En mai, fais ce qu’il te plaît

“In May, do as you please.”

Of all the weather-related French proverbs, this one is my favourite. It is perfectly aligned with the beginning of the month that kicks off the holiday season. What I love most about May is that it starts the way it intends to continue.

May 1st is a public holiday in France. as we celebrate Labour Day by doing…

Nothing. What better way to honour work than by avoiding it? Seriously, since I first posted my critique about May day or the ‘Fête du Travail’ (faites du travail!), my sentiments have changed somewhat. Now I gratefully accept every holiday on offer and enjoy every minute of it.

So I’m going to do as I please today. Mostly.

It is still a little cool to be out on the lake with my paddle, but in just a few short weeks the weather should be warm enough to dip our toes in.

Today will start with a yoga class with friends and then we’ll head down to our favourite restaurant by the water and – hopefully – sit in the sun on the terrace as we eat the season’s first ‘filets de perches’ from Lake Geneva.

Then I’ll come back home and do a bit of work as, sadly, my clients on the Swiss side are too industrious to celebrate Labour Day.

Do you celebrate the first of May? What’s your preferred way to spend it?

Les œufs

On a fine spring morning when people are outside in the garden hunting for Easter eggs, it seems as good a time as any to dedicate a few lines to that most perfect of foods: les œufs.

The challenge with eggs in France is not eating them – we have no shortage of farm-fresh eggs and specialties ranging from omelettes, quiches, mousses, meringues and flans – but to spell and pronounce the words properly.

First we must get past that funny little vowel configuration created by the ‘o’ and the ‘e’. When these two characters get overly familiar and become one as in ‘œ’ this is called a ligature and has its own particular sound, somewhere between the two vowels. A bit like the ‘ou’ sound in enough. But it changes slightly depending on what comes after.

Un œuf (uhf) in the singular becomes des œufs (euh) in the plural. Put like that, it seems easy enough. But for some reason I’ve always struggled with these words.

For one thing, in French they have a weird similarity to eyes. Un œil (oy) and des yeux (yeuh). Am I imagining this?

Les oeufs dur

Eggs in France are almost always brown in the shell rather than the sterile white I grew up with in North America. They sometimes bear scraps of dirt and feather on the shell, reminding us of their origins. They are date-stamped with either the ‘date de ponte’ (date they were laid) or the ‘date limite de consommation recommandée’ (DCR or use-by date).

I recently learned of an easy trick you can use to tell if an egg is still fresh.

Here are a few of the ways you will find eggs on the menu in France:

  • Œufs au plat: fried eggs, usually served sunny side up
  • Œufs durs: hard-boiled eggs
  • Œufs à la coque: soft-boiled eggs
  • Œufs brouillés: scrambled eggs
  • Œufs pochés: poached eggs (my personal favourite)

And of course, les œufs de Pâques. Easter eggs. Preferably au chocolat. Hope you are enjoying the kind you like best on this holiday Sunday.

And, in case you’re wondering, this year the Easter bunny will not be on the menu.

Joyeuses Pâques!

Téléphone maison

For me Christmas is about being with family. Like ET, I want to phone home. But when half (in our case, the bigger half) of your family is on the other side of the Atlantic, you have to make choices. I’ve posted before about feeling pulled in different directions when it comes to the year-end celebrations.

“What if we just forgot about Christmas and instead went somewhere warm by the sea?”

The idea came up when visiting Toronto last year. For once, how about we just forget the turkey and the tinsel and pack a suitcase instead? We have to pack anyway, and spend several hours on a plane, so why not indeed?

This year we are heading to Curaçao, along with several members of my Canadian family. It is a bit of a one-off. Never before have I been so close to South America. Never before have I spent Christmas in a sunny destination. I am curious as to whether I’ll miss the snow (but I rather think not…) but I am sure of one thing: it will be memorable. And the older I get, the more I realize that life is all about making memories.

I am saddened that we could not get everyone in my family to come but heartened that my Dad, who recently celebrated his 85th, will be joining us. House and home in France along with our ménagerie of bulldogs and cats will be cared for by our reliable service of travelling seniors who come to stay while we’re away (a wonderful concept for anyone here who needs a pet-sitter by the way — if you’re interested, ask me for details).

Wishing you all a wonderful end to 2017, wherever you are, filled with love and joy, and a bright start to the new year. Looking forward to catching up again in 2018!

Holiday hugs and grosses bises à tous mes blogging buddies!

 

Autour du lac

A month ago this blogger was steaming like a microwave ready meal.

Summer – long awaited, much anticipated and gloriously welcome – came upon us in June with an inferno blast that lasted until mid-July. After that things got spotty weather-wise, with alternating days of clouds and cooler air interspersed with sweltering waves. Now, at last, I sense a change in the air. It’s still summer, but we are over the hump and heading towards those golden late summer days.

Hot weather is all very well if you’re on holiday. After all these years in France, a land where most people distrust air conditioning, I’ve learned to live without A/C for those weeks when the ‘mercure’ rises beyond my comfort zone.

It’s work that’s the problem. My get-up-and-go gets up and evaporates at plus 30 degrees Celsius. So I decided, quite simply, to ease up. My clients cooperated by slowing down the orders. And somehow my blogging break turned from two weeks into five.

It’s been wonderful! I’d been feeling in a bit of a rut for awhile blog-wise, so the break was most welcome. I stepped back, stared at the sky, reorganized my closets, worked on my memoir (more on that later) and set myself a few different goals.

One was to go to the lake more. I realized after a month of summer that I hadn’t once dipped my toes in the lake. We are lucky to have a pool at our house, and to live in an area of mountains and lakes very close to Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). When it’s really hot it’s just too easy to cool off in the pool. But the experience of swimming in the soft water of a lake is completely different, soul soothing, and one of my absolute favourite things.

So I set myself a challenge to go there every day and swim or just savour a moment by the water’s edge. It has pushed me to discover every ‘beach’ in our area (in French, ‘la plage’ is often a grassy stretch of a swimming area by the lake). New to Instagram, I decided to post a picture by the lake every day for a month. If you’re interested, you can follow my doings here.

Another was to try stand-up paddle again. I managed to get up on a board twice on Lake Annecy. Husband even joined me the second time, and for a newbie did rather well (he’s atrociously fit), only falling in twice.

And, just recently, I celebrated a bit of a milestone birthday. Which probably explains why I feel like reconnecting with my inner child. The one who loved nothing more than the barefoot freedom of summers by the lake.

So that’s my summer so far. How’s yours been? I’ve missed you guys!

 

Dans la joie et la bonne humeur

Foie gras - don't tell my daughter!
Foie gras – don’t tell my daughter!

Something strange happened when I hit the supermarché last week. The store was busy with shoppers but they seemed oddly unhurried. By the entrance the homeless fellow selling his ‘Sans Abri’ newspaper seemed rather upbeat. I may have glimpsed smiles on people’s lips as they flitted about the aisles, loading bottles and nibbles into their baskets. Une animatrice talked a joyful patter while selling off seafood at half-price as shoppers milled about. I believe I even heard Bing Crosby crooning out a seasonal melody over the sound system.

Qu’est-ce qui se passe? I wondered, filling up my cart as usual (after all these years I’ve never lost my North American habit of stocking up). Christmas is past and the sales haven’t started so what is everyone so happy about?

Then the cashier wished me a ‘bon réveillon’, leaving me scrambling to reply in kind. That was it! New Year’s Eve, the one day of the year you can be sure the French will be smiling.

As I posted way back when I first started this blog, I’ve never quite understood why the French are quite so enamoured with New Year’s. Beyond the big blowout on the 31st, there is real sentiment in France around the fresh start in January, and a feeling that our good wishes must be shared with all those we love.

Having neither party nor family to attend to that evening, we booked a table at a restaurant in town – our go-to solution for le réveillon. The few restaurants that are open on New Year’s Eve near us all offer un menu spécial – a fixed price, multiple-course affair with a glass of bubbly to start. After all the cooking and fussing over Christmas, I was happy to ring out the old year with someone else doing the service.

Death becomes her
Ghost of New Year’s past

New year's dinner 2016
Who can resist such artful presentation?

Out of respect for our feathered friends, and our daughter, who is studying to become a vet and has become rather militant about cruelty to animals, we had decided to henceforth abstain from eating foie gras. But when the restaurant had already gone to so much trouble to prepare such a lovely plate (shown in feature photo above), graced with truffle and onion compote, it seemed too cruel not to do it justice.

There followed a dish of white fish floating in a lovely sauce, then medallions of beef filet with a few veg for good measure and two desserts. By the time we got to the end I was feeling silly and playing with the table decorations.

Baubles from the table

How’s that for a bit of bling?

It was a fitting conclusion to a month of over-indulgence. The smiles are still on the faces of the people I pass on the street, probably at least until the end of this week. After a few more wishes of good health, and a slice of galette des rois, quite possibly accompanied by a few more glasses of champagne, it will be time enough to get back to normal.

‘Dans la joie et la bonne humeur’ is an expression that means, quite literally, ‘with joy and good humour’. I’ve often heard it used with a degree of sarcasm, however, referring to the need to pick up the plough and carry on with a smile. New year’s oblige.

Bonne année à tous!