Category Archives: culture

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!
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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.

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)

Maillots

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

Paris Fashion Week

Fashion-Week-Paris

Paris Fashion Week starts today!

Some of my favorite looks come from French designers— Dior, Hermés, Chanel. Paris is a global fashion capital, second only to New York for ready to wear (prêt à porter) and holding the top spot for high fashion (haute couture).

In addition to stunning and sometimes crazy fashions, French women are also known around the world as having a knack for putting together amazing looks, seemingly effortlessly, with very few articles of clothing. I’ve heard that later in life, Coco Chanel had only three outfits. Trois!

COCO CHANEL

This concept is elusive to most American fashionistas. It is referred to with almost reverential awe as a “capsule wardrobe,” “five piece wardrobe” or “ten item closet.” The idea being that a handful of quality, tailored basics can combine in myriad ways to serve as a backdrop for striking one-of-a-kind accessoires to make dressing easy and classy.

This basic wardrobe has long been my style, even before I knew its affiliation with French women. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong country.

A few must-haves I’m on the lookout for this week:

le sac à main parfait… the perfect handbag

un foulard de soie… a silk scarf

une nouvelle robe noire… a new black dress

un collier bleu… a blue necklace

Need more fashion? Check out Mode á Paris‘s listings of upcoming ready-to-wear shows by your favorite designers.

J’aime la mode!

French at the Olympics

The French have long loved the Olympic Games. French is even the official language of the Olympics. Be sure to listen during the Opening Ceremony tomorrow night (7:30 EST). You’ll get to hear many country names as they are pronounced en français!

The very first Jeux Olympiques d’hiver (Winter Olympic Games) were held in France— in Chamonix, in 1924. France has hosted a total of five Olympic Games (second only to aux Etats-Unis, the United States, which has hosted eight times): 1900 Summer Olympics, in Paris; 1924 Olympics, d’hiver (winter) in Chamonix and été (summer) in Paris (just another reason why Paris was the place to be in the 20s!); 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble; and 1992 Winter Games in Albertville.

I’d say France is due to host again soon, wouldn’t you? Rumor has it they’re planning a bid for either Paris or Nice for the 2024 Summer Games. If they win, I am so there.

Here are some sporty things to say in French:

Je vais au le stade olympique.
I am going to the Olympic stadium.

Je vais pour l’équipe française.
I am going for (rooting for) the French team.

Mon sport préféré est le ski.
My favorite sport is skiing.

Son sport préféré est le patinage artistique.
His/her favorite sport is figure skating.

J’aime jouer au hockey sur glace.
I like to play ice hockey.

Il est sur les podiums.
He is a medal winner. (He is “on the podiums.” Je t’aime!)

Elle a remporté une médaille d’or.
She won a gold medal.

Il a remporté une médaille d’argent.
He won a silver medal.

20140204-130002.jpg

Andrée Joly and Pierre Brunet of France, bronze medallists in pairs figure skating in Chamonix, 1924

Ils ont remporté une médaille de bronze.
They won a bronze medal.

Que le meilleur gagne.
May the best win.