

Parents would routinely leave their car idling in the only traffic lane while they went to drop off their children and enjoy a leisurely chat with teachers and other parents (who were likewise blocking traffic). When they were yelled at on their return to their vehicle by the drivers stuck behind them they would respond with complete indignance and rude hand gestures.

It was utter lawlessness; virtually no rule or regulation was respected. It was the French laissezfaire attitude taken to its most chaotic extreme.

For the first two weeks of my first year in France I arrived at the school – nice, law-abiding Canadian girl that I was way back then – half an hour before pick-up in a quest to find a legal parking spot. However, I quickly realized that even that early all the legal spots were already taken (by people who worked in Beaune and illegally parked there for the entire day bien sûr).

So over my five years there I became an expert at double parking (even triple and quadruple parking sometimes), parking on sidewalks and crosswalks, and basically every other method of illegal parking that exists.

Through trial and error I also became pro at the parking lot arguments that inevitably broke out.

Even if I was completely in the wrong, I learned that the only effective method was to hurl back accusations louder than my accuser. This cherished French technique, that is even more effective than the myriad of rude hand gestures I mastered, can basically be summed up as NEVER ADMITTING YOU ARE WRONG.

Before you admonish me about my uncivil behaviour, go and try to park in the parking lot of a French school during drop off or pick-up times, then come and give me a guilt trip.

As I learned for myself, these tactics were not optional – they were the basic tenets of survival that allowed me to emerge from the French school parking maw unscathed (most of the time).

So if you are not prepared to adopt such tactics (and they are not for the faint of heart) take my advice and avoid school parking lots in France during from between 8:30 – 9:15am, 11:30-12:15pm, 1:30-2:15pm, and 4:30-5:15 pm.

Outside of these hours, the French really are a charming group of people.

Vraiment.

November’s Grape Trip : "Burgundy Wine Auction Race & Revelry"

I’ve been mentioning it in our Grape News newsletters, and on my Grape Journal blog, and here it finally is – the complete details and itinerary of our very first Grape Trip!

Our Grape Trips mingle sports (for all levels of athletes, including non-athletes!), gastronomic, and cultural adventures in Burgundy’s famed vineyards and restaurants.

November’s Grape Trip, which we are calling “Burgundy Wine Auction Race & Revelry” is all about taking part in Beaune’s world-famous wine auction and three day long street party in November.

The festivities include a 10.8 kilometer race as well as a half-marathon through some of the world’s most prestigious vineyards and winemaking villages such as Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, and of course Beaune itself. All participants are awarded a bottle of local wine as a souvenir – how many other races in the world can make the same boast?

The itinerary that Franck has put together is all about having a once-in-a-lifetime French experience that only a local guide like Franck can provide.

Highlights, outside of the Wine Auction and race itself, include a night run with local runners around the medieval walls of Beaune, winetastings at the small wineries of some of Franck’s closest friends, and meals at rustic local eateries that only the locals know about!

Just click here to find out all the information;

http://www.graperentals.com/grapetrips/GrapeTrips_2009-11-Trip.pdf

This trip has a maximum of 10 spaces and the price is a special, introductory one. Please contact me at laura@graperentals.com if you would like any further information at all or would like to reserve your spot.

As usual, please feel free to pass on this information to any friends, family or acquaintances that you think might be interested in this special corner of France.

Frenchtitude Lesson #48: If You Can, Take Time To Eat

Settling into a new school is a lot of work. Although this week has been crazy, their new school has been incredibly welcoming and understanding and I must say that my big girls have been extremely courageuses.

However, there is one thing that they are having a hard time adapting to – the North American tendency to rush lunch.

Camille came home from the first day at school saying that she had hardly had time to dip her hard-boiled egg that I had packed her into her salt when they were told it was time to pack up their lunch kits – eating time was over.

Camille just couldn’t get over this – “I was just starting to chat with the girls across from me!” she exclaimed.

In France, of course, lunch – even at at school – is a leisurely two hour affair and the social aspect of sitting down and enjoying food with friends is just as important as the quality of the food itself (which is certainly better than my sad attempts at packed lunches).

Why does our society not value time spent eating?

The situation is the same in all of the other schools here in Canada, and days here certainly seem to be set up – for adults as well as children – so as to allow for very little time for eating. Add to this the number of time I have heard people boasting since I came back of “Being so busy I skipped lunch,” or “Eating a quick sandwich at my desk while I kept working,” and I really do believe that it is a society-wide phenomenon.

Why is NOT taking time to eat and socialize over good food seen as virtuous somehow? Is it that Puritan aversion to anything pleasurable?

I’m still trying to figure this one out, so let me know if you can provide any enlightenment. Camille and I would be very grateful.