We didn’t forget about our final “F” country! We’re back to alphabetical order again with France.
I think most Americans can identify something French in origin. Whether it’s crepes, Monet, a specific film, a wine, a cheese, an expression that’s been adopted into English vocabulary like “a la mode“–France has long been a cultural trendsetter.
This Parisian structure is one of the most photographed landmarks in the world. (This particular photograph is one of Derek’s, from a trip he took in 2008). You know what it is even though I haven’t called it by its name, and of course, you already know that it’s French.
Rather than just resting on what we already know about France and French culture, we wanted this weekend to be about learning new things and acquiring a deeper understanding of things we may only have known on a superficial level. So, let’s get started. Bonjour!
Early Saturday morning, Derek and I went to the farmers’ market to buy a few croissants from Butter Block, a local patisserie, and then stopped in a neighborhood coffee shop for two cups of café au lait. We brought everything home to enjoy. Here with our coffees you can see pain au chocolat, a plain croissant, and a coconut croissant (the last one is probably not so French, but I was intrigued when I saw it on the menu board).
After breakfast, we watched the France episode of Geography Now. Barby not only talks about metropolitan France, the landmass in Europe that people typically think of as France, but also addresses France’s regions, collectivities, overseas territories and special territories.
After Geography Now, I started to work on a few French dishes: a dessert called Far Breton, from the Brittany region of France, and two Provençal dishes from my Mark Bittman cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: socca, a chickpea-flour pancake, and ratatouille, a vegetable dish with eggplant, onion, tomato, zucchini and pepper. You might remember the name of the last dish from the Pixar movie Ratatouille ten years ago. As I worked, Derek and I listened to some of the most well-known songs of Edith Piaf, France’s most famous chanteuse.
In between the various stages of cooking, we watched a succinct animated video about the history of France.
The socca and ratatouille went well together. I think I over-seasoned the socca, but the ratatouille, which could have used some more seasoning, balanced it out.
We each had a small slice of Far Breton for dessert. The recipe had described the dessert as flan-like, which is pretty accurate. Eating this also reminded me that prunes, despite their unappealing name, are quite tasty.
Done with eating for a while, Derek and I ventured downtown. We headed to Buffalo’s Lafayette Square, which is named for the Marquis de Lafayette, a French military officer who fought on the American side of the American Revolutionary War (and who visited Buffalo in 1825). Both Derek and I had assumed that the monument in the middle of the square was a monument for Lafayette, but when we arrived at the square and read the signage, we realized that the monument is actually a memorial for soldiers and sailors who fought in the American Civil War.
Oops. Well, globetrotting teaches us things about the countries we’re covering and the city that we live in.
Across from Lafayette Square, there’s the Liberty Building, which has two replicas of the Statue of Liberty on its rooftop. And the original Statue of Liberty in New York City was a gift to the United States from France, so I suppose you could say the Liberty Building also has a tenuous French connection. We couldn’t get a good shot of the statues since the building is fairly tall, but a Google search for “Liberty Building Buffalo” will give you some photos.
Back at home, we got to know the regions where our lunch and dessert came from, Provence and Brittany, with a short video about each region. Of course, we also had to watch something about France’s capital and most famous city, Paris.
For dinner, we walked to Buffalo’s West Side for a French-inspired meal at Lait Cru Brasserie. We started off with some savory beignets.
Since France is known for its wines, we felt it would be appropriate to have at least one glass of French wine this weekend, even though we aren’t big drinkers (or really drinkers in general). We shared a glass of grenache from Languedoc in southern France. For our entrees, Derek had the roasted quail, and I had mushrooms over couscous. The plates were very prettily arranged.
For dessert, I had profiteroles filled with ice cream, and Derek had the tart au citron, a lemon curd tart.
After we returned home from Lait Cru, we watched a video about the French Riviera.
For breakfast next day, we had a breakfast that is more typical in France than the croissants we had the day before: tartine, a split baguette with butter and jam. Tartines are usually eaten during the week, and croissants are generally saved for the weekends. While it was still the weekend, I figured tartine might be a little healthier, especially since our breakfast on Saturday was very rich. We made our own coffee this time.
We both did some chores after breakfast, and then Derek started preparing tempeh au vin, a vegetarian take on the French classic coq au vin, a chicken dish. He also made wheat berries to accompany the tempeh au vin. As the tempeh was simmering, we watched a few videos to acquaint ourselves with other parts of France that are not in Europe: Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, and Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean.
Here are the tempeh au vin and wheat berries:
For a little something sweet afterwards, we had some more Far Breton. We also watched a video about the rainforests in French Guiana, which is in South America.
After a dinner of ratatouille and socca, we watched the 2008 French film The Class, an adaptation of Francis Bégaudeau’s novel Entre les murs (“Between the Walls”), a semi-autobiographical story about his experiences teaching in a Paris school that most Americans would probably categorize as an inner-city school.
I thought this movie might be in the style of American movies about teachers in inner-city schools: a determined teacher with a heart of gold who eventually wins over his students, even the most difficult ones, and gets them to succeed. But The Class is probably more realistic, with a teacher who isn’t perfect, and who doesn’t get through to all of his students.
Speaking of imperfections, there are lots of things about France that we didn’t cover this weekend, but we ran out of time. In a way, we’re not done with France: there are still a lot of countries that we haven’t covered whose histories and cultures are somehow linked to France, such as our next country, Gabon. This has been a very full and enjoyable weekend, and for that, I’ll say, Merci, la France!