Adventures and misadventures in France.

Posts tagged ‘Seafood’

What happened in 2013?

I’ve never been good at making (or keeping) New Years resolutions, so where’s some stuff that happened in 2013:

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Dogsledding!

Started to work at a desk job in France.

Adopted a dog.

Adjusted to rural life and learned to bake.

Took my first business trip.

Visited San Francisco.

Ran my first 5k (for a pie).

Started reading more… and finished Game of Thrones.

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New Years and cake!

As an étrangère, an outsider/foreigner, it’s often difficult to distinguish French cultural traditions from those specific to Max’s family or life in the campagne. This was my  fourth New Years Eve spent in France, and it’s honestly one of my favorite holidays here. In my experience, it all boils down to fruits de mer (seafood), friends, family, and alcohol-fueled bétises (shenanigans).

This year, we spent the evening with close friends of Max’s family, Max’s brothers, and a bunch of goofy little kids. Dinner started around 8:30 pm with the apéritif, and ended around 4:30 am with dessert. WAIT… EIGHT HOURS?

If you’re thinking that it sounds excessive and terrible: What are you doing reading this blog?

If you’re thinking that it sounds delicious and fun, but exhausting: Exactly.

So after a few rounds of drinks and appetizers, we broke out the crustaceans. Shellfish in France is a holiday tradition, but with mayonnaise instead of cocktail sauce. But they do order these crazy delicious platters with all kinds of periwinkles, oysters, crayfish, and shrimp… that still have faces.

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In the US, most people leave the TV on to watch the ball drop in Times Square as the clock hits midnight. In France, party hats and favors are distributed, everyone counts down to midnight, and then the party becomes a battle zone. This year, everyone got a paper ball shooter and unleashed tiny paper bullets without mercy for about half an hour. Which, surrounded by small children, alcohol, and glassware, is about as destructive as you can imagine.

Note the blurry pictures. Nothing is simple when you’re being pelted from all directions. Shrimp everywhere.

Around 1:30 am, dinner was still being prepared, and most of us were starting to get pretty tired. We turned to music to get everyone moving again. Like this song about a crazy cow.

This year, the hosts asked me to bring dessert. Specifically, American desserts. Somehow I ended up making 70 tiny cheesecakes, cupcakes, and brownies. Everyone went to bed shortly thereafter, but we were up again the next day for leftovers lunch and another big family dinner.

New Years also kicks off Epiphany season (January 6). Which means that people wish everyone they see bonne année and bonne santé (to the new year and your health) during the entire month. It also means that the galette des rois (kings cake) is served for dessert. Each flaky cake, sprinkled with sugar crystals, comes with a cardboard crown and a fève (small porcelain trinket) cooked inside the cake. The the youngest child present sits under the table and decides who gets each piece of cake. The person who finds the fève in their slice is the king/queen for the day, and needs to buy the next cake. The fève is usually a religious icon or TV character (baby Jesus, a smurf, etc.) My guess is that this cake will never catch on in America, because each cake would need to be covered in warning labels to avoid choking lawsuits. France is a far less litigious nation.

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Beaches of France : Guerande and La Turballe

Part 3

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This funny instrument is called a vielle à roue, or a hurdy gurdy.

Guerande is a fortified medieval city just north of La Baule and St. Nazaire. We decided to drop by the inner city on the way home from our beach weekend to visit the original church, get some lunch, and maybe sample their Brittany wares. The region is known its heavy Breton influence, sailing culture, and coarse salt production. Today, the city is filled with artisans and their shops selling paintings and sculptures.

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Later in the afternoon, we wanted to get a look at the marais salants, salt flats, in La Turballe. Not much to see, just piles of delicious lying around.

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Oh boy! Salt!

Next to the flats, we found a parking lot with signage leading to a beach. Adding to our weekend of spontaneity, we decided to take a stroll to check it out. Fifteen minutes of marching through a forest filled with picnicking families and the beach finally came into view. On such a hot day, we were excited to finally see a natural and tranquil beach. We finally reached the top of the dunes and looked down to admire the clear water and the bay below.

The face of ignorance

The face of blissful ignorance.

Look at that view! The sand is so soft! Let’s go dip our feet in the water!

Hey that’s weird… there’s a woman swimming – naked? And there’s another guy and he’s – also naked? And those people over there… and… uh oh…

As it turns out, this particular beach was far more natural than anticipated. We had stumbled upon an unofficial naturist beach. Standing at the top of the dunes, we tried not to stare as couples, families, and groups of friends all paraded past us to enjoy their naked day at the beach. After a few moments of shocked silence and attempts at nonchalance, Max turned to me and asked:

Can we go back to the car now?

Maybe next time, Naked Beach.

Beaches of France : La Baule and Pornichet

Part 2

“The most beautiful beach in Europe”

The morning after our St. Nazaire fiasco, Max and I woke up early and drove to La Baule, a bay spanning 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in southern Brittany. The enormous and beautiful beach is covered in restaurants and “clubs”- bars for parents to relax while their children engage in camp activites. The entire bay is lined with hotels, luxury apartments, and a rambla for long strolls.

We parked in Pornichet, the low-key southern end of the beach, and walked forever to find some sandwiches and gelatto in the main shopping area. We had the beach mostly to ourselves until mid-afternoon, when people flooded into the water or posted up in one of the rental tents. We had to be on the lookout for enormous jellyfish that regularly washed up on shore, but otherwise spent the afternoon reading relaxing in the sun.

European beaches are notoriously laid back, but coming from America, it’s still surprising to see women casually spending the day topless on the beach (more on that later). In France, however, toplessness doesn’t seem to provoke any attention, positive or negative.

That evening, we avoided the crowds by returning to Pornichet for dinner (more forever walking), and enjoyed a tasty seafood dinner at Le Normandy.

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Check out the lemon juice contraption.

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