Poisson d’avril

The origins of April Fools’ Day are uncertain, but one theory is that it began in 1852, when France adopted the Gregorian calendar. Before this time, New Year’s Day fell on March 25 rather than January 1. Those who continued to celebrate the old New Year at the beginning of April were called “fools” by their early adopting contemporaries.

Even before this transition, the New Year had long been associated with the term “fool.” In medieval France, the Feast of Fools fell on January 1. At this popular festival hijinks abounded: Christian ritual was burlesquely imitated, a fake pope was elected, and high and low officials swapped jobs for a day. Feast of Fools was likely modeled after the similarly themed pagan festival Saturnalia.

As this French tradition died out during the 16th century, a new one sprung up in the form of April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day. In France, the fooled party is called the poisson d’avril, which literally means “April fish.” The customary prank involves pinning a paper fish, also called the poisson d’avril, to a friend’s back.

~ from the Dictionary.com Blog

Phrases to know for le premier avril:

  • I’m joking. = Je plaisante.
  • We are having a lot of fun. = Nous nous amusons beaucoup.
  • That’s funny. = C’est drôle.
  • You got me! = Touché!

Bonne Femme

Bonne Femme CookbookBonne femme: literally translated as “good wife” but according to the The Bonne Femme Cookbook, the term has nothing to do with gender. It refers to the art of French home cooking, and can be accomplished by chats et chattes alike.

We’ve tried a few recipes and even though I cannot attest to the authenticity (someday when I actually get to live in France, I’ll let you know!), the food is délicieux.

When we were first married, Monsieur Chat acquired an Italian cookbook simply titled, “Pasta.” From it, we learned basic techniques for preparing simple yet lavish, company-worthy Italian dishes. There are certain cooking methods, herbs and ingredient combinations necessary to Italian cooking, and once we knew them, we were able to create beautiful, tasty dishes on the fly.

Now we are doing the same with French cooking, using The Bonne Femme Cookbook as our guide to the distinctively French braising and sautéing methods, herbs and ingredients.

If you happen upon this book, don’t hesitate to try the Chicken Fricassée, Le Poisson Meuniére, Green Beans Persillade, or Beef Stew with Orange and Balsamic Vinegar. Kir is a lovely drink to sip while you sauté un oignon and peruse the possibilities. And if you’re as all-in as I am, you’ll want to buy some herbes de Provence and start growing chervil on your kitchen window sill.

We’ll be trying one of the lovely puff pastry recipes later this week. Merveilleux!

Bon appetit, mes amis.

Je suis malade

I feel sick. Maybe talking about it in French will make me feel better.

J’ai un mal à la tête. I have a headache.
Je suis fatigué. I’m tired.
J’ai froid. I’m cold.*

Elle a un rhume. She has a cold.
Elle a un nez qui coule. She has a runny nose.
Elle a le vertige. She is dizzy.

Il a la grippe. He has the flu.
Il a de la fièvre. He has a fever.
Il a chaud. He is hot.*

Tu te sens bien? Do you feel well?

*In English, we say I AM or he/she IS – forms of the verb “to be.” In French, the verb is avoir – “to have” – literally translated “I have (a feeling of) cold” or “He has hot.”

Mardi Gras

Happy Fat Tuesday, mes amis.

As we get ready to give up our delicacies tomorrow for forty days of Lent, it’s only fitting that today should be a day of debauchery and pigging out. In Nice, they’re celebrating the end of a days-long festival called Carnaval de Roi de la Gastronomie (King of Gastronomy Carnival). So yeah, it’s about food.

Mardi Gras in Nice, France.

Mardi Gras celebration in Nice, France. So much color!

In the US, the festivities happen way down in La Nouvelle-Orléans, Louisiana, our most French city, and nothing much happens around us. Apparently we live in Polish country — the big splurge here is paczkis.

So we do our own thing here at Maison Chat, making a plat mijoté from the lovely Bonne Femme Cookbook by Wini Moranville. It’s a beef stew flavored with l’orange et le vinaigre balsamique. The sauce calls for en peu de vin rouge (red wine), jus d’orange (orange juice) and Grand Marnier liqueur. So naturally, we made drinks.

And hopefully for dessert, cafe au lait et beignets. Because after all that rich beef and wine, we’ll need to settle our stomachs with coffee and fried dough.

Bon appetit, fêtards!

Trés á la mode

I’ve skipped all the way to page 258 in my French textbook to become au fait with some words for clothing, and it’s got my knickers in a knot.

Some, thankfully, are cognates. Dieu merci! Remember their gender and we’re golden:

un pantalon = pants
un jean
= jeans
des sandales
= sandals
des bottes
= boots
des tennis
= tennis shoes (sneakers)
un polo
= a polo shirt
une veste
= a vest
un sweat
= a sweatshirt
un tee shirt
un short

Others make very good sense, so they, too, are easy to learn:

un pull = a pullover (sweater/jumper)
un manteau
= a coat, i.e., old English “mantle”
une robe
= a dress
une ceinture = a belt (who doesn’t want a cinched in waist?)
une cravate = a tie (we English speakers think of a specific kind of tie as a cravat)
un maillot de bain = a swimsuit (we use maillot to refer to one-piece ladies’ swimsuits; the french term is more general and includes men’s trunks)


Some words are just plain cute:

des chaussettes = socks
des chaussures
= shoes
des lunettes
= glasses (little moons?)
des lunettes de soleil
= sunglasses (little moons that block the sun)

And some are crazy mixed up:

une chemise (feminine) = a men’s shirt
un chemisier (masculine)
= a ladies’ blouse
un blouson
= a jacket for either men or women