Sunday, September 26, 2010


Local agricultural fairs are important events in France, a country where one of the most famous sayings  is: "Pâturage et labourage sont les deux mamelles de la France." 

Type that into the Google linguistics tool and out will pop a non-literal translation: "Tilling and grazing are the two mainstays of France."

That sounds less titillating than a word-for-word rendition and reminds me of my high school French teacher who used to insist that we not translate French literally. Having to translate "Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid" (little by little the bird builds its nest) as "Rome wasn't built in a day," always left me vexed. Although he had a point, so much can get lost in translation, especially getting-into-a-culture's-mind-set metaphors.

It was Henri IV's brillant finance minister, Sully (1559-1641), who first pronounced the often-cited phrase which reads in its complete form, "Pâturage et labourage sont les deux mamelles dont la France est alimentée, les vraies mines et trésors du Pérou.

Realizing the importance of agriculture to the wealth and power of France, Sully adopted numerous measures to improve conditions for farmers. Thanks to him livestock and farm tools could no longer be seized for payment of debts, new roads were built and others repaired, canals were constructed, communications improved, free-trading of grains was established and numerous tolls abolished between provinces to facilitate agricultural commerce.
A foresighted individual.

Vocabulary lesson

le pâturage:  grazing, pasturage
le labourage:  tilling, plowing
la mamelle:  teat, breast

Text & photo ©2010 P.B.Lecron

Friday, September 24, 2010


A week on the water

My daughter came home from her new legal internship in Paris the other day delighted that there was another Franco-American intern at the law firm, just like herself. The girls, after comparing notes, realized they had alot in common. "Maman," Marianne exclaimed, "Her mother even has the same cookbooks as you... Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, Julia Childs...!"

 I sometimes tease my daughter  saying--with due reverence--that if anything were ever to happen to me, my really good recipes were all to be found in those three books. I'd add one more to that list, a handy volume of south of France favorites, A Week on the Water, Fandango & Tango Cuisine Scrapbook.

It's a charming compilation of menus and recipes served during a week on board two boutique hotel barges, The Tango and The Fandango. Full of souvenirs, this scrapbook of delicious recipes includes photos, sketches, wine selections and napkin folding instructions, and is as fun and easy to read as its recipes are to prepare.

These are tried and true specialties made over years of canal and river cruising by barge owners and head chefs, Hazel Young and son, Daniel.  Hazel, one of the most well-known and respected hotel barge operators in France, authored the cookbook to satisfy guests who repeatedly asked for the recipes of gourmet meals served on board.

From how to reduce balsamic vinegar or make an aïoli mayonnaise, to sautée chicken in wine sauce Languedoc style or prepare ravioli stuffed with winter squash, this culinary treasure trove will tempt you with a wide variety of easy to execute recipes you'll want to prepare again and again.

All measurements are converted from metric to standard American, and certain ingredients explained. The book even has a section on weekly preparations to make in advance, butter decorations and famous homemade soups from all over France. What more could you ask?

A Week on the Water, ideally suited to the American cook experimenting with French cooking, can be purchased by mail or downloaded online:     Don't miss learning about the hotel barges, The Tango and The Fandango, on this site, either!

 Text ©2010 P.B.Lecron


Hot chocolate fountain in Brussels, Belgium confiserie.

Add miam-miam to your French language survival book.  

              In Castillan: ñam-ñam
              In Catalan: nyam-nyam

Text & photos ©2010 P.B.Lecron

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


When a bright, French
 five-year-old was the first to finish his coloring assignment in my English class, he chirped, "I've finished!"  

I gave him a bon point which in turn incited the other children to tweet, too.  Except "I've finished!" morphed into "I'm spinached."  It was trop mignon, or in familiar French,  trognon.

"I'm spinached." Br'er Rabbit dining at Catherine de Médicis' table couldn't have said it better. 

The sixteenth-century Florentine queen of France and wife of Henri II loved spinach so much that she insisted it be served at every meal. . . hence the French denomination "Florentine" for dishes made with spinach.

Something to write home about...

A big player in the frozen vegetable market in France has come up with a new way to freeze spinach so that the leaves are "preserved."

They're layered one upon another in neat stacks before quick-freezing. I was skeptical that this innovative, tender-loving care would really make a difference in taste, color and presentation of frozen spinach, but it does. 

The individual portions are heated on each side for a minute and a half in a lightly oiled skillet to render especially pretty and savory whole spinach leaves. Amazing. Practical.

©2010 P.B.Lecron


Alexander Dumas not only swept his public off its feet with his swirling adventures of  The Three Musketeers and the dark intrigues of The Count of Monte-Cristo, he also dazzled his contemporaries with the construction of an opulent château and park that would be, for a moment, his heaven on earth. Built on a hill between Versailles and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the château is a testament to the literary lion's legendary extravagance.

It was here in this elegant talk-of-the-town château that Dumas lavishly received a steady stream of guests, opening his doors to any and all.  

A gem of neo-Renaissance architecture, the small château is flanked by two turrets with cupulas each bearing a graceful "AD" monogram. Dumas himself  selected the motifs that adorn the façades:  angels, flowers, musical instruments, griffons and arms. 

Portraits of great writers sculpted in medallions decorate the window pediments; effigies of Virgil, Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, Chateaubriand, Sophocles, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Racine, Byron, Goethe, Victor Hugo, Corneille and Molière form Dumas' personal panthéon. 

When journalist and novelist Léon Gozlan noticed that Dumas' own portrait was not among them he asked, "And you, my good friend, you're not there?"

"Me, I'll be inside," he replied. Later Dumas did place his own effigy above the front entrance so that his face, carved in stone, would smile down at those on his doorstep. 

Because his father was the natural son of a black slave and a French aristocrat, Dumas had the coat of arms of the Davy de la Paillèterie family sculpted on the lintel, to which he added his own motto, "J'aime qui m'aime." (I love who loves me.)

The entire domain reflects the romantic ideal of the era, from the garden of winding alleys, cascades and hidden caves up to the rooftop where the weather vanes bear the poetic inscriptions: "Au vent la flamme!"  (To the wind the flame!) and "Au Seigneur l'ame! (To the Lord the soul!)

If it were locals who christened the domain the "Château de Monte-Cristo,"  it was Dumas who named a second smaller building on the property the "Château d'If" after the sinister prison in The Count of Monte-Cristo. Other than its name, it has nothing in common with the hell-hole where Edmond Dantès languished for fourteen years. 

A masterpiece of picturesque architecture, the tiny two story pavilion with only one room on each floor, sits on a small moated island. This is troubadour style at its best, a liberal and eclectic interpretation of Gothic architecture that was fashionable at the time.

The Château d'If is a 
blend of diverse architectural elements: Gothic ogives, rosaces and moldings, Swiss-chalet style decorative wood banding, and rustic Normandy half-timbering. 

It's façades read like a Dumas bibliography--titles of 88 of his works are engraved in stones interspersed with bas-reliefs of characters from his works.

 A foot-bridge that crosses the shallow moat and a stone sculpture of a dog in a doghouse with the latin inscription "cave canem" (beware of dog) heighten the minature bastion's resemblance to a stage decor.

Dumas, seeking a quiet place to work, set up his writing table here, away from the crowd of friends and strangers taking advantage of his hospitality in his main house. The days of heaven on earth are never long. By 1847 Dumas was deeply in debt;  unbridled spending and living like a nabob took their toll. In 1848 he was forced to sell his furniture; in 1849 his entire domain was sold at auction for one-seventh of its cost.

In 1969 the château, in an extreme state of disrepair, was rescued from demolition when three surrounding towns leagued together to purchase and restore the domain. After thirty years of hard work by dedicated modern-day musketeers, Monte-Cristo was given back its original sparkle.

Classified as an historic monument and open to visitors:

To read more about Château de Monte-Cristo and the Alexandre Dumas' tumultuous life, subscribe to and see my article published at

Text & Photos ©2010 P.B.Lecron

Click on individual photos to enlarge them.

Monday, September 20, 2010


August and September is harvest time for one more
of the haut de gamme French potatoes, the
Pompadour. It's cultivation is difficult and its
production limited, so buy it while it lasts!  

Ennobled with the Label Rouge, a trusted gallic
mark of quality, and named for Louis XV's favorite
mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, this potato
has a buttery extra-comfort-food taste.  Just one
bite and you feel everything is right with the

A hybrid created in 1992, the Pompadour is a cross
between the Roseval, a hardy red-skinned potato, 
and an ordinary rustic potato, the BF15.  The 
marriage resulted in a fragil tuber--a labor of love 
to grow--but one that tasted oh, so good. So good 
that four agricultural producers in the Picardie 
region formed an association to promote this 
exceptional potato that holds its form when cooked 
but magically melts in your mouth when eaten. The  
ideal potato to accompany sole meunière

For a detailed take in French on the production of 
this choice potato, check out a website maintained
by the four exclusive Pompadour producers:

Text & photo ©2010 P.B.Lecron