La Semaine du Gout – Tasting Week

Before October comes to an end, I want to briefly mention ‘La Semaine du Gout’ which takes place annually at this time of year.

It started off as ‘La Journee du Gout’ (Tasting Day) in 1990 by … the sugar industry!  At that time they were defending the use of real sugar versus synthetic sweetners.

Since then it has become a pedagogical week dedicated to the pleasures of the palate. Workshops, information campaigns, lessons in taste; all the events offered for the occasion have one thing in common: to try new foods and to teach kids (and reinforce in adults) the importance of taste and taste development and to encourage contact between producers and the general public.

Two years ago, my son’s class did blindfolded tastings at school and I was surprised to witness some 6year-olds confusing salt with sugar! There’s obviously still some work to be done.

I’d actually forgotten about La Semaine du Gout this year but my children came home each day from school especially excited about their school canteen menu. That particular week the ingredients were especially sourced from the local region and they had a different bread served each day (Monday was blue cheese, Tuesday was olive, Wednesday was walnut, Thursday was fig, and Friday was poppy seed). I am grateful that my children have learned to try everything on their plate – just as my mother encouraged me to do. They are often surprised to find that something that they thought they didn’t like, has suddenly become much nicer.

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Garbure – I apologize for the presentation – I just scooped the tasty morsels from the enormous pot of stock into a dish for guests to serve themselves. it was yummy nonetheless, especially the remaining broth for lunch the following day.

On the topic of exploring tastes,  I recently discovered garbure which is a great simple one-pot dish for this time of year …as the cold weather arrives. It is a hearty stew that originates from the south-west of France.  I was fortunate enough to witness Florence, a lovely lady originating from Bearn (the region from which this stew comes from which is at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains) giving a cooking lesson on how to prepare the combination of salted ham hock, cabbage, carrots, white beans and garlic followed by how to cook it and eat it – with boiled potatoes or bread to sop up the delicious stock…and some wine. There is nothing like learning how to cook a dish from a master. Even the most descriptive recipe (or YouTube video) can never replace such experiences.

 

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Ah Paris!

I usually have the feeling that things and places are smaller upon seeing or visiting them on subsequent occasions compared with the first time. But not so with Paris. This city seems to get bigger and grander each time I go.

I was in Paris for one day last week out of necessity (to renew the children’s expired passports at the Australian Embassy) and my ‘old’ friend Frank (Parisian by adoption) turned the chore into an enchanting tour of some known and lesser known ‘gems’.  For the most visited city in the world, with its hoards of tourists, on a warm and sunny day, Paris still had plenty of quiet spots to discover. Like in this photo below – taken in the middle of the day in central Paris – running alongside The Seine and Les Tuilleries…with only 2 people in view:

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Frank took me through his local 2eme arrondissement (2nd district) before weaving our way toward the Eiffel Tower – where the Australian Embassy is situated – via (amongst other sites) Le Palais Royal, several beautiful ‘passages‘ (arcades), then past the usual suspects such as Le Louvre, Les Tuilleries, before crossing La Seine on a modern walk bridge and into a typical bustling bistrot for lunch (the menu du jour of course offering some kind of meat with fries/frites and some vegetables for decoration, followed by a selection of desserts including the compulsory seasonal tart, crème brûlée or chocolate mousse).

The train system in Paris is easy to navigate and from what I can tell, pretty reliable (apart from the ‘occasional’ strike). It seems to have shunned chain stores in favor of stylish independent boutiques and cool cafes, restaurants and galleries are a plenty.

But for all of its charms, it seems that the locals are deserting Paris in large numbers, headed for some of the other major French cities (Lyon, Bordeaux, Nantes, if not abroad). They are leaving the traffic jams, pollution and expensive lodgings … to recreate and suffer from those very things elsewhere!

 

 

Back from Portugal – via Spain…

After a thoroughly enjoyable visit  from our friends Jerome and Christelle and their kids chez-nous (merci beaucoup à vous quatre!) we made our way to northern Portugal. To break the drive we spent the first night in Salamanca in Spain. This was an impressive town of sandstone buildings built in the Renaissance style. We had one night to feast on Spanish tapas and we enjoyed authentic gaspacho, tortilla, roasted pork amongst some other yummy morcels.

DSC_0586The following day we made a detour to visit Sierra de Francia which was home to some very quaint villages and this area is famous for cured meats, especially iberico ham (apparently 60% of Spain’s famous ‘jamon iberico’ comes from this region) which makes for a tasty snack.

Then off to Portugal’s nature reserve Serra da Estrala. The highlight was spending hours in the rockpools of the river ran through the valley. One day we spent 7 hours there; scooting down the slippery natural slides and dangling our feet into the cool water for the little fish to nibble. I can now understand why people pay to put their feet into ‘fish spas’ (large aquariums full of fish)

After 6 days of relaxation, we drove west through some of the oldest vineyards in Europe in the Douro River region. I wasn’t aware that Portugal was such a prolific producer of wine.DSC_0828.JPG

We stayed in a lovely hotel within a vineyard and learnt about ‘green wine’ for which this area is famous (apart from the well known Port). The tradition dates back to a time when the vines where grown on high structures which meant that the grapes were sheltered from the sun. The resulting fruit was green and acidic so a small amount of sugar was added to bottles of wine which made the wine slightly effervescent. Today the bubbles are apperently added artificially.

 

 

We spent one day in the charming coastal town/city of Porto. The first thing than struck me were multitude of azulejos (hand-painted tiles) which adorned the buildings.DSC_0888

We climbed the 76 mt. High Torre dos Clérigos for a view of the city but I think that just wandering along the narrow and windy streets offered better sites and less tourists.

 

During our travels in Portugal we tried many local dishes including Feijoada (bean and sausage stew), pastel de nata (custard tart), bacalhau (dried salt-cod) in many different forms including one particularly yummy potato and cod croquette,  fresh cheese (which had a texture similar to junket) and some of the best tinned and grilled sardines that I’ve ever eaten.

The folk were friendly and the weather lovely.

DSC_0965Before arriving back home we stopped one night in Burgos (northern spain) with its gothic cathedral dominating the town. We had time to wander around this charming town and eat some of it’s famous morcilla (blood sausage) which was really much nicer than it might sound. Spanish blood sausages often include rice and spices which I prefer to the equivalent and relatively plain French ‘boudin’.

Now it’s time for La Rentrée! (see post Sept 2015)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July happenings.

Incase you missed the Football/soccer World Cup Final since my last post, it was France that became the Champion of the World! As the final siren was sounded there was a collective cheer that could be heard wherever you happened to be in the country at the time.

IMG_2252And the sunflowers are now out! When the kids were away for one week with their French Grandma, we could do things like take a 4-hour walk in the surrounding mountains past fields of sunflowers, walk around Toulouse aimlessly on a Saturday afternoon,

 

Then off to collect the kids and attend the wedding of one of my husband’s cousins in Vendee. French weddings are usually quite an affair. For this particular event, the  Invitations (which were sent four months in advance) indicated whether guests were invited to the ceremony; the ceremony and cocktail; or the ceremony, cocktail, dinner and soirée. Two months prior to the wedding, the guests were requested to write a recipe accompanied with a photo of the author/s and/or the dish to be presented in a recipe book for the bridal couple. Then on the day of the wedding:

  • 10h30 Church ceremony. If a couple do choose to have a church ceremony in France, they must also first sign legal documents at the Maire (Town Hall) either on the day or days, weeks or months beforehand.
  • DSC_050212h30 Cocktail and appetizers on the lawn outside the event hall. A group of friends entertained the 200 or so guests with a dance on the lawn.
  • 14h45 Guests were seated inside, welcomed then given explanations of a number of tasks to be completed during the evening (such as writing a message on a 20cm piece of ribbon and attaching it to a dream catcher for the bridal couple to take and read one message each day; answering a questionaire including questions such as ‘How and Where did you meet the bride and the groom?’; taking ‘selfie’ photos in a ‘photo booth’ area and sticking one copy of the the resulting photos in an album…etc)
  • In addition to this, between each serving of food there was entertainment in the form of skits, songs, very creative homemade videos, but unlike Australian weddings, there were no speeches.
  • 15h00 First dish served: fish, leeks accompanied with white wine

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    ‘Declinasion autour de la fraise’: Yummy strawberry dessert despite the unavoidable speculous -which is so popular at the moment.

  • 16h00  Apple sorbet with cognac or apple cider. This course (‘pause normande’) is served in the traditional belief it will restore appetite. I’m not sure if it worked particularly well on this occasion but I quite liked the cider version which was a change from the traditional calvados.
  • 17h00 Meat dish served with vegetables and red wine.
  • 18h00 Cheese platter served with a different red wine.
  • 19h00 Champagne and dessert
  • 20h00 Coffee served outside while the tables and chairs were removed from the hall
  • 22h00 Dance floor ‘opened’ by the bride and groom by an original  theatrical dance performance.
  • 24h00 Buffet including cold cuts of meat, and the traditional local brioche…because we were hungry 😉

There was not a dull moment and we had a great time but were some of the first guests to leave at this point (as we were car-pooling )- a meer 14 hours after the beginning.

 

 

Family, friends and football

Not quite a year yet in our new location and we received our third international visitors last month (with the 4th due next week from California!). It must be the year of travel.

Just short of 80 years of age and with no signs of slowing down, my Aunty Marg and Uncle Rob dropped in via Spain on their way to ……..the Arctic. And one of my old high school friends and her lovely daughter (whom my daughter had been impatiently waiting for) visited on their voyage between Scandanavia and Paris. These visits were an excuse for lots of talking, drinking wine, eating croissants (which we never do otherwise) and exploring more of what this ‘south-west’ region of France has to offer.

DSC_0233We visited Samatan in the Gers (the department to the west of the Haute Garonne where we live) which holds a traditional live poultry market every Monday. And ‘poultry’ includes rabbits here! My relatives pointed out that tying the chickens together by their legs would not be allowed in Australia. It got me thinking about the treatment of animals here (especially as this market also had a section dedicated to the controversial foie-gras) and that made me think back to a classic French cookery book that my gastronomic mother (who is in my thoughts daily) kept on the top of the fridge.

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The rather kitsch (but real!) wrapper from a local butcher’s market stall (rugby is the local sport!). There is no hiding where the products come from, although its perhaps not entirely representative of farm practices.

As I child I was horrified to see photos of dead animals next to the corresponding recipes….but the relationship between the meat on the table and the animals from which it comes is not avoided in this country – as it tends to be in Australia.

DSC_0262Another day and we were off to The Tarn (the department to the north-east). First to wine region of  Gaillac for wine tasting and visiting the quaint (narrow) roads and then to the hill-top village of Cordes sur Ciel.DSC_0271 We ate lunch in the old ‘halles’ (where markets are conducted) and I wondered how the people managed to carry their wares up such a steep 30 minute ascent all of those years ago.

As my friend Geraldine and I explored the center of Toulouse on another day we could ‘hear’ the French football/soccer team playing in one of The World Cup matches (the football World Cup is held every 4 years and is followed closely by fans and non-fans alike): at each French goal there were loud cheers pouring from all of the bars and cafés. It was a festive moment and although I’m not a football fan, I do hope that France gets to the final (only now that Australia has been eliminated). I’m sure it would pick-up the French spirit – at least for a little while.

Geraldine had the ‘honor’ of witnessing the dance routines at my children’s school fete – in the scorching sun – and of the process of resigning my daughter up in an extra-curricular activity for the next academic year: this is something I dread each year. This particular time it involved completing 17 pages of paperwork, attaching numerous documents including a photo, 3 stamped envelopes, medical insurance.. and then standing in a long queue only to be told in the end (as is very often the case) that something was missing or incorrect! Argghhhhh!

We also had two families that we’d met in Shanghai – and who now live one hour away (one to the north and the other to the south) – come over for an Aussie BBQ (although it couldn’t really be called that as there was no beer and we didn’t ask the guests to bring their own meat as Aussie tradition would have it).

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Grilled nectarines – with brown sugar, orange juice and Cointreau

Reconnecting with folk is a wonderful means of sharing and reminiscing about the past but also of exploring and creating new memories……….and of course eating.

Thank you folks!

Language influences thought…?

One-who-speaks-only-one-language-is-one-person-but-one-who-speaks-two-languages-is-two-people.-Turkish-Proverb.png…’when the linguists Aneta Pavlenko and Jean-Marc Dewaele asked 1,039 bilinguals and multilinguals this question: “Do you feel like a different person sometimes when you use your different languages?”, 65 percent of their respondents said ‘yes’. Judging from anecdotal reports, existing in more than one languages can feel a lot like existing with more than one personality.’

I can definitely identify with that feeling;  I have this strong sense that I’m really not the same person when I’m speaking English as opposed to speaking French. I also have a feeling that it’s far more than just a question of language proficiency.

“To have another language is to possess a second soul”. Charlemagne was a European king in the 700s-800’s

Language influencing thought?…or perhaps Thought influencing language?; ‘The question of how language shapes who you are is a fiercely contested one in the field of linguistics, and has been for many decades’. I admit that I haven’t researched this debate in any great depth but it did come up as part of my studies of Speech and Language Pathology and I do remember reading a few articles at the beginning of this century which tended to support more the idea that Thought influenced Language. However, I’ve recently come across more recent information which tends to support the opposite and which is really quite fascinating:

One piece of research, for example, showed that people’s morals change according to whether they are using their native language or a foreign language  ‘……when people are confronted with moral dilemmas, they respond differently when considering them in a foreign language than when using their native tongue. In your native language, you’re more likely to rely on your gut. In a second language, however, reason takes over.  For example, volunteers read descriptions of acts that appeared to harm no one, but that many people find morally reprehensible—for example, stories in which …someone cooked and ate his dog after it had been killed by a car. Those who read the stories in a foreign language (either English or Italian) judged these actions to be less wrong than those who read them in their native tongue.’

Operating in our second language can have some intriguing psychological effects. We swear more freely and linger longer on embarrassing topics than normal.  According to psychologist Constantinos Hadjichristidis at the University of Trento, a second language discourages us from relying on intuitive thinking.

All of these findings should absolutely be taken into account at international meetings where a lingua franca is being used in order to look for resolutions to problems. Big immoral decisions might be being taken quite unconsciously.

These findings could also go toward explaining my feelings of having a split personality: perhaps my ‘French-self’ is centered in my reasoning head whereas my ‘Anglo-self’ is housed in my sensitive gut (or heart….?) and they could also clarify perhaps why I am more comfortable with my intuitive gut-heart-English-speaking self.

For those of you who are curious, here is a fascinating talk further supporting the idea that language influences thought and behavior (I love Tedtalks!). It looks at how people who use languages that don’t have a specific grammatical form for the future tense – such as Chinese – behave differently (because they  don’t dissociate the present from the future when making decisions).

and this one which explores how the subjunctive mood (which the English language – and the French language use liberally) tend to influence how we experience the world around us. The speaker introduces the idea that the use of the subjunctive (such as ‘should have’, ‘could’…) versus the indicative (or factual – mood) can lead us to live and think in alternative realities rather than in the factual HERE and NOW.

 

 

Strikes strike…. again.

‘La greve’ (strike), was one of the first words I learned in the French language. But is the French love of striking just another national stereotype? “Evidence suggests the French actually occupy the middle of the pack when it comes to days lost due to strikes. So why the misconception? Because when the French strike, historian Stéphane Sirot says, they do it loudly and visibly.” Indeed, I still remember the sight of my first French ‘greve’ from our apartment balcony in Grenoble many years ago. There was an enormous group of demonstators winding down the avenue holding banners and shouting ‘Tous ensemble, Tous ensemble, oi oi’ (Everyone together). I can’t actually remember what that strike was about, but it was loud and visible.

logo-sncfWhen I typed ‘French train strikes’ into my internet search engine it came up with ‘train strikes 2014’ ‘train strikes 2015′ train strikes 2016’ and the latest ‘train strikes 2018’. I selected 2018: The SNCF workers (Societe Nationale de Chemin de Fer – ‘National Railway Company’) are angry Why? Well, among  the strikers’ main concerns is the plan to end the special employment status of SNCF rail workers, known as cheminots, that allows them a job for life, automatic pay rises and early retirement. (Incidentally, I heard an interview on the radio this week which discussed making the very same changes …which was recorded 39 years ago! Change is difficult.).

But there are also many doubts regarding the move towards opening up the market to competition which is due to begin in 2020 and which follows a decision taken back in 2016 at a European level.  Given that the SNCF debt was estimated at being 46,6 billion euros at the end of 2017, the idea of opening up the national monopoly to competition is no doubt an attractive idea to the government.

In an attempt to appease the angry train drivers, the current government (in power since May 2017) has assured that: only new cheminot recruits will be affected by the changes to employment status, that privitization will only by partial, and that they will pay off the current SNCF debt. But NO, NO and NO! is still the response. As is often the case here, ‘protest first and (perhaps) negociate later’: Train strikes are scheduled for two days out of every five right through to 28 June.

The French general public usually accept strikes as a necessary evil to improve workers’ rights, but for the moment the majority of folk might not actually be in favor of this one.

Ps. In addition to SNCF, some universities and the airline company Air France are also  striking. As France is nearing the 50th birthday of the May 1968 major strikes this wave of striking might very well be a means of ‘celebrating’ the anniversary in an ‘appropriate’ manner.

Tous ensemble, Tous ensemble, oi,

ps. There is even a website dedicated to keeping French citizens up-to-date regarding strikes: c’estlagreve.fr