Category Archives: French cooking

It may be January 2, but the celebrations never end in France (sounds like Louisiana)


La Crèche, La Galette des Rois, Carnaval & Mardi Gras

Tirer des Rois à l’Épiphanie

I began this post to write about what it was like to be invited over by a very French couple today, and to share a glass of champagne and the tradition of the galette des rois.  As I was writing, my thoughts began to morph into a sort of reflection on this time of year and the tradition of the King Cake, both in France and in Louisiana (Home Sweet Home).  Now it is my goal to tell you about my lovely day while musing upon “the reason for the season”…and another excuse to eat cake and drink champagne.

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After a solid month of festivities to celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s   Eve, New Year’s Day, my son’s and daughter’s birthdays, by this time we’re usually getting ready to wind it down.  But here we are in France, and January 2 means it’s the first day that many pâtisseries begin selling the celebrated “Galette des Rois”, known to Louisiana folks like me as “King Cake”.  If you’re not from an area where Mardi Gras is revered, you may not be familiar with the tradition of the King Cake. Even if you are from an area where Mardi Gras is celebrated, and especially if you aren’t Catholic, you may have never heard about what it truly represents.

The tradition of the King Cake in Louisiana comes directly from the French, and even if our cakes don’t exactly look alike, the brioche-type one from the South of France does resemble it quite a bit, so it seems the American grand-daughter has inherited some of the good genes.   Though the bread part of the two varieties does taste more or less the same, the Louisiana one is typically flavored with cinnamon (like a coffee cake), topped with a sugar glaze and granulated sugar tinted in the official colors of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which are purple, green, and gold (see the first picture below).   The French brioche omits the sugar glaze and tricolor sugar, replacing it with a variety of candied fruits (second picture). Both versions are shaped in the form of a circle, representing the form of a crown.   The third variety you see in the pictures below, and perhaps the most common in most parts of France, is the Parisian style Galette des Rois.  It’s made of puff pastry and frangipane, and it’s exquisite.  All three cakes are irresistible, and all contain a hidden “fève”, which for us in Louisiana would be a plastic Baby Jesus, but here (at least in my limited experience) they’re mostly ceramic figurines from the nativity scene (la crèche).  The one lucky guest who finds the fève is the king or queen for the day!  Many people in France find it amusing to collect these tiny trinkets from year to year, and I know that it’s something I’ll be doing from now on.

Today we were invited to the home of the owners of our  building (which houses only three apartments).  They live just beneath us, and they’re a lovely, fabulously Bourgeois retired couple.  They had us over to “tirer les rois”, which basically means to share a galette des Rois with them, and to see who finds the fève.  The first thing they did was show us the handmade “crèche” which takes the space of about half a room.  The wife is an artist, and she spent over ten years creating this magnificent work of French & Catholic culture.  The crèche is a French tradition, and it includes hand-crafted, hand-painted figurines from Provence.  These figurines are called santons , which means “little saints”.  Besides Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and all of the stable animals who were there on that Holy Night, characters from “la vie Provençale” are also present, and these are the santons.  They represent 16th century Provençal characters and trades.  These characters are portrayed as bringing offerings to the Christ Child.  .  There are shepherds, fishermen, women with water jars, woodcutters, gardeners, millers, bakers, basket makers, hunters, blacksmiths, blind people, Bohemiens, chimney sweeps, snail sellers, and even village idiots!  The list goes on and on, and if you’re ever trying to think of something very typically French to bring back home after a vacation in France, you’ve found your answer.

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Just as a side note, the santons you see to the left are not the ones we saw today.  I didn’t think about asking to take a picture of her creation, though I should have.  I’m sure she would have been very happy to oblige, and perhaps I’ll go and ask before January 6 if I can get a snapshot.  She’s gone as far as to build a village church complete with a clock and a rooster on top of that, a bakery with bread so fresh you can almost smell it, a wine cellar in which you’d love a dégustation, groups of Provençal men playing boules, plus almost any other kind of shop you could imagine from a sixteenth-century Provençal setting.  She’s an amazing artist, and their apartment is stunning, especially since it is she who created all of the paintings throughout their home.

Our hosts today served us both varieties of the French King Cake, and they served them with champagne and chilled crème anglaise  (that’s how it’s done in France).  A friend from Wales recently told me that this custard should be served warm, but I trust the French to know how to do it better 😉  And by the way, I was the queen of the day, though I tried to pass off the fève unseen to both my son and daughter so that they could enjoy the honor.  However,  they insisted I wear the crown (Oh, joy!).

The King Cake represents the arrival of the Wise Men (the Magi, les Rois mages, The Three Kings) at the birthplace of the Christ Child in Bethlehem on Epiphany, or January 6, and the Eve of Epiphany represents the “Twelfth Night of Christmas”, with the first “Day of Christmas” being on December 25.  If you’ve never thought about what Epiphany or the Twelve Days of Christmas are actually about, you can read more about it here.  Even better, treat yourself to a performance (or at least a DVD performance) of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, you’ll be glad you did, what fun!  My daughter told me today that it’s still Christmas, and that today is only the 9th Day.  Where are the Ladies Dancing?  I’m still waiting for them to show up.  Representing the fruits of the Holy Spirit, I’m sure they’ll be here when least expected.

I hope this little post will serve as a reminder that it’s not over till it’s over.  Here in France, once Epiphany has come and gone the galette des Rois  shall also disappear, but keep in mind that in my hometown in Louisiana, you can eat King Cake all the way up until midnight on Mardi Gras.  Then the 40 days of fasting will bring us all back to some semblance of sobriety until Easter arrives.  Then it all starts up again.  Bonnes fêtes, tout le monde!

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Coming home for lunch, and living life in a different way


I’ve been meaning to write more, but we’re still figuring out our new life here in France, and all of this marketing, cooking, and eating takes up a lot of time!  For the last week I have been wanting to write about something that is so foreign to most American families, and something that was unknown to us for the 14 years we lived as a family in St. Louis.  It’s something as simple as getting the family together for a main meal lunch, homemade with love, (almost) every single day of the week (except for the occasional lunch out on weekends, of course!).

As I’ve written before, the kids come home for lunch almost every day.  We pick them up from school at 11:45, and return them there at 1:45. We have started having them stay at school for lunch one day a week so that they can socialize with friends, and we can have one whole day just to do what we want… and most of the time that means working without interruption.  However,  yesterday  the kids stayed at school, and we went out for sushi and to see the new Woody Allen movie (in English!).  They enjoyed eating freshly made paëlla and tomme noire cheese for the first time, and we enjoyed a day together.

It’s lovely to share the midday meal as a family, and to hear about what everyone did during the morning hours, but that’s only one part of the pleasure of spending a few hours at home in the middle of the day.  Very often, when we arrive at home with the kids,  after bringing the freshly purchased baguette to the table, they’ll go and lie down on their beds or on the sofa and read a book while we’re finishing up making lunch.  This down time seems to do wonders for them.  By the time we sit down to have lunch, it’s usually about 12:30, and everyone is all smiles.  We’ve usually finished eating by about 1:15, which still leaves them about twenty minutes to play.  That’s what they do, they play.  We don’t have them work on homework to try and get ahead, or multi-task in any way.  They play, and they’re happy.

Now if I were back in the US reading this, wondering if I’d ever be able to move my family to France and make a drastic life change… I would wonder how it’s possible to find time to shop, cook, pick up the kids, and have a two hour family time every day at noon, while still trying to earn a living.  I would assume that the person who had written this was independently wealthy, and didn’t have to work.  Let me assure you that this is not the case with us, not at all.  We happen to be very fortunate to be able to work from home, but it wasn’t always this way.  Until the end of May 2013, we ran the rat race every single day.

It has taken a lot of planning and hard work to get to where we are, and there’s still a lot of hard work involved on a daily basis and we’re having to really focus on working as a team to make it work, but this is a choice that we consciously have made in order to improve our quality of life.  We are living simply, and finding such liberation in the absence of stress.  Well, not a complete absence of stress… I’ve just noticed the time and realized I have to go and pick up the kids for lunch, and I don’t want to be late!  I welcome your comments, reaction, and comments.  À bientôt!

Feeling right at home in Béziers


Girolles!

What a lovely way to start the day…..

Last Friday, as usual, François and I headed over to the “Marché du Vendredi” after dropping the kids off at school.  It’s a weekly pleasure, going to the market with a list of things we must have to create all of the wonderful little dishes we’ve dreamed up to prepare for our little family, and always coming home with twice as much as we planned.

This time, we came home with more than we expected!  As we stood in line at the butcher, trying to decide on a veal or pork roast, we were greeted in English by a beaming lady from Blog Land!  She asked us if we were American, then introduced herself and her husband.  They’re from New York, and have owned a place here for about ten years.  Just about two years ago, they moved here with their daughter (who happens to be Charlotte’s age!!).  She’s heard about my blog (!) from a friend who also lives here.  Since there’s a big picture of both of us on the main page, she recognized us at the market.  Talk about a small world!

I’m so looking forward to getting together with Ellen and Will for coffee sometime soon, and to meeting more people around and about Béziers. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting together a monthly meeting, at a café or something, for any other anglophones living around here to get to know each other.

Le Marché du Vendredi


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I love, love, love Fridays in Béziers.  Friday is market day!  There are many markets that take place every week, but the one on Friday is the largest, and it’s practically downstairs from where we live.  For the last few weeks, since the kids have been back in school, we have been enjoying going to the market to find something delicious to prepare for our family to eat together at lunch.  Today, we chose “loup de mer”, which is sea bass, or sea perch…I’m not really sure what the difference is!  To go with that, we steamed some little potatoes, then served them with butter and parsley.  We also made a little mixture of seasonal vegetables, eggplant, bell pepper, and zucchini.  Then we ate cheese.  Oui, la vie est belle!

An unexpected surprise at Les Halles


What a wonderful weekend in spite of the thunderstorms that took over Saturday afternoon.  I have to tell you about our trip to Les Halles on Saturday morning.  “Les Halles” is an indoor market that’s open every day, even on Sunday.  You can purchase practically anything you want there:  fruit, vegetables, olive oil, meat, poultry, HORSE meat, fresh eggs, pastries, and the list goes on and on.  We’ve been to Les Halles many times in the past, but on this particular Saturday, it was getting close to noon.  We were there with the kids, and all of our stomachs started to rumble at about the same time, so it’s no surprise that we all scoped out “La Gargote des Halles” at the same time.  We hadn’t planned to eat out, in fact we were shopping to have “de quoi manger” at home.  It was time for a compromise:  l’apéritif!!   And why not, it was the weekend after all!  

The plan was to just have a little snack of chorizo.  Needless to say, we wanted a glass of wine to go with that.  Then we ended up ordering an assiette de cochonailles (a plate of charcuteries),  a bit more chorizo, a plate of homemade fries, some fried pimentos like they eat in Spain, and another glass of wine for each of us and a Coke for the kids to split.  It was so much fun with the bustling atmosphere and friends meeting up left and right, and it was also very inexpensive.  By that I mean 40€ for the four of us.  Now here’s the most interesting part, and something we’re planning to do very soon.   You can go shopping at Les Halles and pick up whatever it is you’d like for lunch, whether that be meat, fish, seafood like mussels, etc.  You bring it to La Gargote des Halles, and for 2€50 they cook it for you!  If you want some of their to die for homemade fries to go with your meal, it’s just 3€50 extra.  Oh, and a tempting glass of really good local wine will cost you less than 2€ a glass.  Definitely worth a trip to Les Halles de Béziers.  This may become a weekend tradition chez les Crespin.  I don’t believe there’s one out of the four of us who would complain about that.

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Poulet Rôti, Demi-Baguettes, and Macarons, Oh My!!


What is more tempting to all of your human senses than just walking down the street in Paris? These particular memories stem from my spending a decent amount of time every summer in the 15th arrondissement, where my husband grew up, and where his parents still live.  It’s a very residential district, and one of the most quintessentially “parisian” arrondissements in all of Paris, or so I’ve been told.

Take a stroll out and about just before noon.  You’ll try to navigate the sidewalk traffic, avoiding having your foot rolled over by one of many little old lady grocery carts, filled to the brim with fruits and vegetables that have just picked up at the open air market, and you will pass by the butcher shop and feel the heat of the rôtisserie. You’ll stare amazed at the chickens that rotate, rotate, rotate, just beckoning passers by to pick one up for the midday meal.  You’ll continue on your way, roasted chicken bagged up and ready to inhale, and you will see a child who has run up to the boulangerie for his mother to get a fresh baguette for lunch.  As he innocently tears away at the tip of the bread with his little fingers, and pops the freshly baked staple into his pouty little French mouth, you will decide that you also need some freshly baked bread to go with your freshly roasted chicken.

You’ll hop into the next bakery you see (and even though it’s not “artisanal” you’ll think everything looks and smells amazing).  After standing in a line composed only of local Parisian residents, you will see single people ordering demi-baguettes, and as you watch them, you will find yourself wondering if such a thing even exists in America.  Then you’ll order one of those demi-baguettes, just because you can.

Arms getting full, and stomach rumbling from desire, you will now pass in front of a pâtisserie (any pâtisserie), and the window display will stop you dead in your tracks to admire the latest creations.  You’ll find yourself uncontrollably drawn into the shop, and before you know it, you’ll walk out of that very bakery with your poulet rôti in one hand, the most adorable little pink box full of macarons and tied up with a lovely white ribbon in the other, and your demi-baguette under your left arm.  As you tear at the tip of your baguette and pop a piece into your mouth to tide you over,  will you succumb to the temptation of the fromagerie calling your name gently as you walk by? And will you content yourself to wash it all down with a bubbly glass of Badoit (and that’s not the fun French bubbly you may have in mind, that’s merely sparkling water), all the while knowing that your poulet and fromage would be much more nicely complemented by a bottle of Hautes Côtes de Nuits from Burgundy? Oh, the decisions you’ll be forced to make.

There’s a scene from Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain that I think you will enjoy watching, even if you’ve already seen it countless times.  Watch as she leads a blind man around her neighborhood in Montmartre, and see if you can count the number of times your tastebuds are tingled.

What School Lunch in France Can Teach us Back Home in the U.S.


Here’s an interesting article I found on WordPress, again about France’s school lunches.

What School Lunch in France Can Teach us Back Home in the U.S..

France’s Gourmet School Lunches


As I searched Youtube looking for something interesting to show my high school students about the differences between French and American schools, I ran across this video about the French school lunch program.  The contrasts between their lunch system and our’s in America are astonishing!

French children are taught from the very beginning, at home like at school, the importance not only of eating healthily, but also what it means to enjoy a meal and the company with whom one shares it.  It’s no wonder that French children can more easily, and more patiently, sit through a three or four course meal on a regular basis without making it torturous for both themselves and their parents (or teachers!).

Enjoy the video, and tell me your thoughts!

Sunday Morning’s Man in Paris David Turecamo explores France’s strict diet regiment within the school system’s gourmet lunch menu.

Top Ten Reasons to Live in France


My TOP TEN reasons for wanting to relocate to France:

(maybe I forgot something, or maybe you know better!  in any case, let me know what you think!)

 

Reason # 1

Quality of life


Reason # 2

Work to live, not live to work.  Taking time to enjoy life, spending time with family, longer lunches and dinners.  Slower pace of living.  Sundays are what they used to be in the United States forty years ago.

Reason # 3

Healthier lifestyle, pedestrian friendly cities, beaches, mountains, walks in vineyards.

Reason # 4

High-quality health care system, affordable to all, low cost prescription drugs.

Reason # 5

French gastronomy, locally grown fresh produce markets, bread, cheese, olive oil, Mediterranean diet.

Reason # 6

Easy travel to diverse locations (other European countries); children grow up (with the possibility of)  being exposed to more foreign cultures.  And no matter where you live in France, Paris is just a quick train ride away.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” -Ernest Hemingway

Reason # 7 

Some of the best, and most affordable wine regions in the world.  Summer wine festivals in the Languedoc are fabulous.

Reason # 8 

Mediterranean climate:  The weather may not be so fantastic in every part of France year round, but in the Languedoc, it really is quite pleasant most of the time.

Reason # 9

Manners are still important in France, and the vast majority of children are raised to show respect.  This is very important to me.

This is a picture of my son, my niece, and some friends.

Reason # 10

Comparatively low violent crime rate.  We are not planning to live in a big city, but even in Paris I feel safe walking alone at night.

I love butter…


It’s true.  There’s really nothing better than butter.  Especially SALTED butter.  Yum.  Butter makes everything so much better.  I’m a firm believer in using only real butter in cooking, never margarine.  When we take the time to cook and bake, much love goes into these actions.  By using real butter, we are giving ourselves, our friends, our children, our family a little taste of heaven instead of a mere substitute for the pleasure they could be enjoying.  Let’s hear it for real butter!