Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Baguettes are Yummy!

Without me knowing it, Xavier pulled a baguette out of the grocery bag this morning. I caught him walking around the house, chowing down on the still warm loaf. He's well on his way to being a true frenchman!

Birthday Boy

We celebrated Xavier's first birthday this week. We turned the weekly anglophone playgroup into a birthday party, and all his little english speaking friends spoiled him with gifts. We gave him the ceremonial first piece of cake, in this case it was a cupcake, and he managed to smear it into a wet paste. I am not sure any made it into his mouth, but he had a great time regardless. We had fun too-Monday night, we celebrated his birthday with Champagne, and reflected on the past year.

Speaking of reflection, this is my 100th post!! It will be interesting to see how many more posts I get in before we have to pack up and move away.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Culinary Jackpot

Gilles took part in his second vendanges (grape harvest) yesterday. It was the first pick of the grapes that go into making the dry Jurancon wine from our region. In a few weeks they will pick the grapes for the sweet Jurancon. After the picking was done, the group gathered for a snack and some wine. Gilles and one of the vineyard owners decided to skip out on the food and wine, and go foraging in the adjacent forest for cepes.

First, a little background on cepes. The Fall is mushroom season, and the French love to go foraging for mushrooms in their free time. The king of all mushrooms is the cepe. You are likely more familiar with the Italian variety called porcini, which are essentially the same thing, although would be a bit different because of terroir. Cepes do not travel well, and must be eaten soon after picked. They are not successfully cultivated, so must be found in the wild. Once the season begins, some people take holidays to go on a cepe hunt, selling their finds to restauranteurs and shops. Cepes are very expensive, and a fruitful forager stands to make a lot of money.

Cepes are found under acorn, chestnut, and beech trees. Apparently, the cepes found under beech trees have an even superior flavour an already sumptious fungus. Our region is well-known for cepes, and the most popular French way of eating them is cepes a la bordelaise (cepes made in the way from Bordeaux): simply sauteed in oil with garlic and parsley added at the end.

As you can see from the photos, Gilles and his co-forager were successful, each finding one cepe. When they returned to the group, everyone was shocked at their find, and started cheering. Several of the men instantly dropped their drinks, and headed out on their own search. Gilles was ecstatic-he wanted to call everyone that would appreciate his find, and share the news with them.

Gilles returned home with both of the large cepes, and now we have to figure out what to go with them. I am not concerned about the cooking, but the cleaning. They have bugs crawling in and out of their caps, and the spongy underside is a little intimidating with pieces of leaves and branches sticking out of it. But the collective enthusiasm of a nation of millions tells me it must be worth it. We shall see tonight.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Weekend in Provence (Fourth Visit!)

Oh, how we love Provence. We spent three days there last weekend, and fell in love with it all over again. The region is very fertile, and each period of the year offers different products in season at the colorful markets, and different sights and scents as you drive around the region. In the Fall, the olive trees are brimming with olives and the grapes are just ready to be picked. I bought a bag of the first of this year's fresh olives. They are not stored in a brine, so are fresh and buttery rather than salty. A real treat from the region. We noticed for the first time pomegranates and kiwis on their trees-the region can grow almost anything.

Provence is home to perhaps Gilles' favourite wine area: the reds from the lower Cotes du Rhone (Gigondas, Vacqueyras, etc). We lucked out, and were there during les vendanges, or the grape harvest. There were people picking grapes in the vineyards, and small tractors pulling trailers overflowing with grapes. The morning we left, we visited the wine cooperative of Rasteau, and at the production facility there was a back-up of tractors overflowing into the road, all full of beautiful, juicy grapes.

Our bed and breakfast was nestled between a vineyard and an apricot orchard. Gilles and Xavier took a stroll through the vineyard, and Xavier sampled grapes right from the vines. They were sweet, with not a hint of sour, likely the grenache grape which is the workhorse for the red wines of the region.

Southern France also boasts some of the best Roman sites anywhere. This time we made the trek to a 2,000 year old bridge called Pont Julien. This amazing structure remained a car bridge until 2005! Now Pont Julien is enjoyed by pedestrians and bikers, and Xavier who crawled over and under his first Roman site.

Knowing this will be our last visit to Provence for quite some time, we returned home with four cases of wine, three liters of olive oil, and many other regional goodies.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sundays in the Country

We have been filling our weekends with French country experiences since our return from Canada. I suspect it's partly because we know our days here are numbered, so want to fill them with the best of what the region has to offer. The weather has been spectacular, and we have enjoyed driving through small French villages and the lush, green pastures that lead up to the Pyrenees mountains.

Last Sunday we headed deep into Basque Country to pick up some pork. We have purchased customized pork packages from this family before with our friends, and this time it was our turn to make the trek to the farm. They raise an ancient breed of pig that is unique to the area. It is mostly black, and has huge ears that hang in its face. They roam freely, and this time of year they munch on the acorns and chestnuts that fall from the trees. They are fairly active, so don't grow very large, but do have a very high fat content, making it ideal for making cured legs with. It leads to a product less like a prosciutto, and more like a good jamon iberico/pata negra-if you are lucky enough to have tried this Spanish delicacy, then you know what the fuss is about. Anyway, this time we filled our freezer with fresh cuts, sausages, and the best boudin we have ever tasted. The pork is delicious, and well worth the two hour drive to pick it up.

We were given a tour of the beautiful and ancient farm. The farmhouse is almost as rustic today as it was 250 years ago. We were welcomed in for coffee, and it was humbling to imagine such a simple life. But the young gentleman that runs the farm loves the life, and is so passionate about his animals and land. This is not factory produced meat, and you just know that the product he sells benefits from the love and attention that he devotes to it.

Yesterday we attended a festival in a small village closer to home. The highlight of the weekend's festivities was a sheep herding competition. There were several thousand people in attendance to see which shepherd and dog would prove to be the best herding team. The shepherd stood in one spot, and directed his dog to herd the sheep through gates and around a huge field, often just by whistling. It was very fun to watch!

Next weekend, Provence to stock up on fresh olives, olive oil, and wine.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Now here is a word not found in most people's vocabulary: transhumance. It means the seasonal movement of people with their livestock. A historical practice in many places, it still occurs annually in the Pyrenees Mountains. Shepherds bring their animals, most often sheep but also cows and horses, into the high mountain pastures in the spring. There, the animals roam freely and munch all summer long on fresh fields of grass and alpine flowers. The shepherd usually stays with them, residing in a very rustic hut where he makes cheese from the collected milk. This summer cheese is coveted because the milk produced while the animals feed on the high altitude grass and flowers has a superior taste to that produced from a diet of hay. In the fall the shepherd and his flock return to civilization and the farm for the winter.

This ancient practice has been modernized a bit, and the majority of the animals are transported by truck into the mountains, and back down again. But in our region, there is a shepherd that still makes the trek on foot. He, his herding dogs, donkey, and flock of sheep make the 300 km trip between mountain pasture and farm...on foot! Because this traditional practice is a rarity, the trip has become a bit of a celebration. The shepherd and his crew end each day in a different village that celebrates his arrival with a bit of a party: kids' games, and the French version of a BBQ. The animals spend the night in a village field, and rest up for the next leg of the journey.

On Friday we attended this celebration in a neighbouring village. We met the group on the outskirts of the village, and stood aside as the sheep streamed by us. Then we walked behind the flock as it entered the village and their rest stop for the night. They use the regular roads, which makes things interesting when cars meet the traveling group! There is no warning truck signaling their arrival, just one dog at the front of the pack, followed closely by the shepherd. It was quite a sight! And as you can see from the photos, the shepherd certainly looks like someone that spent the entire summer in a mountain hut!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back to Real Life

Wow, where did the past two months go? When we returned to our home in France last Thursday, it sure didn't seem like two months had passed since we packed up the family and headed to Canada. But here we are, home again. Gilles returned to work today, and for the first time in many weeks, it was just Xavier and I, playing and reading books. Surely he must be bored of me already, after weeks of receiving constant attention from grandparents, cousins, friends, aunts, uncles, and anyone else that could shower him with affection.

We had a wonderful two months, and lucked out with fabulous weather. It was a hot and humid summer in the maritimes, and we took full advantage of it and enjoyed the beach, the outdoor pool, and the little kid pool. We spent August hanging out in several coastal areas, where we ate seafood, had beach fires, combed beaches for sea glass (an obsession I share with several other family members!), fished, watched whales, and enjoyed the salt air.

But summer vacation must come to an end, and it was inevitable that I would have to give up my babysitters. But it's not all bad: we visited the marche on Saturday and filled our bags with food that can only be had in France. And as we picked fresh figs from the tree down the street, we mused that it is good to be back.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Giant Lobster

We are finishing up our time in Campobello Island, and during our week here we have tried to squeeze in as much island fun as possible. We had a beach cook-out one night, and feasted on lobster and scallops cooked on the fire. Xavier had fun playing in the sand and trying to eat rocks, until we put him to sleep in his stroller under the mosquito net. While there, a local fisherman came to show us the fifteen pound lobster they caught in their nets that day. We took pictures, then he threw it back into the ocean.


Our whirlwind tour of the Atlantic provinces (minus PEI) included a recent trip to St. John's for the wedding of Gilles' cousin. My first visit to Newfoundland was made official by being screeched-in along with other friends and family members. The bride's parents hosted the rehearsal party, and the father of the bride was the officiant of the screech-in. I performed the 'ceremony' with my brother-in-law, and we didn't fumble once on the tongue twister test saying. We kissed the cod, downed the screech, then certified honorary Newfoundlanders. Good fun!

We enjoyed some other Newfoundland experiences: visited Cape Spear, ate cod heads, stayed in a colourful house, and walked up and down the steep St. John's streets over and over again. We really enjoyed our visit, and hope to return soon to visit the soon to be opened restaurant of Gilles' sister and her boyfriend.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hot & Humid in Miramichi

Our time in Miramichi is drawing to an end. It's hard to believe we have been here for five weeks! Gilles arrives on the weekend, and then we'll commence the nomadic part of our vacation: Halifax, St. John's, Campobello Island, and Cape Breton. We'll soon see how Xavier handles long car rides!

We have had a great time here, enjoying the warm days...although today was uncomfortably humid. We were all tempted to jump into the kid pool with Xavier in the backyard.

Here's a couple of pictures, including one of Xavier's visit to the barber.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Canadian Summer

It's been awhile since I have posted, and I guess quite a bit is new since that Bordeaux trip in May. For one, I am not in France: I am in my old bedroom in my parents' house in Miramichi. On June 30, we packed up the whole family (including our two cats), and headed to Canada. Gilles returned a few days later for a month's work in Holland, and Xavier, Sherpa, Alamo, and myself have settled into hot and humid Miramichi.

It was a long, 24-hour trip to get here. After what seemed like an already long day, we arrived in Quebec City with a seven hour drive ahead of us to get to Miramichi. Thankfully, my parents greeted us at the airport, so we were not the ones behind the wheel. And in true New Brunswick fashion, two moose crossed our path on the road not long after we entered the province; a greeting of sorts, I suppose.

I did not make it 'home' last year, so it is a nice treat to be able to enjoy the summer here. It's a win-win situation for all: the grandparents get to spend quality time with Xavier (Gilles' parents have been up for two visits), Xavier gets the royal treatment, and I have plenty of help. I have actually started running again with my dad, while my mom takes over babysitting duties. Xavier's favourite new activity is swimming, and with the endless hot days, he has had ample opportunity to practice his doggy-paddle.

I know Gilles finds it hard being away for so long, especially since Xavier changes almost every day, but he joins us in early August for a month of traveling and visiting family and friends. And I have a feeling the summer will be over before we know it, and we'll be making that long return trip back to France.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beautiful Bordeaux & Sand in Our Shoes

Last weekend we took advantage of one of the many French holidays in May, and visited the beautiful city of Bordeaux. Bordeaux has about one million residents, making it one of the largest cities in France. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, which is the region in which we reside. But most famously it is known for its surrounding area, that produces some of the world's best and most well-known wines.

The tourist area of the city is almost squeaky clean. The sandstone buildings have all been cleaned, there is an impressive amount of pedestrian streets, and amazingly, there is next to no dog poop on the streets (a rarity in most of France). There is a wide and long walkway along the river, with walking and cycling lanes. Also on this walkway is the miroir d'eau, or water mirror. It is a large concrete area covered with about an inch of water. It is a bustling area, attracting both locals and tourists. Unfortunately it was a bit breezy the afternoon we checked it out, so it didn't exactly resemble a mirror.

On the drive home we stopped at the Dune de Pyla, the largest sand dunes in Europe. They are about 110 m high and three kilometers long. They fall into the Arcachon Bay, which is famous in France for its oyster production. We climbed the dunes, walked along them for a bit, then let Xavier play in the sand. They are very impressive! And we are still emptying the sand out of our shoes, pockets, diaper bag,....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Free-Range, Farm Fresh

Kramer had Little Jerry Seinfeld, now we have our own rooster, I mean chicken. Well, we don’t exactly have a chicken running around in our backyard, but we do have the next best thing: eggs from a friend’s chickens.

The egg industry is a sad one in most industrialized countries. Hundreds of chickens are crammed into cages, forced to stand on little pegs, see little or no sunlight, and just lay eggs. This results in unhealthy chickens laying unhealthy eggs. Just look at the colour of the yolks. In Calgary, the yolks of the eggs I bought were a dull straw colour. I tried different eggs claiming to be high in omega fats, with little improvement. It’s unfortunate, because there are free-range eggs out there, but not usually in the grocery stores, and most people are unwilling to pay the much higher price for them.

In France, the situation is much better. There are very affordable free-range eggs available at the grocery store. I am often skeptical of labels such as ‘organic’ and ‘free-range’, knowing it can be easy to make these claims, regardless of the actual farming technique, but the eggs I buy here are significantly better than what I bought in Calgary.

Many chickens do run freely here. All I need to do is walk five minutes down my street to find a home with a few chickens in the yard. The owners are not farmers, just own a couple of chickens for their use. I do not notice a foul smell coming from their yard; I only hear the occasional cockadoodledoo early on a summer morning when our windows are open.

Urban foodies in Canadian cities are now fighting for the right to raise chickens in their yards. Currently, there is a trial being run in Calgary and Edmonton to see if it is manageable, and Vancouver is close to passing a by-law allowing the practice. Hopefully the trials will be successful, and those wanting to keep chickens will be able to do so.

Now back to our eggs. Gilles and I have made friends with a French couple that live in our town. They have a virtual zoo in their yard, and amongst the dog, pigeons, geese, rooster, and bunnies, they have several egg-laying chickens running around. When I arrived at her house yesterday, three chickens strutted in front of my car. They roam freely, eating grass, oats, and corn. The yolks are so yellow that scrambled eggs look fluorescent. And now I am buying half a dozen eggs from her every week. Healthy chickens, healthy eggs!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Have Baby, Will Travel

I was 22 years old when I boarded my first airplane. My son, Xavier, was four months old. When I was eleven years old, my family spent a few days in St John, New Brunswick to visit my grandfather in the hospital. One night my parents took us to the shopping mall just so that my brother, sister, and I could ride the escalator. I had likely never been on an escalator before this, so it was a fun-filled family activity! In contrast to his Mom's early sheltered life, Xavier has been on city buses, Seabuses, escalators, subways, and many flights.

Last weekend we went to London, for round two of travel with baby. Babies are constantly changing, so this trip posed different challenges than the Vancouver trip. Xavier is now older and more alert, and doesn't just fall asleep anywhere and at anytime. We had to plan around naptimes and make sure to give him some playtime throughout the day. But in general, the trip went really well. Thankfully, the weather cooperated, and we only had to seek refuge from rain the last afternoon we were there.

The most challenging part of traveling with baby this trip was riding London’s Underground system, or ‘The Tube’. Most stations do not have elevators, meaning that we had to get the stroller up and down using escalators and stairs, all while fighting crowds of people. We quickly realized that making transfers was incredibly cumbersome, doubling the amount of ups and downs we had to make with the stroller. We could no longer come and go as freely as before, and chose to plan our trips to avoid transfers and the most touristy Tube stations.

Just like our London trip last year, we spent our first couple of days shopping, preferring London to Paris for this. Then, my sister and her boyfriend, who now live in Northern England, joined us for a few days. It was their first time in London, so we did some more touristy activities: we visited the sights on a hop on-hop off bus tour, and saw changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. And Saturday night, Auntie Julie babysat Xavier while we went to a lovely Indian restaurant for supper. It was our first time out alone since Xavier was born! A real treat, indeed!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Half Birthday!

Our little man turned six months old yesterday. Where did the time go? When I look at pictures of him from the early days, I hardly remember that time. Now I understand why everyone told us to cherish every moment, because it really does pass by so fast! Here are some pictures from yesterday.