At midnight, our family of five set down our luggage and kicked off our shoes. Happy to finally arrive at Alex’s childhood home be in Nantes, France at about midnight after 30 some hours of travel.
It was one of those times when you haven’t even had time to think about hunger, yet once you do you, you discover you’re famished.
Luckily, My mother-in-law, Isabelle, pulled together the most elaborate late night snack I’ve ever seen in minutes. A baguette, pâté, pickles, mustard, tomatoes, cheese, wine, fruit, and yogurt was put on the table as we laughed about the crazy details of our trip. A missed train, 2-hour customs line, 2 instances of a child losing the contents of her stomach on the train.
Crazy, but oddly fun.
I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the deliciousness and freshness of this little late night snack.
I thought to myself, “yep, we’re in France. It was worth it!” It took next to no effort, essentially just pulling things out from the fridge, yet it was extremely enjoyable and satisfying.
As we fell into bed that night, Alex and I told ourselves the often repeated lie , “tomorrow we will do nothing, we’ll just relax.”
Yet, we are doers. We can’t seem to stop ourselves. It’s in our nature. We like to do.
Sleep be damned.
Luckily, as a couple, we’re well matched that way, and our children follow our lead.
Sure, a tantrum here or there but what’s life without a little colorful emotion now and then.
Our “Doing nothing days” always translates to doing at least 3 “somethings” no matter where we are.
Our first day in France was no exception.
Le Petit Déjeuner-Breakfast
We started with a picture perfect petit déjeuner complete with rich strong café, chocolate chaud for the girls, and fruit juice. Paired with fresh, local strawberries and raspberries. Then fresh baguettes with real butter with chunks of sea salt, confiture (jam), and some artisanal chocolate spread (imagine Nutella but homemade).
It was as delicious as it sounds.
It always feels like we’re just leaving the table when it’s time to start thinking about lunch.
In fact, it seems like we’re always talking and thinking about food when we’re in Alex’s home or for that matter any French home.
The first course was oysters and the softest, most delicious fresh shrimp. Oysters are not my cup of tea. Anything with a full body is still on my no-no list, although, I can say I’ve tried one.
The first time I visited Paris with Alex 12 years ago we walked by a fresh seafood stand. The owner invited us to try something, hoping to gain our business. Alex said, “no, merci” and mentioned I was an American. Before I knew it, the Monsieur had popped open an oyster and had it to my lips. Terrified and grossed out, but wanting to impress my French boyfriend I swallowed it whole.
DISGUSTING, but it did the trick. Alex (my husband now) tells the story every time we eat oysters!!!
For the main course, Isabelle prepared my favorite dish as she often does when we’re there. Her poulet rôti or roasted chicken is to die for.
My favorite part is the jus at the bottom of the pan that gets lovingly ladled over the roasted potatoes and chicken on your plate.
Moutarde is a must with this meal and many others. It’s very often placed on the table alongside salt and pepper.
Traditional French mustard is tangy, strong, and spicy in a similar way to horseradish or wasabi.
It’s delicious with both the chicken and potatoes.
It is so hard to find the same tasting mustard in the US. Even the same brands have a softer taste at home.
Alex and I are always looking for a solution since during past visits mustard has broken open in our bags on the flight home!
Grey Poupon is a nice substitute.
Fifi, our 2-year-old, took a big hit of moutarde at the table that day and made us all laugh when she experienced the shock and grabbed her forehead. She laughed though and then tried to get the same reaction by doing it over and over again.
After our chicken, we enjoyed some cheese which is standard in a French home. This is also the time salad, meaning lettuce dressed with a simple homemade vinaigrette, is typically offered.
Fresh strawberries for dessert. They are so soft and petite. Isabelle sets out a bowl of water to rinse them one by one as they’re devoured.
I almost forgot coffee accompanied by a square of dark chocolate.
Boire un Coup-Take a Drink
That afternoon we decided to visit the carnival or fall fair. In May and September, rides and booths go up in French cities where traditions and memories ensue.
Unfortunately, the carnival was kind of a bust in that each ride is owned and operated independently and so some were open, but many were not since it was a Monday.
We wandered into the cathedral nearby and then decided to “Boire un coup” French for “get a drink.”
It’s customary in France to relax in a cafe in the afternoon and have a drink.
Alcohol, juice, coffee, Perrier, etc. But only drink!! No food! The waiter will think you’re crazy to eat at this time.
My husband can be a bit of a Nazi when it comes to the girls eating, and since he got it from Isabelle I had to ask them, half teasing half serious…
“What are French children traditionally allowed to drink at a boire de coup?” I ask because it’s very frowned upon to eat at certain times in France and it’s hard to know the norms. Since our “Boire un Coup” fell closely enough to quatre heure (Children’s one and only snack time in the afternoon around 4 o’ clock) he said that it was fine, of course, for them to have a special drink.
Ha! For all I knew, he was going to say only water. So the girls had raspberry Shirley temples. Yay!
We wandered back to the carnival where there were booths offering crepes, chi chi (fried cinnamon sugar sticks), Barbe de papa (cotton candy) which translates to “Papa’s beard”.
I was again shocked to hear that we were all allowed a treat! So we had some of everything! It was so fun, but had it been an hour later we would have been sternly reminded about dinner being soon. It always surprises me that, when I’m in France, even though it seems like we’re eating all day I find myself perfectly hungry at the beginning of each of the 3 designated meals.
I came to the table just as we started and sat down to a delicious creamy dill sauce over smoked salmon and fresh pasta.
I asked about the recipe, hoping to share it.
Turns out it’s a special creme you can buy at any grocery store in France and then you can modify it however you like.
Isabelle had just added dry dill. That’s it for the sauce.
How simple and delicious for a quick meal.
Just when I was about to lose all hope of finding a similar product in the U.S., Isabelle suggested taking sour cream and heavy whipping cream and mixing the two together until you get the right consistency.
How nice would it be to have a quick cream like that?
After pasta, once again, bread, butter, cheese than yogurt, and fruit were all brought to the table and offered.
This is just a snapshot of a typical day of eating in Alex’s home.
We spend a lot of time at the table interacting and playing out the little rituals and courses we cherish and know by heart.
One takeaway we’ve incorporated into our home is creating a standard meal framework. I don’t do 3 or 4 courses plus coffee at lunch and dinner as we do here, I modify it a bit but still like the idea of courses as I feel it helps our kids understand the flow of a meal.
When I’m home with my children we have breakfast, lunch, and dinner and 1 snack time after the nap in the afternoon.
We have 3 simple but standard courses for lunch. And by courses I mean big plates of veggies to start, a sandwich or prepared meal, then Greek yogurt and chocolate chips.
They know the formula by heart so they know what’s coming next and so do I. It takes little brain power once it’s a habit and it creates routine in their lives.
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