Monthly Archives: January 2012

Ground hog or Crêpes? + Recipe

Ground Hog Day is this Thursday. Pretty exciting day for some, apparently. I’ve never been a big fan, probably because the tradition doesn’t involve food or festivities (at least not that I am aware of) and usually passes with nothing more than a quiet mention on the radio or a comment in passing at the dinner table.

Chandeleur, par contre, is a day the festivities of which I would never choose to forget and that even in Kentucky I plan to celebrate this week.

(For those of you who aren’t aware, we Americans used to celebrate Candlemas too, until it was replaced by Ground Hog Day, for shame.)

It is the celebration of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, a date that falls around forty days after Christmas, as the Old Testament tradition of presenting a newborn boy accompanied by an offering of two turtledoves prescribes. The feast as celebrated by the Church requires that blessed lamps (chandelles) be lit in place of torches inside churches to bring special attention to Christ as the light of the world.

The feast as celebrated dans la famille requires crêpes.

Crêpes with cheese. Crêpes with ham. Crêpes with spinach. For dessert, crêpes with sugar, crêpes with Nutella, crêpes with jam. Big crêpes, small crêpes. Stacks and stacks of crêpes.

Legend has it that by their round and golden form crêpes symbolize the disk of the sun, evoking the imminent return of spring (and linking this day to Ground Hog tradition). Christians also say that Pope Gélase I, who instituted the celebration in the fifth century, distributed crêpes to pilgrims arriving in Rome.

Just as there are superstitions associated with our esteemed little rodent, folklore has developed to include predictions for the new year. If one holds a gold coin, or more commonly a piece of change, in the writing hand and succeeds in flipping a crêpe with the other hand, the year is predicted to be prosperous. And, if the first crêpe that is cooked is then placed in an armoire for safe keeping, the year’s harvest is sure to be plentiful. (I have not yet met anyone who observes this tradition, which seems more likely to attract mice than to please the harvest fates.)

This week, my French meetup group has planned a Chandeleur celebration in Louisville. Although I’m only in charge of bringing the cheese, I want to share a special dessert crêpes recipe with you, in case you want to celebrate the French way too.

Crêpes Suzette
From Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of French Cooking

For the batter:

  • 1/3 cup (60 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 ¾ cups (430 ml) whole milk, plus extra as needed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Suzette Butter (explained below)
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml) brandy
  • 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  • Thin strips of orange zest for garnish

To make the Suzette Butter, you’ll need

  • 1 orange
  • ½ cup (125 g) butter
  • 1/3 cup (90 g) sugar

Let’s start with the Suzette Butter. Grate the zest from the orange. Cut the orange in half and extract the juice. In a food processor, combine the orange zest, butter, and sugar, and process until completely blended. With the motor running, slowly add the orange juice and process again until blended. Use at once, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Continue reading

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Filed under Culture, Food, Recipes/Cooking

Do you like your coffee French?

Voila another video from Cyprien, who, I gotta tell ya, is impressively making a real name for himself with his video blog. This month he and a few of his equally successful “vlogger” friends put on a live show at the largest cinema, theater, and music complex in Paris and it sold out just days after they announced the Janauary 12 date. He’s famous and he’s never paid a centime to market himself. Pretty cool times we’re living in.

I’m posting this latest installment because coffee, a drink that has always had cultural significance, has taken on new meaning in France. In the last few years especially there has been quite a bit of buzz (pun intended) caused by 21st century home espresso machines, especially the Nespresso model, which has been everlastingly linked to the sexy, smooth talking American actor George Clooney.

(You’ll hear Cyprien give his best shot at Clooney’s salesmanship 29 seconds into the video, with the very sexy blare of the machine in the foreground.)

As Cyprien says, “I was obligated to buy a coffee machine, in order to be classy. You can’t be classy with soluble coffee, for example.”

Soluble, or dissolvable, coffee is a French cultural enigma. I just don’t think they could market that kind of thing in America. But it’s really popular in France, and it’s much faster than a coffee maker, and I have to admit that I used to drink it every morning in my little studio in Dijon. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not classy. Not like Nespresso.

Cyprien pokes fun at the marketing strategy behind the “capsules” you can buy to make different kinds of espresso. They all have names you can’t remember, which means they all end up being referenced by color. “It’s a brown capsule,” he says, after reading the name “Livanto.”

“And they all have more or less the same taste,” he adds. “At a certain point you have to be honest.” He reads some of the distinguishing characteristics, like “complex and balanced” and — his favorite — “mild and liquid.”

“A liquid coffee,” he says. “They take us for idiots, huh?”

(Of course, the word “moelleux” can also mean smooth, which is surely  Nespresso’s intent, but the potential misreading is funny nonetheless.)

“Coffee connoisseurs” don’t make it out of Cyprien’s video un-poked either. It’s easy to feign recognition of the “complex and balanced” aspects of an espresso, but only if you know what specific characteristics go with the names of the capsules. (He serves a shot of Coca Cola to call the imaginary connoisseur’s bluff.)

The real test, though, is whether someone can drink his coffee without sugar. “I drink it without sugar,” Cyprien’s character says. But what he’s thinking as he takes a sip is, “it’s bitter, it’s disgusting, it’s bitter, it needs sugar, it’s bitter.”

Love it!

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE: Continue reading

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Filed under Cool Characters, Culture, Just for laughs, Language

Running is good for the soul, and friendship

Yesterday I couldn’t help but laugh every time a car passed me on my short little three mile run. Armed with multiple layers and ski gloves, I had pulled the drawstrings of my sweatshirt around my chin so tightly that only my eyes and nose managed to peek out from the tight hole. Yes, I would be back in 28 minutes, and yes, this was Kentucky, where it never gets cold enough to warrant such ridiculousness. I’ll blame it on my West Coast roots.

All this to say that while I was running my measly three miles I remembered that one year ago at this time, I was training for a semi-marathon and running ten to twelve miles on a regular basis.

My friend Val, who was studying abroad in France while I was doing my teaching assistantship, and I had decided to train together to combat the effects of all the delicious French food we had become so used to eating. We were both runners, but had never done long distances. When we found out about the Nuits Saint Georges semi-marathon, however, our interest was piqued.

13.1 miles through the gorgeous vineyards of Burgundy seemed appealing, but neither of us could deny the real draw: talk of “wine tastings” along the way. At first we thought it must be an oral legend, a bit of Burgundian mythology that had spread over the years. We imagined a few runners nearing the end of their course and being rejuvenated by a winemaker with a beret and a sparkle in his eye. Years passed and word traveled; runners began knocking on the winemaker’s door for a little kick when their fuel ran low.

These are the kinds of things we hypothesized during long runs anyway. Laughing, and sometimes grunting, Val and I got to know each other over the miles. She was the faster runner, but I brought a strong dose of competition, so most of the time we stayed neck and neck. Once on our third tour of the Parc de la Colombière in Dijon, having just beaten our two previous 400m interval times, I pleaded for mercy, saying we should be careful not to injure ourselves beating the time on our third effort.

“We’re already going faster than planned for today,” I reminded her between gasps on the rest interval. “Let’s try to relax a little.”

Nearing the starting point, Val fingered her watch. I sucked in one last deep breath.

I don’t remember much but pain and the desire for oxygen when the timer was ticking. The big, shady chestnut trees that seemed so pleasantly encompassing on regular runs became a blurred tunnel as we whizzed by. I detested their solidity and I yearned for their stillness.

We beat our time again. Continue reading

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Filed under Adventure, Cool Characters, Culture, Dijon

Cliché ! A video about stereotypes

It’s not true! It’s not true!

Oh, come on, you know it is. That’s what’s so great about a cliché…there’s always that bit of truth you just can’t deny, however exaggerated the joke may be.

Tonight at my little hometown French meetup group, the subject of living a multicultural life came up and immediately opened the door to one stereotype after another.

Brigitte, who’s been here over ten years, said she’ll never forget that when she arrived in America someone asked her if she had driven all the way from France.

“My family asked me if there was running water here in the States!” Pierre joked in response.

Brigitte dabbed a tear from her eye. “An American asked me if we celebrated Christmas in France!”

Needless to say, we goodhearted Americans were giggling and rolling our eyes right along with them. This served as a diversion while I searched my memory for a similar experience I know I must have had as a foreigner in France.

Sara beat me to the punch.

“Well, we all know you guys only use one bar of soap a year. That’s why you produce so much perfume!”

As they may or may not say in France, touché, Sara. Touché.

Below is the video that inspired Sara’s response. I’m posting it in both its French and English versions. Hope you like it!

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

Cliché ! une vidéo sur les stéréotypes

C’est pas vrai ! c’est pas vrai !

Allez, vous savez bien que si. C’est ça qui est bien avec les clichés … il y a toujours cette petite part de vérité que vous ne pouvez pas nier, même si la blague est exagérée.

Ce soir, avec mon petit groupe local de conversation français, nous en sommes venus à parler de la vie multiculturelle, ce qui a tout de suite ouvert la porte à tous les stéréotypes.

Brigitte, qui vit ici depuis plus de dix ans, nous a raconté qu’elle n’oublierait jamais qu’à son arrivée en Amérique, quelqu’un lui avait demandé si elle avait conduit tout le trajet pour venir de France.

« Ma famille m’a demandé s’il y avait l’eau courante ici aux Etats-Unis ! » a plaisanté Pierre en guise de réponse.

Brigitte a essuyé une larme « Un Américain m’a demandé si nous fêtions Noel en France ! »

Pas besoin de dire que nous bons Américains avons pouffé de rire et roulé des yeux avec eux. Cela m’a laissé le temps de chercher dans ma mémoire une expérience similaire que j’avais du avoir en tant qu’étrangère en France.

Sara m’a coiffée au poteau.

« Et, vous savez bien vous que vous n’utilisez qu’un savon par an. C’est pour ça que vous fabriquez autant de parfum ! »

Comme on dit en France (ou pas), touché Sara. Touché.

Ci-dessous la vidéo qui a inspiré la réponse de Sara. Je la publie dans les deux versions, française et anglaise. J’espère que vous apprécierez. !

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Savvy Buying Tips for Wine Lovers on E-Romantic Hotels

The latest in my vinous education included a trip to the wine store to choose some appropriate party bottles. I’m becoming increasingly aware of what I like, but when you’re having a party it’s important to consider what your guests might like too.

Sticking with the French theme meant we would already have some potentially unfamiliar labels and varietals, especially since we anticipated buying from less popular regions than Bordeaux and Burgundy. (Hint: for a large party that will require a couple cases or more, buying outside of the big B’s can save you a pretty penny without sacrificing satisfaction.)

Unfamiliar is good, and encourages people to go out on a limb and try something new, but most people seek to be true to their innate preferences, so we wanted to make sure we included both red and white, with varying aromas and good balance. One of our whites was a little sweeter than the other, and one of the reds a little spicier than its smooth counterpart. As you already know from my previous post about the party, the diversity of wine choices sparked conversation and curiosity. Perfect for a party, don’t you think?

Check out my article on E-Romantic Hotels’ website for the story about how we chose our wines, along with tips that I learned along the way.

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

Achats malins pour amateurs de vin sur E-Romantic Hotels

Mon dernier apprentissage à propos du vin concernait un saut au magasin en vue de choisir les bouteilles appropriées pour une soirée. Je commence de plus en plus à savoir ce que je j’aime, mais quand vous organisez une soirée, il est important de prendre en compte ce que vos invités pourraient aimer aussi.

Le fait de coller au thème Français signifiait que nous devions partir sur des appellations et des variétés potentiellement moins connues, plus particulièrement parce que nous envisagions d’acquérir des crus de régions moins populaires que Bordeaux ou Bourgogne. (le but : pour une soirée assez importante qui requiert un peu plus de deux cartons, sortir des grands B peut vous faire économiser pas mal d’argent sans déroger à la satisfaction.)

L’inconnu, c’est bien, cela encourage les gens à sortir des sentiers battus et à essayer quelque chose de nouveau, mais la plupart des gens cherchent à être fidèles à leurs préférences naturelles, c’est pourquoi nous avons tenu à proposer du blanc et du rouge, avec des arômes variés et un bon équilibre. L’un de nos blancs était un peu plus sucré que l’autre, et l’un des rouges un peu plus épicé que son binôme onctueux. Comme vous le savez déjà depuis mon article précédent au sujet de la soirée, la diversité des vins a piqué la curiosité et les conversations. Parfait pour une fête, non ?

Allez voir mon article sur E Romantic Hotels pour savoir comment nous avons choisi nos vins, ainsi que des petits trucs que j’ai appris à l’occasion.

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Guest Post: Je voudrais du Vouvray: an encounter with Philippe Foreau

I was delighted and flattered by the response to last week’s article about our holiday celebration and the wine we shared. One comment in particular could not be ignored:

Emily, that’s perfect! I have always found that it’s the interesting tidbits, like “lip stinger” or the detail of your driving time, that people remember the most when trying to recall a wine. When you can put the wines together with interesting food for friends and family, then people have a story to share days, weeks, and months later. At some future dinner, your friend will be pouring a Vouvray for someone and the wine will transport her back (like the food critic tasting ratatouille) and she will tell them about YOUR dinner. When I drink Vouvray, I am always reminded of meeting Phillipe Foreau and, if the audience allows, I tell of my stumbling attempt to ask for a ‘degustation’. -Dave

I don’t know about you, but that last sentence made me want to hear about longtime reader Dave Navarre’s meeting with the Monsieur Philippe Foreau. The Loire Valley winemaker is reputed for the great care he takes in producing fine Vouvray wines, using as little interference with the natural process as possible.

I asked Dave if he would mind sharing his story with this audience and he enthusiastically accepted. (Thanks, Dave!) Cheers!

One of the first trips my wife and I took when we were dating was to the Sonoma Valley, so wine tourism has always been at the top of our lists. She was able to go to France in 2005, but since it was on business, without me. So, we decided to go to France for our honeymoon.

I plotted our trip, and as a lover of history, included Normandy and the Loire Valley. Since it was my first experience, I chose the wrong order for the trip, finishing in the wine region instead of starting there. Now we start our trips in a wine region and enjoy the fruits of that labor in Normandy.

We discussed our trip in advance with a friend in the wine business, and knew that we wanted to meet with and taste the wines of Philippe Foreau. Having only experienced wine-tasting in the US, we went without prior introductions or appointments.

As we pulled into the beautiful commune of Vouvray, we squinted at the signs indicating the locations of the various vignerons. As we snaked through the twisty lanes of the small town, we could find no mention of Clos Naudin or of Philippe Foreau. Nearly dejected, our hearts leapt when we found the tourist office. Malheureusement, the tourist office is closed for 2 hours in the middle of the day. So, my lovely bride and I decided to break out our baguettes, pâté and wine for a picnic lunch in the back of the hatchback. It was a rainy day in Vouvray and the garbage men were collecting. We were thrilled to realize that even the garbage men in France dress stylishly!

After the tourist office re-opened, we drove off, directions clutched in my hands. As we pulled up to the address, I couldn’t believe my eyes. On one side of the road was a nice little house, with the correct number, and on the other was what seemed like a nondescript little warehouse. Assuredly, the maker of the best wines in Vouvray couldn’t live or work in such a simple setting.

Nonetheless, we got out of the car and wandered over. Looking inside, we could tell that it must be the right place, but no one seemed to be there. After a plaintive bonjour, and no sign of any stirring, we again lost hope. No sooner had we put our seat belts back on in the rental car than a Frenchman emerged from the doorway. I stepped out of the car and tried my tourist French. Je voudrais une degustation. Monsieur Foreau asked a question. I had no idea what he said and only replied Je ne comprends pas. He turned and my heart sank as he walked across the road to house. We’d come so far, and on our honeymoon; we’d found the great winemaker and now we would go away because I could not speak French. Then, he looked over his shoulder and waved for us to follow.

He took us inside and his assistant explained that Monsieur Foreau was very busy, but if we were interested in buying some wines, he would allow her to have us taste them. This must have been what he asked me. We were again at a loss. We would be getting on a train for Paris and flying home soon. She asked, “Not even one bottle?” Of course, we would buy one! So, the great man headed into the interior of the house, his assistant poured us tastes of several of his wines and we purchased a bottle.

We marveled, as we sat on our hotel room’s balcony in Paris enjoying his handiwork, that a man so accomplished, whose reputation was intimidating and whose wines were so elegant and expressive was still a simple, nondescript Frenchman in a small town.

Photo Credits: Photo 1: Pinterest; Photo 3: Google

To read the French translation: Continue reading

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Pur sang: Images of Thoroughbreds

{George}

I grew up on the back of a horse. There was a time when neighbors who spotted me on foot would ask if my horse was lame or sick. They expected me to be on a horse or beside a horse but never without a horse. It’s surprising to some of these neighbors and friends when I tell them my life in France doesn’t include much riding. I guess I’m not the type they’d expect to have grown out of it.

And I haven’t.

Each time I’m home I’m reminded of the thrill of galloping over cross-country fences and winding through the trees or splashing into the creek. Although I don’t ride daily, my love for horses remains. When I have the time and the means, one day I’ll gather the passion and will to ride and pack them up with me. I’ll take them wherever I am living at that time and plant them there. For now though, I’m content to find them safe where I left them a few years back: at my old Kentucky home.

{Rêve: “In the winter we gals let it all hang out.”}

{George, feeling good}

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

J’ai grandi sur le dos d’un cheval. A une époque, les gens qui me croisaient à pied me demandaient si mon cheval était blessé ou malade. Ils s’attendaient à me voir à cheval, ou à côté d’un cheval mais jamais sans cheval. Cela étonne certains de ces voisins et amis à qui je raconte que je ne monte pas beaucoup à cheval en France. Je pense qu’ils ne s’attendaient pas à ce que je puisse m’en passer.

Et je ne m’en passe pas.

A chaque retour à la maison je retrouve le frisson du galop par-dessus les clôtures, les slaloms dans les arbres ou les plongeons dans la crique. Même si je ne monte pas tous les jours, mon amour des chevaux persiste. Quand j’en aurai le temps et les moyens, un jour, je regrouperai ma passion et ma volonté de monter à cheval et je les embarquerai avec moi. Je les emmènerai où que je vive à ce moment-là et je les installerai là. Mais pour l’instant, je me contente de les retrouver sains et sauf à l’endroit où je les ai laissés il y a quelques années : dans ma vieille maison du Kentucky.

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