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Life’s a picnic

We must take adventures to know where we truly belong.  I am a bit of a control freak, I admit, so my way around “adventures” with three kids, is to pack a great picnic to take with us … at least lunch will be predictable!  Since moving to France nearly four months ago (eek time flies!), our way around EVERYTHING being closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays is to jump in the car and drive somewhere new.  It’s backfired once or twice, believe me.  In the middle of winter, we once drove forty minutes to greet the pouring rain in a ghost town with nowhere to take cover.  So the picnic happened in the car, right after I lost the coin toss and had to make a (very cold and wet!) dash to the boulangerie at one minute before noon.  The kids thought it was great … hubby was not so impressed and spent the next few days picking breadcrumbs out of the upholstery.

But mostly, we’ve had beautiful picnics – in front of World Heritage Listed chateaux and cités, by gushing rivers and trickling streams in tiny towns that look like they’ve almost been forgotten about, and by shiny lakes with looming mountains in the background and a smattering of nearly naked trees struggling to show off their early-Spring leaves in maroon, burnt orange and bright yellows.  We even picnicked in the courtyard of an old library-turned apartment building in a country village once, which was perfected by the smiling young mademoiselle who swished by offering “Bon appetit!” as she disappeared inside.

I feel like I may have perfected the art of packing a picnic into one bag and being able to walk out the door with three kids and a hubby in fifteen minutes flat.  I’ve learned there are two rules to make it work.  The first rule is to keep it simple. It’s not at all like hosting lunch at home.  The second rule is that people don’t eat as much as they would at the table.  The kids are more interested in the playground or their surroundings, so you can pack far less, and top them up later with an ice cream as a treat or an afternoon tea when you get home.  (As a side issue, the French really don’t do morning tea – just coffee – but they are big on their gôuter – afternoon tea).

The easiest picnic I’ve packed was when I had leftovers from my poached chicken and beetroot salad from the night before.  It filled a large Tupperware container, and it’s an all-in-one meal.  I threw in some plastic bowls and some vintage cutlery I had bought the day before for only five euros (it’s always nice to have real cutlery – real crockery is way too hard) and the bulk was done. I always have baking in the freezer and cheese in the fridge (several in fact) so they get popped in the bag with some mandarins, a baguette bought on the way, and you’re a superstar mum and caterer.  If you want to really create a memory, it’s lovely to include a bottle of bubbles and some plastic flutes.  Discard all the plasticware before you leave and it makes for a quick getaway and a no-mess cleanup.

For colder weather, prepare in advance by having soup already made in the freezer.  Take it out the night before (ha! who am I kidding … a whole day and a night before in the European winter …) and store it hot in a Thermos.  A mug of soup finished with cheese and baguette – and perhaps some olives? – is very satisfying, packs neatly and fills up tummies.

The only other trick I have used is to make up a homemade dip (usually hommus or garlic and herb dip in fromage blanc) and transport it in a jar with a screw top lid.  Cut up a stack of carrots, zucchinis, cucumber, capsicum – whatever you have on hand – into batons and you’ve got a speedy, nutritious snack.  Throw in some cured ham, don’t forget the cheese and baguette and everyone’s happy.

Being away from “home” and living a much slower paced life has allowed me to really fall in love with the simple things you notice when you get good at doing the picnic thing … nature has so much to offer, a foreign culture always has a surprise or two waiting and quality time with your nearest and dearest can turn into amazing memories when you create a reason to huddle around a rug or a weather-beaten picnic table.  Deadlines are non-existent and conversation flows easily.  Picnics are food for your tummy and food for your soul.
vineyards cows
We are always rewarded with beautiful views when we get out into the country …
and we always meet some interesting characters 🙂
puivert lake donkeys chateau maroon leaves puivert playground
On the way to Puivert Lake, we had to stop and photograph this chateau,
home to a herd of donkeys.

picnic2 cutlery vintage
Keep it simple stupid!  But there’s always room for vintage cutlery …
especially when it was only €5!

sam soccer sun
Picnics mean time to hang out with the kids …
and play around with quirky photos!

Bon appetit!

With grace and gusto,

kpx

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French women “get” fat

Kudos to Mireille Giuliano for writing a global best selling book based mainly on her opinion and personal experience. French Women Don’t Get Fat is a clever representation of how a French woman’s philosophy of food and eating keeps her trim.  It amuses me because Giuliano is french opinion personified, but I agree with her that above all, the pleasure of eating and tasting food is the most important thing.

This book and my time in France so far, has convinced me that French women “get” fat.  They understand it.  They get plenty of natural fats in their diet from the likes of duck meat, foie gras, cheese, nuts and fish.  They eat in moderation the bad fats in their glorious pastries.  When I first arrived, I couldn’t understand how they could resist the incredible displays they undoubtedly walk past everyday.  It’s very hard to avoid a peek in the windows in our local town’s four patisseries – let alone the many other boulangeries!  But after three months, I have arrived at a place where “too much ice cream” keeps me from over indulging.  Don’t get me wrong, when we entertain, we make sure we show off our local “specialties of the region” (a favourite marketing term over here) but day to day, feeling strong, healthy and bien dans ma peau (good in my skin) is more important.

I am here to tell you that the myth that “all french women are skinny and gorgeous” is simply not true.  What is true, is that I could count on one hand the number of obese people I have seen in France.  I’ve travelled to many cities in France including Lyon, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Paris, Montpellier, Nice and Narbonne, and I definitely noticed the lack of very overweight people that I had become accustomed to seeing back home in Australia.  Weird huh?

Another truth: you can sit in the main square of any town and several stunning, slim, typically french young things will walk past and you’ll marvel at their perfect red lipstick, the way their scarf matches effortlessly with their tailored look and their shoes and handbag … and their little dog.  Yes it’s mind boggling sometimes, but I simply put that down to sheer population.  France can fit inside Queensland itself and has triple the population of Australia, so of course there will be a concentration of these coquettes, right?

But let’s get back on topic … the point is that overall, French people are healthier than we are and I think Guiliano hints at the main reason why: they have a much healthier relationship with real food.  They avoid fast foods because they have so many other wonderful options.  Their rich history of gastronomie has left them with a plethora of cafes and restaurants in every city (even our local village has over eight places in which to dine, just in the main square) and a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins are available at local farmers markets every week.  And here’s the thing: it’s all very affordable.  The French social welfare system even provides “lunch cheques” for some low income earners which is literally a voucher they can redeem for a meal at a cafe.

So I shall join Guiliano and the general French population in enjoying my healthy fats in the magret du canard and Roquefort cheese.  But I will keep my head about savouring their fresh fruit and vegetables everyday and occasionally relishing a sweet pastry.
Here’s a few pics of the food and sights we’ve been enjoying lately …
A day out in Carcassonne … markets followed by a picnic with the castle as the backdrop and the river as the view in front of us.
carcassonne markets picnic 3
carcassonne bridge canal du midi
Charcuterie platters in Limoux and Bordeaux … all in the name of research 😉
charcuterie bordeaux charcuterie jambon
Plenty of home cooked goodness at the Villa …
villa home dinner oysters
A recent trip to Bordeaux left us drooling … and not only for their beautiful red wines …
winery raspberry tartsbrunch
Castelnaudry is the best place to enjoy Cassoulet, a specialty dish of the region … duck, pork sausage and beans. Done right, it’s lovely.
cassoulet
A sublime lunch enjoyed at La Domaine Gayda, one of our many local wineries.  Foie gras three ways, snapper cooked to perfection, Apple Profiteroles and coffee with madeleines by the fire …
snapper gayda coffee fire
Bon appetit!
With grace and gusto, kpx