Tag Archives: France

Is the Easter Bunny French?

The origins of the Easter Bunny – that long-eared rabbit who generously leaves candy in the baskets of good boys and girls and hides brilliantly colored eggs for them to find – can be traced to Alsace, a region that is now located in France but which was for many years part of Germany.

The first written mention of the Easter Bunny came in a book by Germany’s Georg Franck von Frankenau called De Ovis Paschalibus (About Easter Eggs).

The Easter Bunny came to America in the 1700s when German immigrants came to Pennsylvania and brought with them the legend of the Osterhase, an egg-laying hare. Children made nests for the rabbit to lay colored eggs.

Eventually, the Osterhase, or Easter Bunny, began to deliver chocolate, jelly beans, and other candy and gifts.

To thank the Easter Bunny, children left out carrots to help him keep his energy up!

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French Islands in North America

You’ve heard about the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, but have you heard about the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, located off the coast of Canada at the entrance of Fortune Bay?

Amazingly, hundreds of years after France relinquished its hold over other North American territories, it maintains the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

Equally amazing is the history of the islands, which transferred back and forth between England and France several times since Europeans took notice of them in 1520. At that time, they were held by the Micmac Indian tribe.

Today, the islands are a French territory. Located close to the Grand Banks, fishing is a major industry for the residents of the islands, although many also work in the public sector.

Approximately 6,300 people live on the two islands; more than 5,700 of them live on the island of Saint-Pierre.

Since the islands are so small, there are no street names. Residents give directions using landmarks, nicknames, and people’s residences as markers.

The only time the guillatine was used in North America was on a man convicted of murder on the island of St. Pierre. The guillatine had to be shipped from France. It was never used again and is now in a museum on Saint-Pierre.

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France Celebrates Bastille Day – And So Can You!

Bastille DayJuly 14 is the annual National Day celebration in France. The date marks the one-year anniversary of the famous storming of the Bastille and the end of the French Revolution which changed France from a feudal nation governed by a monarchy to a republic. Admittedly, there were a few sketchy years when Napolean was in charge.

Many French make a distinction between July 14, 1789 and July 14, 1790. As with any political change, particularly one that resulted in bloodshed and loss of life, there were hard feelings on both sides.

In 1880, French Senate Chairman Henri Martin explained why he believed France should adopt July 14th as its National Day:

“Do not forget that behind this 14 July, where victory of the new era over the ancien régime was bought by fighting, do not forget that after the day of 14 July 1789, there was the day of 14 July 1790. … This [latter] day cannot be blamed for having shed a drop of blood, for having divided the country. It was the consecration of the unity of France. … If some of you might have scruples against the first 14 July, they certainly hold none against the second. Whatever difference which might part us, something hovers over them, it is the great images of national unity, which we all desire, for which we would all stand, willing to die if necessary.”

For most French people, these distinctions have ceased to matter. Instead, the day is about parades and parties. To help the French celebrate (after all, they did help us out a whole lot during our American Revolution), here are some ideas for a kid-friendly, French-inspired picnic.

Cheese platter – You don’t have to pick fancy, stinky cheeses in order to enjoy a cheese platter with your kids. Pick what you – and they – enjoy. Ideally, try to get a variety of different cheese textures for them to sample along with a lovely grape juice.

Salade Nicoise – She may not be French but Martha Stewart is “la dame” when it comes to an American version of the famous French salad. Here’s her recipe for salade nicoise. Definitely splurge on the bottle of white wine vinegar; it makes a lovely difference!

Crepes – I love crepes either with sugar or nutella. Here’s a basic crepe recipe from AllRecipes.com you can try.

Baguette sandwiches – Take the humble ham and cheese sandwich and put it into a delicious baguette and you’re halfway to France! This easy sandwich is super kid-friendly. For an authentic feel, add cornichons, tiny French pickles, to the sandwich with either mayonnaise or mustard.

For more articles from KidCulture about France and French food, check out these links:

Soup’s On! French Onion Soup

French Food Made Fun

French Cooking Class for Kids

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A Cookie By Any Other Name

palmiers

Photo: Real Simple

Known as palmiers in France, palmeritas in Spanish, ventaglio in Italian, and elephant ears in English, these little cookies have a devoted, global following.

It is believed that they are French in origin, where their name translates to “palm leaves.”

They are widely available in bakeries and from companies such as Goya, but they are also easy to make – so long as you don’t try to make your own puff pastry!

Here’s a recipe from Ina Garten that was posted on www.foodnetwork.com. Try it and let me know what you think.

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Hear the World

kids listening to musicLike most people, I love listening to lots of different kinds of music.

From Edith Piaf to Bob Marley to Loretta Lynn to Ali Farka Toure, I’m interested in many different voices.

I’ve succeeded in getting my son hooked (a little). He enjoys French children’s music; in fact, it’s his favorite CD to listen to in the car.

And we both enjoy a CD of African lullabies that I bought him when he was a baby. 

I’m always looking for new ways to broaden our collection and a relative recently gave us Putumayo’s  Picnic Playground with fun children’s songs from around the world.

The Putumayo World Music company and their Putumayo Kids collection is a great resource for CD’s from different countries and regions of the world. According to their website, their goal is to “introduce children to other cultures through fun, upbeat world music.” As a result, they’ve been acknowledged by the Parents’ Choice Awards and the National Parenting Publications Association. 

But you don’t have to buy a CD in order to get your child to listen to different music from around the world. YouTube has many songs from other cultures that are fun for kids. As always with YouTube, you have to monitor it carefully to ensure your child doesn’t accidentally see something inappropriate.

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It’s Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday

Mardi Gras KidThere’s a lot going on today. In addition to Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday, today is also the 100th International Women’s Day, which I’ll be posting on later today.

But Mardi Gras deserves attention all on its own.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the last day before the Christian season of Lent begins. In Lent, Christians make sacrifices, fast, pray, and try to prepare for Easter, the holiest time in their religious calendar.

So Mardi Gras is the last hurrah before the solemnity of the Lenten season. And some people really do make the most of it.

In Brazil, Carnivale has a world-famous reputation as an all-out extravaganza.

In the United States, New Orleans pretty much holds the title for most festive Mardi Gras destination.

The celebrations can get wild – but there are some family-friendly traditions that anyone can adopt.

King CakeOne of the most fun is King Cake. King Cake is not only eaten during Mardi Gras, but it is also a popular food during the Christmas holidays in places such as France, Belgium, Portugal, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Switzerland, and Spain.

Inside the cake is a tiny figure of a baby, meant to be the baby Jesus. Whoever finds the figure in his or her piece of cake earns the right to buy next year’s King Cake (I like this tradition!).

In addition to King Cake, parades are a common activity at Mardi Gras festivities. You can organize a mini-parade with your family either inside or outside (depending on how frigid it is where you live). Dress up in masks and pile on every piece of funny clothing, jewelry, or decoration you can find.

Mardi Gras beadsIf you’ve got beads, flaunt them! Mardi Gras beads are traditionally distributed during parades. These plastic beads, usually found in purple, green, and gold, are fun treasures for kids to collect. You can give out beads according to your own idea of a good time. Encourage your children to compliment each other or do nice things for other friends or family members in order to earn the beads. You can keep the fun going long after Mardi Gras.

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The New Year’s Bon Appetit

Bon Appetit – or good appetite – is the traditional way the French encourage each other to enjoy their meal.

On New Year’s, this expression has an added significance as families in France gather at the table to share a celebratory meal to welcome the new year.

You can mimic this idea not with a fancy French menu for your children (unless they like that sort of thing) but by soliciting their input in putting together a menu for a feast for the family.

They may also enjoy making suggestions for the guest list. There’s no reason not to include the people who mean the most to you on the final night of the year.

In my house, my son’s guest list would be extensive but his menu would be straight off the plate of a college kid: spicy chicken wings, pizza, popcorn, and maybe some carrots if I beg him to include a vegetable.

If your child is like mine, don’t worry about incorporating ALL their suggestions – just serve one or two special dishes that make them feel part of the planning.

Besides, the best part of celebrating the new year is being with the people you love most in the world. So it doesn’t matter if you make your toast at midnight with champagne or 9 o’clock with cranberry juice, either way you’re sure to have a memorable New Year’s celebration.

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Cookies 15: Macaroons

macaroonsThis famous French pastry actually originated in an Italian monastery where – it is believed – their shape was modeled on the monks’ belly buttons!

Macaroons came to France in the 16th century when Catherine de Medici married Henri II.

Try this royal – and religious – treat via Martha Stewart’s recipe.

Macaroons

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar

1 cup (4 ounces) finely ground sliced, blanched almonds

6 tablespoons fresh egg whites (from about 3 extra-large eggs)

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions

To make the macaroons: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioners’ sugar and ground almonds. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar. Continue to whip until stiff glossy peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the confectioners’ sugar mixture until completely incorporated.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch #4 round tip, and fill with batter. Pipe 1-inch disks onto prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between cookies. The batter will spread a little. Let stand at room temperature until dry, and a soft skin forms on the tops of the macaroons and the shiny surface turns dull, about 15 minutes.

Bake, with the door of the oven slightly ajar, until the surface of the macaroons is completely dry, about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet to a wire rack and let the macaroons cool completely on the baking sheet. Gently peel off the parchment. Their tops are easily crushed, so take care when removing the macaroons from the parchment. Use immediately or store in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

To fill the macaroons: Fill a pastry bag with the filling. Turn macaroons so their flat bottoms face up. On half of them, pipe about 1 teaspoon filling. Sandwich these with the remaining macaroons, flat-side down, pressing slightly to spread the filling to the edges. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Variations: To make coffee-flavored macaroons: In step 1, add 2 drops brown food coloring to the egg whites after they are whipped. In step 4, blend 1/2 cup macaroon filling with 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder dissolved in 1/2 teaspoon warm water for the filling. To make cassis-flavored macaroons: In step 1, add 2 drops purple food coloring to the egg whites after they are whipped. In step 4, use 1/3 cup good-quality cassis jam for the filling. To make pistachio-flavored macaroons: In step 1, add 2 drops green food coloring to the egg whites after they are whipped. In step 4, combine 1/2 cup macaroon filling with 1 tablespoon pistachio paste for the filling.

Macaroon Filling

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

Directions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk egg whites and sugar. Set mixer bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat mixture, whisking often, until it feels warm to the touch and sugar is dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer bowl to the mixer, and fit with the whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until mixture is stiff and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes. Add butter, one piece at a time, and continue mixing until butter is thoroughly incorporated. The filling can be kept, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before stirring.
  3. Variations: To make hazelnut-honey filling: In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of macaroon filling with 1/3 cup finely ground hazelnuts and 2 tablespoons good-quality honey.

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French Food Made Fun

French food has always struck me as the belle-mere (mother-in-law) of cuisine.

Like a mother-in-law, she has her own, iron-clad way of doing things; she is a little disdainful of time-saving tricks; she is convinced that old-fashioned hard work is good for everyone; she insists that you try everything – even aspic and bone marrow – and dares to look triumphant when you admit that it’s good.

She is challenging; she forces you to acquire new skills and step outside your comfort zone; and – if you succeed – she ultimately rewards you.

I’m not a French chef and I don’t aspire to be one.

I’m a home cook drawn to exotic foods from around the world. I live for blow-your-head-off spiciness. I’m undisciplined and a little lazy. I like near-instant gratification. Although I enjoy watching Julia and Jacques and reading their books, I never cook their recipes. I learned from Julie Powell’s lesson – I don’t need to live it.

But still, when I had a chance to take a French cooking class (one night only!) I thought the belle-mere and I should get to know each other a little bit better.

Although I can’t pretend to have really cooked any of these dishes, I did enjoy watching the real chefs pull it together. And – armed with lots of information on how to “cheat” my way to close-enough, I might even prepare some of these dishes on my own.

The sous-chefs pry the chestnut meat from the shell

Chestnut Soup with Madeira

I’ve never really eaten chestnuts before. Sure, I sing the song during Christmas but that’s about it. So my expectations were pretty low when I saw this soup on our to-do list.

The other students and I watched as the sous-chefs painstakingly picked apart roasted chestnuts to get enough for soup for 25.

As they slit into the shiny (and slippery) roasted chestnuts with extremely sharp knives, I closely examined the cut I had earned just a few days before trying to slice open an English muffin.

I knew – no matter how fantastic this soup was, and it was fantastic – that I would never prepare it myself. I just don’t have good enough insurance (or hand-eye coordination). But the chef assured me that frozen chestnuts or canned chestnuts would produce roughly the same result.

My own little cup of yum

Salade Nicoise

I really like Salade Nicoise and I have to say I was embarrassingly excited to make the vinaigrette for this dish. I would definitely make this for my family.

Coq au Vin

This classic dish was delicious and looked relatively easy to make (on the French scale, at least). I really loved the mushrooms and pearl onions we sauteed in bacon fat as a side dish.

Pot au Feu

As good as it was, I will not be making pot au feu for the next big family get-together. Too many “interesting” ingredients such as bones and oxtail. But I would definitely order it in a restaurant!

Fig Clafoutis

After this feast, who would still have room for dessert? It turns out, I did. By the way, I think Clafoutis would be a great name for a child of a celebrity.

By the end of the night I had reached an agreement with the belle-mere. All that was left was the bon digestion!

 

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Cinco de Mayo

Although it’s not one of Mexico’s official federal holidays, Cinco de Mayo is growing in popularity as an opportunity for Mexicans and particularly Mexican-Americans to celebrate their cultural heritage.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Pueblo in 1862 when Mexican forces won an important victory against the French who had invaded the country in an attempt to get Mexico to continue making payments on a debt.

Although France eventually occupied Mexico and even named an emperor, Maximilian I, they did not hold the country for long.

It is believed that Cinco de Mayo first began as a symbol of Mexican resistance to the French occupation.

Today, most people celebrate with food, music, and dancing.

Here’s a recipe for you to enjoy – it’s a summer favorite for my family and me. Vamos a comer!

Corn and Black Bean Salad (also can be served with tortilla chips)

1 can yellow corn

1 can black beans

1/2 medium onion, minced

1/2 green bell pepper, minced

1/2 red pepper, minced

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. garlic powder (or use 1 clove of garlic, finely minced)

1 tbsp. lime juice

Cilantro (for garnish)

1/4 tsp. chili powder (optional)

Open the cans of corn and black beans and rinse in a colander. Drain well and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Can be served immediately or for richer flavor, allow to marinate well before serving. Can be served over lettuce, with rice, or tortilla chips.

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