Monthly Archives: December 2009

Happy New Year from a Snowy Villers-la-Faye

These photos were very kindly sent to me by Gary Schiro, a guest at La Maison de la Vieille Vigne just before Christmas.

Gary was very patient with the fact that the cold snap had knocked out the Internet hub at the cottage (and the fact that we had to deal with the dreaded France Telecom – and over the Holidays to boot – in order to get it repaired). He and his partner had no choice but to eschew technology for a while, and instead went for some nice long walks in the snow.

This is the Place de la Mairie where the school children were having an epic snowball fight to usher in the start of Christmas vacation.

And here is my favorite walk around the Mont Saint Victor in the snow. Merci for the photos Gary.

And in about two weeks time Villers-la-Faye will be welcoming five new “Fayavillois” (name for the inhabitants of Villers-la-Faye) when Lisa K. and her family move from Alberta to Burgundy for a 5 month sabbatical at La Maison des Chaumes.

Here’s wishing that 2010 is filled with adventures and fun-filled Frenchitude for all my Grape Journal readers. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, do it sans vous!

Bises xo

Laura

This Is What a Buche Is Supposed to Look Like

Michelle, you are a very kind soul. I also love how you saw a heart shape in all that chocolate-y mess that was my buche.

Here is what a buche is supposed to look like although, like Michelle, I find the restrained version of the buche a bit twee.

But here on my favorite French cooking site http://www.chefsimon.com/ le chef recommends that if one is to make a buche, one should just give into its inherent kitchiness and break out the entire panoply of plastic gnomes, axes, Christmas trees, etc…

I’d like to think that maybe the problem with my buche was that I just didn’t have enough plastic gnomes.

Chef Simon also recommends that the Kitsch OD buche should be eaten while listening to “Motherless Children” by Eric Clapton.

Chef Simon is one of that breed of very wise French men. He knows that restraint is a highly overrated thing – especially during the holidays.

Frenchitude Lesson #58 (aka "The Confession"): I’m A Fraud

Remember how I was going to make a great Buche de Noel for Christmas dinner this year?

After all, I am the girl who regularly doles out Frenchitude lessons, so I had to inject our Canadian Christmas dinner with a bit of Frenchitude, n’est-ce pas?

Just in case you were harbouring any delusion that I was like a Canuck – Franco version of Martha Stewart, just contemplate what my buche looked like;

Note my last ditch attempt to add bark-like texture and a “knot” with a fork.

Yes, you can laugh now.

I swear to God I followed the instructions. I was even listening to Boney M’s “Petit Papa Noel” when I was trying to roll the putain de truc as it disintegrated in my hands.

Never one to throw away perfectly good chocolate, butter, sugar, or eggs, I decided that the only solution was to ice the mess within an inch of its life and brazen out the inevitable outcry.

Je m’en caliss,” I muttered to myself. This is my new favorite expression by the way, now that my Quebecois brother-in-law has taught me to say it with just the right Quebecois inflection.

I couldn’t quite decide if Meme Germaine, la reine des buches, was laughing her head off up in heaven, or sobbing that her precious grandson had married a woman incapable of providing a decent Christmas Buche.

Probably both.

Franck very helpfully (please insert requisite sarcasm here) decided that this historic culinary moment had to be preserved in a series of lovingly staged portraits.

The side view is even more fetching than the top view, non? Needless to say, I had run out of icing.

Here is my sweet Brother-in-law Mark trying to comfort me (even though his Grandmother Beaudry was known for making a stellar buche in her day).

“It sort of looks like a very large knot…or maybe a burl,” he says. “And anyway, I’m sure it tastes good.”

What on earth am I doing writing posts about Frenchitude? My buche should force me to ponder this question.

Problem is we are all still laughing too hard about my buche and coming up with alternative names (i.e. Christmas Merde On A Plate) for me to really stop and consider the matter in any depth.

In my defense, I did briefly start to reconsider my role as the maitresse of Frenchitude, but just then the plum pudding came out of the kitchen, looking like this;

A Very "British" Christmas Party

Last night we enjoyed a most British Christmas evening.

At the stately old Union Club (referred to for reasons unknown in our family as the “Onion Club”) across the Inner Harbour from the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, we danced and feasted under the watchful eye of Winston Churchill and The Queen.

It was Clémentine’s first Onion Club experience, but as you can see above despite being French-born she plunged headfirst into the ambiance. She was the one we ultimately had to haul off the dance floor at around 9:00pm.

We got dressed up in our finery, which included matching Minnie Mouse dresses for the four eldest granddaughters, feasted on Prime Rib and Yorkshire puddings, and danced the chicken dance and the conga line.

It was wonderful. However, to inject a little Frenchitude into our celebrations this year we’re having a “Reveillon” Open House tomorrow evening (an evening earlier than the official French “Reveillon” celebrations, but there will be mulled wine so I don’t think anyone will complain) and I am going to attempt to make a buche de Noel à la Mémé Germaine on Thursday.

Wish me bonne chance. I think I’ll need it.

Beaune in the Snow

Allison May, who is living in Beaune for the next three years with her husband and three daughters (parallel lives?) sent me this photo of Beaune this morning under a blanket of snow.

Le Beffroi looks especially Old World Christmassy with its coat of white.

Merci Allison!

Authentic France Travel Tips #53: Guest Edition

The below Authentic France Travel Tips are courtesy of our recent guests Michael and Kathy Jarvis.

I LOVE the idea of Francophiles passing on their precious travel tips to other Francophiles via The Grape Journal. Tips can be anything; the best deals on train tickets, restaurant reviews, how to avoid stepping on dog poo in Paris…Just email them to me (you will find my email address plastered all over my website) and I will do my best to spread the word to your fellow travellers.

I’ll turn things over now to Michael and Kathy;

“Two possible topics for your Grape Journal, which I follow regularly, and which relate to your rentals:

Thoroughly explore the local supermarché.

If you choose to eat in your “home”, take the time to cruise all the food aisles before you buy. There’s always a large and acceptable patisserie section. As you know, what we in the States might call the deli counter has an amazing selection of local specialties, like parsley ham, various pates de Bourgogne, and an extensive choice of cheeses, all available by the slice, sized to your request.

There’s a section with hot main courses and side dishes “to go”, which are much better than USA takeout. The side aisles hide other packaged, canned or jarred goodies; here is where we found a liter of soupe de poissions. If you like one stop shopping, without the need for much French fluency, this is it; just bring your own shopping bags.

Consider the “Pass Beaune”, but do your homework in advance.

Discounts up to 15% are available for most of the major attractions. A single pass is good for several days, you choose exactly what you want to visit, and then go on your own schedule.
The pass is available at the Beaune tourist office, but it is not widely publicized.

See http://www.ot-beaune.fr/beaune-sejours/pass-beaune.asp (there’s an English version, but you must search to find the Pass info) for all the details of the available sites; make your selections in advance, noting the days of closing.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Merci!

This Is The Woman Behind L’Atelier

Attention anyone who is dreaming of Paris!

You know the wonderful vacation rental, L’Atelier des Beaux Arts, just steps away from the Jardins du Luxembourg that I often mention on this blog?

Here is my friend Joelle, going to work on her candy apple red scooter, and she is the genius behind it. She has a positively amazing sense of design, and the lucky guests of her L’Atelier can live in Joelle’s gorgeously styled universe for a few days or a few weeks (you’ll be wishing for a few weeks, trust me).

Here are just a few of the reasons why I love Joelle:

1. We have provided moral support for each other for years as our husbands (who went to the Sorbonne together) repeatedly attempt to relive their anarchist University days;

2. She doesn’t hold it against me that the night we first met she cooked Franck and I a lovely French dinner and I fell asleep before the main course was served (we’d come straight from the airport and a trans-Atlantic flight), with my head on the table…drooling;

3. She finds the absurd in just about everything, and her laugh is infectious;

4. She does all this amazing stuff (her Atelier, parenting her children, her full-time job) and never expects any acclaim;

5. She served us a Dom Perignon vintage rose once – still the best bubbles that have ever passed my lips;

6. She is one of the most spontaneously generous people I know. Case in point – she has offered to take my bevy for a bit this summer while Franck and I stay sans enfants in her amazing Atelier

Joelle is one of the friends I am thankful to have in my life, at this time of year and during the rest of it too.

Frenchitude Lesson #57: Take Your Children To Church, And Anywhere Else

A few nights ago the girls’ wonderful new school held the Nine Lesson & Carol Service at Victoria’s cathedral. It was absolutely exquisite, and Charlotte and Camille were beyond thrilled to take part in it.

I was very excited about going too – I love such Christmassy events. We would go en famille, of course.

I guess I have gotten used to French churches, where there are usually mobs of children. French Catholics are a very prolific group of people and it is not uncommon in Beaune for the Catholic families I know to count between four and ten children.

The upshot of this of course is that you can pretty much be assured of children lolling around all over the church during the service – trying to scale the alter, pulling at the choir members’ robes, pushing that little foot bench up and down and up and down and then up again…it’s chaotic, of course, but it also means that your own child’s noise and movement doesn’t even register.

So I blithely dressed up Clem in her nicest red Christmas dress and her shiny black patten shoes and took her along with us.

Clem is 23 months a the moment. In other words, going anywhere with her is like packing along a renegade missile. I now know – she is my third child after all, and thank heavens I’ve picked up one or two pieces of knowledge along the way – that this is not Clem’s fault. This is simply what 23 month old children are; as a parent one must merely strive to survive this period.

True to her age group Clem quickly disproved the saying ‘pretty is as pretty does’. She looked adorable, but all she wanted to do was to catapult herself over the pews and race back and forth across the shiny floor of the cathedral.

In France she would have been only one of many children doing the same thing, but here Franck and I quickly realized that nobody else seemed to have brought their toddlers. Or, if they had, they had found a much better place to hide them.

Only five minutes into the service Franck took Clem under his arm like sack of potatoes and took her to the very back of the church, where her singing and shrieks resonated in the respectful silence.

I snuck to the back to see if I could relieve Franck during one of the first carols.

“What were we thinking?” I asked him.

“I have no idea,” he said. “Where are the car keys? I’m taking this little hellion home.”

The school truly encouraged entire families to come to the service, but I now remember that it is a societal thing here in North America to keep one’s renegade missiles safely at home instead of exposing them to church services and other such events.

I beg you, bring them out with you! The more the noisier, to be sure, but there is safety – not to mention comfort – in numbers.