Tag Archives: French

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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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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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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Christmas Carol Redux

I know you’ve been humming along to Christmas songs as you bound through the grocery and department stores trying to make a holiday happen.

But what do those songs mean? Here’s some vintage KidCulture posts (from last Christmas) explaining some of my favorite carols. Let me know if it clears up the mysteries for you.

12 Days of Confusing – and International – Christmas Carols

I have loved to sing Christmas carols since I was a little kid but I confess a few songs have always mystified me.  I’ve done a little research to explain some of the more perplexing lyrics.  Along the way, I’ve also learned a lot about Christmas carols and their origins.  Starting tomorrow, I will help clarify one carol – or lyric – each day as we countdown to Christmas on December 25.

Day One:  What in the World is Wassailing?

Wassail can actually mean a toast, a revel, or a hot, spiced punch.  It hails from an Old English phrase:  “waes hael” which means “be well.”  The lord of the manor would offer this toast and the crowd would reply, “drink and be healthy.”

Day Two:  Bring on That Figgy Pudding

“We Wish You A Merry Christmas” was always an interesting carol in my opinion.  In what other carol is there such a blatant demand for a treat?  But what really perplexed me was the demand for figgy pudding, particularly after I saw a picture of it.  Read the song and see for yourself.

Day Three:  Troll the Ancient Yuletide Carol

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s quite a mental picture, but unfortunately it’s incorrect.  This lyric comes from “Deck the Halls” and is pretty popular during the Christmas season.

Day Four:  Play That Pagan Music

In my research on Christmas carols, it’s been interesting to discover what an influence pagan – or pre-Christian – traditions had on the music we know and enjoy today.  I’ve already written about the pre-Christian influence on “Deck the Halls” but it turns out that all Christmas carols derive from the pre-Christian tradition of a ring-dance, which were festive dances with singing and musical instruments.

Day Five:  Latin Yule

I admit, I feel pretty cool when I sing Christmas carols in other languages – like I’ve accomplished something!  “Adeste Fideles” is one of my favorites and not just because it’s in Latin.

Day Six:  Les Chansons de Noël

Although it is not religious, “Petit Papa Noël” or “Little Santa Claus,” is the most popular carol in France.  Here is the first verse and a translation.

Day Seven:  Silent Night Around the World

Did you know that “Silent Night,” which was written in German as “Stille Nacht” has been translated into more than 300 languages, including Swahili and Maori?  Check it out here.

Day Eight:  Kangaroo Carols

Can you imagine celebrating Christmas during the summer?  That would make it kind of hard to really enjoy singing “Winter Wonderland,” wouldn’t it?

Australians have adapted the holiday to suit their climate.  Here’s the Australian version of “Jingle Bells.”

Day Nine:  Three Ships Stump Me

I admit it, “I Saw Three Ships” has me stumped.  Try as I might, I could not find anyone who knew what this song was about.  To the best of my knowledge, it’s a British song from the Victorian era and that’s the best I could do.  If you know, feel free to chime in!

Day Ten:  Grooving With a Bohemian King

Turns out good King Wenceslas was a pretty cool guy.  He was the King of Bohemia, which today is the Czech Republic.  Raised by his grandmother, a devout Christian, he became king after overthrowing his mother who was acting as regent for Wenceslas because he was underage.

Day Eleven:  Kings on a Mission

I never really connected with the story of the three kings, or magi, until I began to travel outside the United States.  When you consider how difficult it is to travel – even in the 21st century – I  think it gives you a greater appreciation for the three kings who made the journey to Bethlehem all those years ago.  And if you have ever ridden a camel for longer than 15 minutes you will have even more respect for them!

Day Twelve:  The Big One

That’s right, today I will tackle the big one:  “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  This song has always bothered me – who would want all that crazy stuff and why would anyone give their true love all those birds?

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How Do You Say That Again?

It happens to us all.

You’re all proud of the language skills you acquired during your three years of high school Spanish or semester studying abroad in France or even two years in a village in Africa, and the poof – you forget how to spell “read” in Spanish or conjugate the verb “to smell” in French.

You fear you’ve lost your language cred and instead of welcoming the chance to speak to people in another language, you pretend to have a sore throat or a headache.

Just a hint, people see right through that.

You also can’t use the excuse that “I keep melanging my English and French” or “Yo no creo que yo puedo hablar anymore.”

So how can you cheat your way back to some semblance of language proficiency? Because let’s face it: you have too many responsibilities to consider jetting back to Africa or Nice or high school.

Here are some free and easy ways to get back in the game.

Online Translators
If you’ve seriously never mastered a language, don’t try this trick. Without a basis in the language, you’re apt to translate your words and phrases into the clunkiest most nonsensical violations of language – all language – known to humanity.

But if you’re familiar with the language, this can help jump-start your brain when you just can’t remember the word for “peach” in Spanish (hint: melocotón according to Google Translate and Yahoo! Babelfish.)

Youtube

I did a simple search on www.youtube.com for “speak Spanish” and came up with this video. There are many, many more like it. One caution – as with all Youtube videos, be careful about reading, or allowing children to read, any comments on any of the videos. Some people don’t have any sense in any language.

iTunes Podcasts

If you have an ITunes account, just go to the online store, click on podcasts, and click on “Language Learning” on the far right side of the screen. Then just take your pick.

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If You Put It On the Bookshelf . . .

Eventually, they will read it.

Tonight, my son chose – of his own volition, I swear – a French book a friend bought for him when he was born.

It only took him 6 years to find it and pull it off the shelf and demand that I read it – first in French and then roughly translated into English.

So I guess what I’ve learned is that it’s okay to passively introduce some things to a child and trust that he or she will reach out for them when they’re ready.

And it also helps that I forgot about the book or else I probably would have suggested it as often as Quiero a Mi Mama Porque . . . and our Spanish-language selection of Dora and Diego books, thereby rendering it the equivalent of kid kryptonite.

Live and learn.

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A Culture Double-Standard

When people find out that I am encouraging my son to be multi-lingual (so far, English, French and hopefully Spanish), they usually applaud my efforts.  They don’t know how successful (or unsuccessful) I might be in actually accomplishing my goal, but they typically quote statistics about how children are more likely to master a language if they are exposed to it early in life.  They might also point to studies that show mastery of another language actually improves students’ performance in English.  

That is why I am always surprised – and disappointed – to hear people express negative opinions on families who speak Spanish at home.  Instead of applauding their efforts (the way mine are), people condemn them.  I won’t pretend to be an expert on why this double-standard exists but I am hopeful that the more we think about – and draw attention – to these double standards, the better our chances of eradicating them entirely.

OK, off my soapbox now.images

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Smarter Kids

Think about it.  While we’re working so hard to give our children the best education possible, are we actually painting ourselves into a corner?  That’s the throught that sprang to mind when I read this USA Today article about foreign language programs for kids.  Although it was originally published in 2007, it’s still relevant  today. 

Just take this quote, for example:  “I’m smarter than my father. He can only speak one language.”

I think we can all agree that this would be a great problem to have.  So far, I have been unable to interest my son in learning either French (which his father and I speak) or Spanish (which I studied in school and is the kid “cool” language of Sesame Street, Dora, and Diego).  I’m still working on piquing his interest but I’m confident that once I get him there, the rewards of raising “smarter” kids will be clear.

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