La Parisienne à vélo

Vélo, bicycletteSee that girl? The blonde in the cute hat, blithely riding her bicycle on the streets of Paris? The one who smiles with an air of insouciance as she rides across the cobblestones, coolly skirting pedestrians and scooters as she crosses the Seine? That girl is not me. I’m not even sure she exists except on this bottle of beer. Which, by the way, I enjoyed down to the last drop. Right after my harrowing experience of riding a bicycle in Paris.

That is, getting hit by a car while riding a bike in Paris. Husband shook his head, amazed. “It could only happen to you,” he said, as if somehow it was my fault. Which we both agreed it was not. The driver didn’t think it was his fault either, although we begged to differ.

The light was green and I was in the bike lane, one of the rare ones that crops up from time to time at the busier intersections. The driver was turning right and assumed he had the right of way. He cut in front of me as I sailed forth, knocking me off my bicycle in what must have appeared like a moment of pure slapstick comedy. I hit the pavement in slow motion, getting up and dusting myself off a few seconds later, nothing worse than a few bruises and a scraped knee. Horns began to honk and the traffic flowed around us.

Husband rushed over and the driver got out of his car, checking it for damages. No one asked me how I was, apparently a moot point as I was already back on my feet. There followed an authentic French shouting match, replete with curses and insults. I tried to get a word in edgewise as husband threatened to call the police, to take a picture of the license plate. The driver, who seemed to believe the best defense was a firm offense, did not apologize but instead insisted he had the right of way, that he had done nothing wrong. He had stopped, as the law required. He was clean.

I finally managed to get their attention long enough to say that I was fine, merci for asking, that there was no serious harm done but that an apology would be nice. The driver mumbled something and husband backed off. We found a pharmacy and cleaned up my knee.

Then we went for a drink and they served me this. Irony?

In recent years Paris has been taken over by cycling madness. It’s called Vélib – a system of inexpensive bike rentals on every major street corner. It’s all very well for tourism. Who has not dreamed of riding around the city of light like a true Frenchman? Only true Frenchmen don’t ride bikes much – they prefer to drive cars. Along with motorcycles and scooters, buses and taxis. And you want to keep out of their way.

It takes nerves of steel to ride a bike in Paris. If you’re looking for a thrill, you could try bungee jumping instead.

 

Arrête la tutute!

Rose-Baby-Shower-sucette-boisson-Tags-Charms-verre-à-vin-marqueurs-Wedding-Party-décorations-couleurs-personnalisées.jpg_640x640In familiar French ‘la tutute’ means a baby’s pacifier – a dummy or soother for you Brits – also known as a tétine, sucette or tototte. In the parlance of my belle-famille, however, it was always used as a snide reference to drinking.

“Arrête la tutute!” my beau-père said with a laugh one day when he saw me with a beer. There is something oddly shocking in France about women drinking beer so perhaps it was only half in jest. I had heard this term used before, always with the gesture of thumb towards mouth, implying excessive consumption of spirits.

Usually ‘la tutute’ is used to jokingly describe a family member who over imbibes at parties. (“Il y va la tutute!”) We all have one in the family. In our case it was my late aunt, who famously was in her cups at our wedding in Paris. Husband’s family also had a few members who tended to over-indulge. As much as drinking is part of the culture in France, and wine is de rigueur at any social event, it is badly viewed when consumed in excess. It is not done to get visibly drunk or even tipsy, unless perhaps on New Year’s eve.

I suppose the connection with the pacifier is apt. Drinking soothes the soul and pacifies nerves in most social situations. Freeing us from our inhibitions to let loose and have fun.

The secret, as with most things we enjoy, is moderation. How much is too much? And why can’t we all have an alarm bell in our brains to tell us when we are one drink over the line?

I enjoy drinking and it is not easy for me to imagine a nice meal without at least a glass of wine. But when the NHS recently announced its updated guidelines for alcohol consumption, I decided it was time to moderate my consumption. That did not mean an entirely dry January or anything quite so radical. But I am keeping a closer eye on the units – recommended to be no more than 14 per week for both women and men – and trying to enjoy a few days a week with nothing more dizzying than sparkling water.

How about you?

100 things to enjoy in France

Le champagne

For my 100th post on this blog about life in France, I’ve decided to share 100 things to eat, drink and simply enjoy in my adopted land. Some are personal favorites, others classics of French cuisine that everyone should try at least once.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Le pain au chocolat. Don’t be misled by the name – there is no bread, just delightfully dark squishy chocolate tucked into a croissant-style bun.
  2. Le pain aux raisins. Still no bread, but a twist: the pastry spirals around in a circle interlaced with custard and raisins, sometimes sprinkled with sugar.
  3. Le croissant au beurre. Be sure you get the kind ‘au beurre’ if you want the 100% butter kind (rather than other fat). Wonderful with…
  4. La confiture. Jam. Nothing like a bit of Bonne Maman on your croissant.
  5. Le beurre. Doux (unsalted) or demi-sel (lightly salted). They don’t often serve it with bread in France, but sometimes eat it with cheese to soften the too-strong taste.
  6. Un petit noir. An espresso. Also known here as ‘un express’.
  7. Le chocolat. Perfect accompaniment to le petit noir. The French are not chocolate snobs as long as it’s dark.
  8. La baguette. The classic, crusty staple of French life (which changed mine)
  9. Le pain au levain. Sourdough. My favorite bread.
  10. Les profiteroles. Choux pastry filled with ice cream, topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Holds a special place in my heart as it was my late mom’s favorite dessert.
  11. Les macarons. These double-decker meringue sandwiches have become so trendy you can get them everywhere. Ladurée is the most famous.
  12. La tarte au citron. A tangy dessert favorite of mine. With or sans méringue.
  13. La méringue. Okay, so it’s nothing but egg whites and sugar. These chewy clouds make a wonderful base for a fruity dessert.
  14. Le saucisson sec. A dry cured or smoked sausage, of which there are hundreds of kinds in this country. I like it with peppercorns or pistachio. Sliced on a wooden board and served with your favorite apéro.
  15. Le foie gras. You’re free to give this a miss if you can’t abide the idea of force feeding geese but France is the place to sample goose or duck liver pâté. Wonderful with brioche bread, onion chutney and a sweeter white wine.
  16. Le pâté. A nice slab of pâté (my favorite is la crème forestière) with pickles on a good bread makes a great sandwich.
  17. La saucisse de Toulouse. A thick pork sausage named for the southern city from which it originates and traditionally used in cassoulet.
  18. Le steak frites. The classic French bistro dish. Make sure you order your steak ‘bleu’ if you want it very rare and ‘à point’ if you prefer medium rare. Lovely with…
  19. La moutarde de Dijon. Smooth or grainy. Is there any other kind?
  20. La choucroute. An excellent dish from the German-influenced Alsace region featuring sauerkraut, potatoes and multiple cuts of fresh and smoked pork.
  21. Une andouillette. A sausage made of tripe. Not for the faint of heart. My husband loves this dish, but for me the sauce is the best part.
  22. Un MacDo. Just because you can have a beer with your burger while people-watching on Les Champs Elysées.
  23. Le sandwich. Because baguette. ‘Nuff said.
  24. Un pan bagnat. Basically a Niçoise salad on a round bun (tuna, eggs, tomatoes, lettuce). One of the healthier items to take out at the bakery.
  25. Une crêpe. To be eaten at the buvette in the park on a chilly fall afternoon. Dripping with chocolate sauce.
  26. Un beignet. Oddly, I’ve only ever seen the French eat sugar donuts at the beach.
  27. Une tarte tatin. An upside-down tarte of caramelized apples. Enjoy warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  28. Un demi. My standard order of draft beer (25 cl). Unless I’m thirsty, in which case it’s une pression (half a liter).
  29. Le gigot d’agneau. French leg of lamb. Studded with garlic cloves, sprinkled with coarse salt and rosemary, roasted for Sunday lunch.
  30. Les cornichons. Pickles. Thick or thin but never sweet.
  31. Le camembert. The stinkiest of French cheeses. The most authentic has the ‘AOP’ label, is made from raw milk, ‘moulé à la louche’ and from Normandie.
  32. La vache qui rit. Okay, it’s processed cheese but the laughing cow has the fun factor. It was a favorite of my daughter’s and a staple of our household when the kids were small.
  33. Le Boursin. Le pain, le vin, le Boursin. With pepper please.
  34. La cervelle de canuts. A Lyonnaise spreadable specialty of creamy cheese, garlic and chives, served with slabs of pain de campagne (country bread).
  35. Le Saint Félicien. A delicate cow’s milk cheese from the Rhône-Alpes region that runs off the plate and lands on your bread like magic.
  36. Le Saint Marcellin. The St. Felicien’s feisty little brother.
  37. Le Saint Agur. My favorite French blue. Creamier than roquefort but with just enough tang.
  38. Le jambon de Paris. Your basic cooked ham. The foundation meat for many a sandwich, croque, quiche, etc.
  39. Le jambon de Bayonne. An air-dried salted ham that takes its name from the city in southwest France.
  40. La tartiflette. A potato gratin made with Reblochon cheese and lardons. Loaded with calories to fill you up if you’re skiing – and even if you’re not!
  41. Un vin chaud. Mulled or hot wine, spicy and red. Not my absolute favorite thing but pretty damn good in the cold.
  42. La pizza. Who said pizza was Italian? Thin-crusted and richly topped, often with an egg, and available just about everywhere in France (but don’t expect delivery unless you’re in a big city).
  43. Le rouge. The only beverage that perfectly accompanies every meal (except breakfast.)
  44. Les rattes. Tiny, firm-fleshed potatoes with papery skin. Amazing with butter, parsley and garlic (but what isn’t?)
  45. Les blettes. Also known as bettes. Apologies but we had to talk green vegetables at some point. Similar to Swiss chard, the white ‘cotes’ are lovely and nutty and often enjoyed au gratin in France.
  46. Les cardons. Another odd veggie considered as something of a delicacy. Looks like celery, tastes like artichoke and often eaten in white sauce around Christmas.
  47. Les salsifis. The weirdest vegetable I have ever eaten. A white root served in a white sauce. Must confess I just don’t get what all the fuss is about!
  48. Les champignons. So many mushrooms, so little time: button mushrooms or champignons de Paris, cepes, morilles
  49. Les pralines. Sugar-coated nuts. What’s not to like?
  50. La mousse au chocolat. So good. Only 3 ingredients!
  51. L’île flottante. A.k.a oeufs à la neige (eggs in snow). An island of egg whites floating on a lake of custard. There’s a poem in there somewhere…
  52. Le croque monsieur / madame. Or the Dead Guy as my brother calls it. The classic melt. Madame has an egg on top.
  53. La soupe au choux. Cabbage soup. Also the name of a popular detox diet and a comedy classic film with Louis de Funès.
  54. La crême brulée. My all-time favorite dessert (next to cheesecake, which is decidedly not French). Thick vanilla custard with a burnt sugar top.
  55. La crême caramel. The classic custard dessert with a soft caramel top.
  56. La crème de marron. A sweet chestnut purée topping or ingredient for desserts. Lovely with yogurt or fromage blanc.
  57. Les marrons glacés. Iced chestnuts. My son loves these. You need a sweet tooth.
  58. Une glace. The best place to enjoy an ice cream in France? At the cinema, bien sûr!
  59. La buche de Noël. The traditional Yule log, with a great many gourmet twists – glacé, café, chataigne….
  60. Le trou Normand. A pause in the middle of a meal to relax and enjoy with a drop of…
  61. Le Calvados. Apple brandy, the Normandy digestif par excellence.
  62. La barbe à papa. My husband hates this stuff. Candy floss, spun sugar, white or pink. Transforms your children into sticky monsters at the park.
  63. Un oeuf en gelée. Why not? They look so pretty in that gelatin, and the egg will be cooked to ‘mollet’ perfection (the yoke a tad runny)
  64. Une omelette. Ain’t eggs wonderful? Especially when cooked to perfection on an omelet pan with globs of runny cheese inside.
  65. Des épinards à la crème. Talk about a spoon full of sugar! The French can add cream to anything and it will be delicious. Personally, I prefer my spinach with a knob of butter, salt, shallots and pine nuts.
  66. Un citron pressé. Freshly squeezed lemon juice, served in a tall glass with plenty of ice and sugar. Surely the healthiest option while sitting on a café terrace watching the world go by?
  67. Un flan. Imagine a slice of sweet, crustless egg pie. So good it’s trembling. The perfect treat for…
  68. Le goûter. A.k.a le quatre heures. The after-school snack is very important in French culture because the evening meal is never served before 8 pm, and the kids have very long school days. I know many fully grown French men and women who have never outgrown their goûter.
  69. Une quiche. Okay we all know Lorraine, but what about her variants? With goat’s cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, or spinach and ricotta.
  70. L’apéro. Cocktail hour à la française. Drink, eat, be merry!
  71. Le caramel au beurre salé. This is a drug to me. No translation required.
  72. Le pied de porc. Pig’s trotters. It’s said that nothing in the pig goes to waste. Here’s proof.
  73. Le lapin. Eat Peter Rabbit, you say? Forget the Easter bunny. If you like white meat, you’ll love it.
  74. Le magret de canard. Duck breast, a dark meat readily available in most French supermarkets and easy to prepare (although you need a fan). Makes a nice change from beef.
  75. La tête de veau. Calf’s brain. Okay, I have to confess I’ve never eaten this one. But it is a classic of French cuisine, and your butcher will debone and roll it for you. Go ahead, I dare you! Often eaten with Gribiche, a sauce of hard-cooked eggs, mustard and pickles, as is…
  76. Le tablier des sapeurs. Another tripe specialty from Lyon. Basically they throw nothing away.
  77. Une salade Lyonnaise. A safe option in Lyon for the less adventurous. Bacon and eggs on a salad.
  78. Une salade Niçoise. Tuna, hard boiled eggs, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes. Anchovies optional. Oh, and a few salad leaves if you insist!
  79. Une salade au chevre chaud. Melt goat’s cheese on toast under the broiler and serve on salad leaves. Presto!
  80. Le petit salé. Salted pork. Often served with…
  81. Les lentilles à la crème. Sure, add bacon and cream to anything and it’ll taste good!
  82. Les asperges blanches. The French prefer the big fat white asparagus, which they often eat lukewarm with a cream sauce like Gribiche.
  83. La pissaladière. A pizza variant from Nice. Onions, olives, garlic, anchovies.
  84. La tarte au myrtilles. You cannot get fresh blueberries easily in France. They’re expensive and often moldy. The best bet is preserves, which are wonderful served in a buttery pie shell.
  85. Un kébab. The kebab is popular French street food, although most of the meat comes from Germany.
  86. Un couscous. Given the large North African population in France, it’s not surprising that this dish has a lot of fans. Traditionally prepared with merguez (spicy beef sausages), lamb, chicken, steamed veg, chick peas and mounds of soft semolina. Gorgeous.
  87. Un verre de blanc. You see people at the markets and food halls sipping white wine quite early in the morning. Why wait for l’apéro?
  88. La poule de Bresse. The chicken with a pedigree from Bresse, in eastern France. The ‘artistocrat of modern poultry’, it has blue legs, if not blue blood.
  89. Une tisane / infusion. A herbal tea traditionally consumed in the evening, on a cold day or anytime one feels the need for a healthy infusion. Chamomile for relaxation, verbena, mint and fennel for digestion, red vine for circulation – whatever ails you, there’s a tisane for it. Medicinal herbs also sold in pharmacies.
  90. Un gratin de courge. Let’s face it – anything mixed with cheese and broiled is good. For some reason, the French are big fans of squash done this way. The secret ingredient: nutmeg.
  91. Les moules frites. Another French bistro classic. I do love mussels, especially the garlicky broth – but they are rather a lot of work to eat.
  92. Les huitres. Okay, this another cheat as I don’t eat these either (how many have you counted so far?). But those who love oysters swear by them. With lemon, shallots and a glass of white wine.
  93. La tartare de boeuf. One of my husband’s favorite dishes. Only to be ordered in restaurants where you can be absolutely sure of the freshness of the meat. They put a raw egg on top, just in case you weren’t already worried about salmonella.
  94. La blanquette de veau. As its name suggests, a white dish with a fine sauce. Neither the veal nor the onions are browned. Served with rice.
  95. La raie au beurre noire. Skate fish in a black butter sauce with capers. I love the texture of this fish.
  96. Les cuisses de grenouille. My final cheat. Everyone who’s eaten them swears by frogs’ legs, and they are readily available in Lyon by the banks of the Saône river. One of these days…
  97. Les quenelles. Another specialty of Lyon, la quenelle is a sort of dumpling made of eggs and fish, poached in white sauce until it swells, then browned under the broiler.
  98. Un kir. My default aperitif when neither beer nor champagne are on offer. White wine blushed with any kind of crême liqueur – cassis, mûre, raspberry, peach. Don’t waste good wine on it. Unless you have it with champagne, in which case it is a kir royale.
  99. Une flute. A salty, sometimes cheesy snack stick to go with…
  100. Le champagne. There are no rules with champagne in France – you can drink it before, during or after. A fitting conclusion to a special meal – and this list. Santé!

I’ve probably missed a few…what are your favorite French treats?

L’apéro: Favorite summer sips

Pastis on the deckL’apéro, short for apéritif, is not a drink, it’s a happening. In fact, it’s something of a sport in France: around here they call it ‘apérobic’. It can be performed at least daily, anywhere and at any time, individually, in small or large groups.

I’m not much of a one for cocktails or fancy mixed drinks. Mostly I eschew the sweet in favor of the dry, the bitter and the acidic. Thankfully there are always several of those options at hand in France. And summer is the perfect time to enjoy a nice cool one by the beach, at the bar or here on my own deck.

Pastis – de Marseille, bien sûr – is not for everyone. But it is the summer drink par excellence of the south of France. If you’re up for its liquorish flavor, here’s how to enjoy it:

Pour a small amount (according to your taste – I like the equivalent of a couple of shots) over lots of ice. Watch it turn from clear yellow to milky white. Sweat a moment or two along with the glass. Then add water, very cold, to make a refreshing long drink. Enjoy with salted nuts of your choice. Santé!

I enjoy the one but cannot drink two. It’s just too rich. And the aniseed flavor is a novelty that (for me) wears thin all too quickly. Oddly enough, pastis has the reputation in France of being the hard-core drinker’s drink. The one that the men guzzle in all those hole-in-the-wall bars that we women hardly dare to enter.

Citron pressé
Citron pressé

If I should occasionally feel the need to whet my whistle while resting my liver, I might order a citron pressé. This is, quite literally, a fresh squeezed lemon juice (not to be confused with ‘limonade’, a soft drink). It will be served in a tall glass with lots of ice, several packets of sugar on the side and a long spoon for stirring. I don’t mind it straight but a bit of sugar helps the citrusy medicine go down even better.

I remember when I first discovered rosé wine in France. It was a revelation: a wine between red and white that offered a little of each. Then I went back to Canada and tried to find it there. Those were the days when Mateus was the only rosé anybody had ever heard of – sweet, sickly lighter fluid. People believed that rosé was blended from white and red (which does sometimes happen but is not allowed in France).

Rosé-Cotes_de_Provence_
Rosé, Côtes de Provence

Now, of course, all that has changed. Rosé has become the summer wine of choice and is available just about everywhere. There are hundreds of choices and this recent article gives a good overview. The latest trend is palest-of-pale rosé, a grey-orange-pink in color. Personally I still prefer the fuller bodied rosés, the Tavels and the Costières de Nîmes.

The French drink rosé all year long but especially in the summer, when it goes so well with just about everything enjoyed outdoors.

Let’s not forget my favorite summer brew. La bière. I would not be a Canadian if I didn’t enjoy beer in the summer. Also in the spring, fall and winter. French beers may not be the world’s best but most bars have them on tap.

Bière, of Corse!
Bière, of Corse!

To order a draft beer or ‘une pression’ in France, you ask for ‘un demi’ (half a pint). Draft beer on a summer day. Does it get any better than this?

How about you? What’s your favorite summer drink?