Category Archives: Holidays

Work-Life Balance France vs USA

As I watched my husband regularly working from his laptop at night and as I found myself putting in a few hours from home on Sundays, I began to wonder: why do we as Americans work so much? Here in Silicon Valley, salaries are surely higher, but this comes with living in an area with million dollar homes on every block that average people can’t afford to buy. So what are we working towards? Can money buy happiness, or is it time off that provides us with this luxury? Let’s compare numbers with our French counterparts:

Déjeuner français/French lunch break. Photo credit: todaywecook.fr

Déjeuner français/French lunch break. Photo credit: todaywecook.fr

In France, the average employee enjoys 35 hour work weeks, leisurely 1-2 hour lunches, 6 weeks of paid vacation and laws protecting employees from working after-hours or on Sundays. French women benefit from at least 16 weeks (26 weeks for a third child) paid maternity leave at 100% pay. Currently, fathers get 2 weeks paternity leave, but French president François Hollande recently pushed to move that to 6 months.

American lunch. Photo credit: abcnews.go.com

American lunch. Photo credit: abcnews.go.com

In the US, the average workweek is 47 hours, lunch is often eaten in front of the computer screen, employees are lucky to get 2 weeks off and are often expected to be available to work on nights and weekends. Except for 4 states, Americans are offered no guaranteed paid parental leave, although we do have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which provides 12 weeks unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons.

Parental Leave Around the World. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Parental Leave Around the World. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

With the French provided with more time to spend with family and friends and to relax on their own, it would seem to me that one is better off living in the Hexagon. But why this imbalance? Why is the quality of life and the balance between work and private life protected so much more in France and other European countries than it is in the US?

Les Vacances à la française/French Vacation. Photo credit: radiovl.fr

Les Vacances à la française/French Vacation. Photo credit: radiovl.fr

For one thing, there is much less worker protection in the US, with the possible exception of discrimination laws. Here, one can be hired and fired from one day to the next. In France, you have a 2 to 4 month trial period for hiring someone, and the laws on firing someone are fairly complex. As the second richest country in the world (congratulations, China), it’s clear that the US has devoted itself to the dollar at all costs.

What the US government and American companies haven’t figured out yet is that working longer hours isn’t making us more productive. US workers are often more stressed out and less healthy than our European counterparts. Without as much paid time off, parental leave, affordable childcare or worker protection laws, we Americans are left to fend for ourselves instead of benefitting from social programs and time to unwind that would help to keep us satisfied and productive both in the workplace and in life.

For more information on holiday working hours around the world, check out this article at findmyshift.com.

Qu’en pensez-vous? What do you think? Will the US ever take a hint from France that balanced workers are more productive workers?

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

French in Brooklyn Part I

When I lived in Brooklyn, I adored mon petit quartier français: my little French neighborhood nestled into Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. We enjoyed French cafés, bars and restaurants, and even heard little school children speaking French in the streets as there is a bilingual school in the area: P.S. 58 The Carroll School.

Every Bastille Day since 2006, they close off Smith street for a pétanque tournament and the French establishments serve their Frenchest food and drink. Check out Bar Tabac’s website for more information.

Recently, a French TV station mentioned ce petit coin as a francophone destination:

TV5 Monde Destination Francophonie #115: Brooklyn

Notice the yellow café in the video? That’s Provence en Boîte. While there are many French restaurants in Brooklyn, this one was my favorite. I loved this place so much my husband and I had our last breakfast there before moving to Paris. Oui, c’est un resto francais, bien sûr. We simply had to have our last café et croissant before heading to the motherland.

Here is a post, or a love letter really, that I wrote to Provence en Boîte on my old blog Le Quartier Français à Brooklyn before we left for la tour Eiffel:

“Even from the outside, it’s easy to see that Provence en Boîte has a bright character all its own. Quite literally a sunflower-yellow box plopped down on the corner of Smith and Degraw in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, this petit bistro warmly welcomes every passer-by to come in and discover the delights of Provence.

Installez-vous sur la terrasse

Installez-vous sur la terrasse!

Guests are seated at simple copper-topped tables and served water from French bottles. The golden colored walls are covered with eclectic paintings and photographs of Provence and Brooklyn, while antique French tins and bottles of Ricard and Lillet line the wooden shelves. Diners are tempted by the glass case at the center of the restaurant filled with fruit tarts, éclairs and decadent chocolate pastries. Above the pastry display sit rows of puffy croissants, glistening pains au chocolats and fresh baguettes just begging to be taken away.

As a resident of the neighborhood, I myself am drawn to this sanctuary like a moth to a lamp. Every brunch experience there is filled with fluffy egg and creamy goat cheese omelets, real French bread, rich espresso, perfectly vinegretted salad and mimosas that taste like sunlight on your tongue. I often see Jean-Jacques and Leslie, the charming French owners and executive chef (Jean-Jacques), making their rounds to the tables, saying “bonjour” and making sure that everything is delicious. Sometimes even les petits, their young children Andrea and Jacques, come around to collect the bill. Quite possibly they are in training to take over the restaurant from their parents one day.

Not one to forego new dining prospects, I noticed one evening that the yellow bistro is open for dinner as well. My boyfriend and I decided to stop in and see what was being served. Transformed for the evening with lights dimmed, a candle flickering on every table, and a track of smooth jazz playing, we found ourselves in a slightly more sophisticated version of the daytime hotspot.

Entrez!

Entrez!

That evening we were the only diners, but instead of feeling awkward it seemed as if the place had been reserved especially for us. We both ended up choosing the prix fixe menu, which was $22 for soup or salad, fish or entrée of the day, and crème brûlée for dessert.

The smooth and attentive waiter swiftly brought us our house salads with dark mixed greens and cherry tomatoes, which were to the same acidic perfection as when ordered during the day. Next for my boyfriend was the chicken special: a large thigh with crispy golden skin in a red wine reduction sauce, accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes and slices of savory portabella mushrooms. Quel paradis! On my plate sat a generous portion of thick buttery white monkfish smothered with an olive tapenade atop a chunky bed of ratatouille. The olive oil infused vegetables burst with flavor and complimented the fish superbly.

Topping off the evening with a bit of sugar, we gladly savored the vanilla custard of our home made crème brûlées down to the very last spoonful. Well, I savored. My boyfriend gobbled ravenously.

Crème brûlée. Photo credit: Foodspotting.com

Crème brûlée. Photo credit: Foodspotting.com

At the end of our lovely meal after paying our bill and saying our merci’s, I couldn’t help but notice chef Jean-Jacques sitting in the back of the restaurant watching a French drama on TV5. That evening, as he was privately enjoying a little bit of home, I hope he knew that Provence en Boîte had also brought a little bit of France to us.”

263 Smith St (at Degraw)

Brooklyn, NY 11231

Metro: F or G to Carroll St

http://www.provenceenboite.com/

What’s your favorite French place in Brooklyn?

Stay tuned for Part II!

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

French in Portland

On a recent trip to this hip, green city in the Northwest, I discovered many things French. From restaurants to art to the upcoming Bastille Day celebration, here’s how to make your stay un peu plus français:

Celebrate

Portland Bastille Day Festival with the Alliance Française de Portland

Saturday, July 11, 2015 12-6pm

Image credit: AF Portland

Image credit: AF Portland

One of the largest celebrations on the West Coast, the 13th annual Bastille Festival will be held on the Portland Art Museum grounds in conjunction with its exhibit from Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts (more information below). This free event will include music varying from accordion to opera, aerial performers providing entertainment, and children’s activities in the sculpture garden. Sip and snack on food and drink supplied by local French bakeries, cafés and bars while you peruse the marché with authentic French products and experiences on offer.

Admire

Gods and Heroes Exhibit

Portland Art Museum

1219 SW Park Avenue

June 13 – September 13, 2015

 

If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting the Louvre or had the privilege of actually going there, you’ll appreciate this exhibit from Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts “the original school of fine arts in Paris and a repository for work by Europe’s most renowned artists since the seventeenth century” which includes approximately 140 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper dating from antiquity through the nineteenth century.

The museum’s website explains the exhibit as such: “At the École, learning how to construct persuasive and powerful paintings from carefully delineated anatomy, expressive faces, and convincing architectural and landscape settings was understood to be the route to success and recognition. The ideology was rooted in the study of the idealized human form as envisioned in classical art. The exhibition features extraordinary works that served as models for the students, including ancient sculpture, a drawing by Raphael, and prints by Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt van Rijn.” During my visit, I found the competitions such as the torso drawings to be strikingly realistic.

Eat and Drink

Chez Machin

3553 SE Hawthorne Blvd

Photo credit: bunrab.com

Photo credit: bunrab.com

Opened by a Frenchman from Chartres and currently run by an American woman married to a Frenchman with 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, Chez Machin’s food is based on local and rural French cuisine. Expect to find traditional French food such as crêpes (savory and sweet), moules (mussels), boeuf bourguignon, escargots, and soupe à l’oignon. Open for brunch, lunch, dinner and drinks.

Cocotte Bistro & Bar

2930 NE Killingsworth Street

Photo credit: relevantstudios.com

Photo credit: relevantstudios.com

This is a modern Parisian-inspired bistro that uses local ingredients to fuse French with New American cuisine. Offerings include chicken liver mousse, seasonal oysters, frog legs, and gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb). For cocktails, try the French Intervention (Lillet Blanc, Mezcal, Suze, Yellow Chartreuse) or the Cocotte Old Fashioned (Basil Hayden, Angostora, Raw Sugar, Orange Peel). Open for dinner and drinks.

Le Bouchon

517 NW 14th Avenue

Photo credit: Le Bouchon

Photo credit: Le Bouchon

If you’re looking for an authentic French dining experience, look no further. Owned by a French couple with 45 years experience in “classic French cuisine with a country flare,” you’ll find traditional French fare like confit de canard, entrecôte de boeuf, and medaillons de porc demi glace (porkloin). Open for lunch and dinner.

Le Pigeon

738 E Burnside St

Photo credit: swimming.ly

Photo credit: swimming.ly

Winning Best in Class in 2014 on the Oregon Live website, you’re sure to enjoy an elegant night out at this French gem. Choose between its namesake Grilled Pigeon Breast, the beef cheek Bourguignon, or the foie-gras profiteroles. For a special occasion or just because, try the 5 or 7 courses with a wine pairing. Open for dinner.

Laugh

Portlandia Bastille Day

This post wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the fantastically bizarre show Portlandia. Here’s a clip of Fred, Carrie and their roommate frolicking French-style in The Rose Garden in celebration of le 14 juillet:

Et toi? How will you celebrate Bastille Day?

© 2015 Jessica’s Franglais

A Nautical New Year’s in Paris

My husband and I had never shucked our own oysters before. Quite frankly, I was a bit scared as the last time we ate raw seafood in France a couple years ago we both become ill. Granted, it had been during the month of August, not exactly oyster season. And it wasn’t just a dozen oysters; it was a whole platter of raw seafood. Not our best choice.

A bourgeois French woman (my English student) once explained to me with Gaulic authority that oysters are in season every month that has an “r” in it. Who was I, naïve American, to argue? This works in French and in English. Since it was the end of December/décembre, we were safe.

Our local fish shop had set up a special booth for oysters as it seems to be traditional in France to serve seafood on New Year’s Eve. We admitted to the fish mongers that it was our first time buying oysters and asked them what we were supposed to do. The guy pulled out a short smooth blade which he gestured to. That was it? He recommended getting 6 “fines claires” which seemed to be the basics, and six of a more expensive type called Gillardeau which were a bit larger. The other types he described as a bit “gras” (oily) and were more for connoisseurs. Since it was our first time, he threw in a couple for free.

Back at the apartment, my husband found a tutorial on You Tube with a chef that demonstrated how to shuck oysters. He recommended wrapping the oyster in a towel to avoid stabbing yourself with the knife. You stuck the knife into a little crevasse in the back of the oyster, then turned the knife to open it, jiggling back and forth until the shell gave. Next, you ran the knife along the ridge of the shell touching the top on the inside in order to disconnect the flesh, leaving the bottom alone. We didn’t have a special knife, just a small pointy one which did the trick but was ruined after my husband succeeded in opening all of the oysters. It was worth it.

The fines claires were salty, while the Gillardeau were smooth and a tad sweet. We gulped them down with a red wine vinegar sauce and lemon slices. Since it was New Year’s Eve, we popped a bottle of champagne to go with them. Absolutely délicieux. And we did not get sick!

Careful Oyster Shucking

Careful Oyster Shucking

Our plan later that night was to take the metro (free all night in Paris on New Year’s Eve) down to quai de la rapée on the Seine and board the old paddleboat Le Louisiane Belle for a night of dancing with friends and other internationals.

We were late. We got to the foot of the Charles de Gaulle Bridge where the boat was supposed to be docked at around 11:30 instead of 11. The boat was doing a dinner cruise until 11pm so it should have been back by then. We saw two large boats, and, since there was no signage, approached each individually, only to find that neither was the boat we were looking for. Where on earth was the Louisiane Belle?

Finally, at 11:45, the Louisiane Belle came cruising down the Seine, nearly an hour late. Sooo French. A group of us stood on the quai, impatient for the boat to dock so we could celebrate midnight with a little bit of class.

I assume the captain had been drinking because he took fifteen minutes veering back and forth to dock the boat. Or else they were stalling and wanted to punish those who only bought tickets for the party and not the dinner. My husband ended up doing a countdown on his own and yelling Bonne Année! in a pissed off tone. It was midnight, and there we were waiting on a dirty quai. Not exactly what we had paid for.

Once on the boat, I got us a couple of well earned drinks and then went to find the coordinator who was supposed to have a surprise birthday cake for my husband. While my husband was checking our coats, the rest of us gathered around a table and waited. A few minutes later, the coordinator came up with the cake, sparklers lit, singing “Happy Birthday!”

Wait!” we told him. “Not yet!” He looked a little perturbed and nearly burned himself putting out the sparklers, but he retreated and hissed at us to give him a sign next time.

Five seconds later, my husband joined us at the table and I gave the coordinator a signal. This time, everything went smoothly. He brought over the cake with the sparklers and we all sang “Happy Birthday.” My husband was surprised, and the cake was tasty: raspberry and white chocolate.

We finished our drinks up on the mezzanine and then went downstairs to the dance floor to dance the night away. No, it hadn’t been a perfect evening, but we did get to eat oysters with champagne and spend the first morning of the new year dancing on a paddleboat on the Seine. Not bad at all.

© 2015 Jessica’s Franglais

Originally posted on Pasa’s Paris blog in 2012

A Blue Christmas Part II

On Christmas day, we arrived a bit late to my host parent’s house quite tired from the previous evening of gorging. After everyone had opened their gifts and the children played with their new toys, it was time to sit around the table again. It was my host mother’s turn to showcase her Christmas meal.

Another champagne toast started things off correctly. Cheese puffs and pigs in a blanket fresh from the oven. I did not make the rookie mistake of eating too many of these although they were delicious, but the brothers devoured the contents of the tray within minutes anyway. I think they had been training for this day for a long time. It may have been a competition among the brothers to see who could eat the most.

We had our foie gras on toast of course, accompanied by smoked salmon. I got to experience the wonderful combination of crisp white wine with the foie gras again. Next was a lovely coquille Saint Jacques still in its pink shell served with a carrot and ginger purée. The flavor popped. My host mother admitted it was the first time she had made this dish, but we never would have guessed it. To my surprise, one of my host brothers sat this course out. Another one bites the dust.

LesEscargotsChristmas 2011

Next were escargots with butter and garlic. Everyone was very excited about this one except the Danish wife who very recently stopped being a vegetarian. Not surprisingly, the foie gras hadn’t been a hit with her either. My husband and I enjoyed them, although I find snails to be quite chewy.

The main course was stewed beef served with pommes de terre noisettes. After giving it my best shot, I discreetly passed my husband some of my meat but finished all of my potatoes. I passed on the cheese course as well. One of my host brothers started eating the blue Santas left over from the night before. After a short break, he was remarkably able to continue on.

The crown jewel of the meal was the bûche de noel. Two actually: one caramel and one chocolate that my host mother had of course made herself. They were excellent, with bits of crunchy granulated sugar in the frosting.

La Passerelle Victor Hugo

La Passerelle Victor Hugo

The next day a group of us went for a well needed walk in downtown Montargis. While most of the shops were closed as it was a Monday, the sun shone beautifully on the waterway that cut through the center of town. We explored small medieval streets and crossed footbridges over the water. I found out that La Passerelle Victor Hugo was even constructed by Gustave Eiffel’s team in 1891.

We soaked in the sun and the crisp light that was so often fogged over in Paris. The naked trees lining the canal looked like hands reaching towards the sky. Their shadows were long, even though it was around midday. We passed the praline boutique and the café where I had gone for a drink with my host brother and classmates on my first visit to France nearly ten years ago.

Praslines de Mazet, Montargis

We happened upon a fair where one of the little boys and one of the not so little boys went on a ride together, and then we all stopped for lunch at what I’ll call the Potato Palace, since the menu revolved around potatoes and the interior had a farm theme.

After lunch, our time had run out. We had to return to the train station and head back to Paris. We weren’t quick enough to get seats this time, but after that Christmas weekend with my host family, I hardly noticed.

What did you eat for the Christmas meal this year? Were you somewhere in France?

© Jessica’s Franglais 2014

A Blue Christmas Part I

For Christmas, I thought I would share my experience spending the holidays with my French host family when my husband and I were living in Paris back in 2011-2012. This story was originally posted on my blog Pasa’s Paris in January 2012…

We were leaving Paris for the countryside again. The plan was to spend Christmas with my French host family for the second time in my life, this time with my husband as well.

Our train tickets to Montargis had no seats marked. It made me cringe to think about having to fight for a place to sit on a crowded train, but my husband was agile enough to find a couple of empty seats and store our luggage before I even realized what was happening. A woman eventually approached and told us that they were her seats, but she and her husband had already found a couple of unreserved seats, so she told us we could stay. A Christmas gift indeed! No conductor ever came around to verify tickets, even though ours were validated and ready. Maybe the SNCF assumed that no one would risk getting on a train without a ticket at Christmas. Hopefully someone got a free ride.

My host brother picked us up from the station, and we went to the hyper-marché to pick up a few things. My husband and I gawked at all the choice, quantity and low prices available at such a grand surface. Rows and rows of wine, giant displays of cheese, every kind of meat you could think of. Living in Paris, we are used to going to the little supermarket down the street every day and only buying as many products as we can carry. Here in the countryside, you had a car that you could fill up with products, as long as you had the money. I suppressed the urge to ride the cart down an isle of wine and push all the bottles into it.

That evening, the 23rd, the feasting began. We all went over to the gîte that the oldest brother visiting from Copenhagen had rented with his Danish wife and baby son. My host mother brought over a tartiflette, a sturdy dish from the Haute-Savoie region made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, cream and lardons, salad and some delicious white wine.

The next day, Christmas Eve, I ate very little for breakfast because I knew we would be having two large meals that day. My host mother fed us all at lunchtime, and luckily in the afternoon we went on a walk to get flowers for my host mother’s sister who was having us all over for Christmas Eve dinner, or le réveillon. Someone picked out some electric blue orchids, which I thought were pretty but a bit strange.

When we arrived at my host mother’s sister’s house, I understood about the blue orchid. Everything in the house was blue: the tables, the walls, the chairs, the Christmas tree and all of the table settings were blue. Even the chocolate santas sitting at each place setting were blue. The hostess wore what looked like blue silk pajamas, blue earrings and blue glasses. She really wasn’t kidding around.

After all the kissing hello and the introductory chatting was over, we sat down at the table at around 8:30. There were about 15 people in all. Each place setting had a little photo on it to indicate whose place it was: mine was a map of California, my husband’s a picture of a computer (guess what he does for a living), and on the back was written the evening’s 6 course menu.

12_23_14ReveillonMenu2011

We started out with a champagne toast, served with “mises en bouche” (literally put in your mouth) which included cherry tomatoes, French radishes which are petite, mild and long instead of spicy and round like the ones I was used to seeing in the states, cubes of surimi (imitation crab) and cubes of flavored cheeses.

Next was the traditional foie gras on round toast, except this time it was sprinkled with a few red pepper corns. This combination of peppery and fatty, accompanied by a crisp sweet white wine, is one of the best flavor combinations I have ever tasted.

More champagne and a trio of appetizers: smoked salmon, stuffed tomato and prosciutto. At this point my host brothers started getting a bit rowdy and poking fun at each other. The Franco-Danish baby shared his cubed cheeses by passing them to everyone around the table. I turned to my husband, who was engrossed in a conversation in English with the Danish woman, and reminded him to pace himself, as we were only half way through the meal. The hostess kept refilling his champagne glass and smiling.

After a pause, we were served the plat principal: carré de veau et son accompagnement de légumes, rack of veal with a bouquet of green beans held together with a piece of prosciutto. Of course, red wine was poured into a third glass for this. I admit that I had a hard time finishing this one, although it was very tasty.

People seemed to be drunk and happy at this point. The volume increased and there was laughter all around. I couldn’t imagine more food, but there was the cheese the platter and the salad, staring at me from the middle of the table and daring me to try. I took a few leaves of salad but passed on the cheese. There was no more room.

It was now past one in the morning. Everything was hazy. I thought I was hallucinating when I heard more champagne being uncorked and dessert plates being passed around. There they were: a fruit cocktail, chocolate mousse and two different kinds of cake. For each person. I took a deep breath and managed a couple bites of the fruit and the mousse. That was it. I gave the cake discreetly to my husband. I was officially done. Amazingly, everyone around me kept eating and drinking. My host father made his way over and asked us when we were thinking of starting a family. I replied that there was already a food baby in my stomach.

Just after two thirty am my host family decided that it was time to go. I somehow got in a car and made it to bed. Before dropping us off, they reminded us that we had to be back at the host parent’s house by 11am the next day for Christmas, where we would do the whole thing over again.

To be continued…

How was your last Christmas in France?

© Jessica’s Franglais 2014