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Friday, February 9, 2018

French Cooking Class

As I was preparing to go to France last summer, I thought about some of the things I wanted to do. Taking a French cooking class was one of them.

I had the opportunity to register for a 2-hour class in Lyon, just two blocks from where I was staying. (It's amazing to me how many things are available in this neighborhood!)

L'Atelier Gourmand offers classes for 49 euros, which includes instruction, food, facilities, tools, and a little box to bring the food you cook home.

We made filet mignon, goat cheese rosette, mango chutney, glazed carrots, rum cake. Fun to make and delicious to eat!

Goat cheese rosette as our entree
Filet mignon with glazed carrots and a mango/raisin/lime chutney side dish as our plat.

And here are the rum cakes. I shared them with the sisters I was staying with, who enjoyed them very much.

Pierre, a chef of seven years, was our instructor. Here he explains how we will cook the filet mignon.

Among the things he taught us was how to peel an onion without crying (don't cut the root). He showed us how to make a flower out of pastry, which was wrapped around the goat cheese. He also demonstrated how to grill the meat in a hot pan.

Here are my cooking buddies: Pierre and Guillaume. They really helped me get through the class, which was in French. I'd watch what they were doing.

Pierre gloats over the beautiful goat cheese rosettes.

One of the nice things about cooking class is that you get to eat what you make. The filet mignon was topped with a parsley, olive oil, coriander and lime sauce. Delicious!

Lyon -- a Mecca for French cuisine
Lyon is a center for French cuisine in part with thanks to Super Chef Paul Bocuse who was a three-star Michelin chef for the past 50 years. He died on January 20, 2018, just shy of his 92nd birthday. The city mourned his death and honored him by posting his picture on the Hôtel de Ville (city hall). All of France recognized him with cover stories of him in major magazines.

Le Bocuse d’Or, le plus grand concours culinaire du monde

Bocuse was known for the high quality of his restaurants and his innovative approaches to cuisine. A student of Eugénie Brazierhe was one of the most prominent chefs associated with the nouvelle cuisine, which is less opulent and calorific than the traditional cuisine classique, and stresses the importance of fresh ingredients of the highest quality. Paul Bocuse claimed that Henri Gault first used the term, "nouvelle cuisine" to describe food prepared by Bocuse and other top chefs for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969.

Les Halles Paul Bocuse is located on one of the major streets of Lyon. It is named in Bocuse's honor and is filled with gourmet food counters featuring cheeses, meats, fish, pastries, breads, and small restaurants. I didn't take any photos but click here to get a look at the venders on Les Halles' website.

On a building opposite Les Halles is a picture of Bocuse. At night, you can see a light show on his image. 

France worships its food, in particular, its local food. The government helps promote local food with subsidies to its farmers.

Did you know that there are as many cheeses made in France as there are days of the year?

Bocuse appeared on Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations. Click on this YouTube clip for a "taste" of what he claims is one of his greatest experiences with the show.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Choc, Choc, Chocolat!!

The French seem to be crazy about chocolate, and this is certainly one bit of culture that I took to very easily. Everywhere you go, there is chocolate.

They have chocolate stores in their cities--some of which have been around for 100 years. My favorite in Lyon was Voisine, located on the Rue de la Républic as well as Place Bellecour.

They have croissants, rolls, breads filled with chocolate at nearly every boulangerie.

They write songs about chocolate. (Actually, this one is Spanish and English because I couldn't find the French one. But it illustrates the same idea: praise of chocolate.)

The film, Chocolate takes place in a small French town where people have an ecstatic reaction after eating a single piece of chocolate. The shop also knitted the community together around chocolate. Here's the film's soundtrack.

A common gift to give someone you visit is chocolate, and it is much appreciated. Apparently, chocolate is a common holiday gift as well. At the Super U grocery story in Le Puy, the most crowded section of the store was the chocolate display where an assortment of chocolate was available in various sizes.

The French have drinks with chocolate. My favorite is chocolat chaud--hot chocolate. It is so thick and creamy that you want to scrape the bottom with your spoon to get every bit. It's a great drink whether you are alone or with someone. 

Sister Rose (at the top of this page) and I had chocolat chaud after a movie. We went to the Ikone, which is just down the street from the theatre near the Place des Terreaux. Ikone offers not only chocolat chaud but an assortment of 12 different chocolate fondue flavors for different dishes. My favorite was the fruit plate where I dipped pieces of fruit in melted hazelnut chocolate. Two Brazilian students, Felipé and Leticia, introduced me to this place, and I regret not having taken any photos. You can see the fruit plate (and other offerings) in the Ikone Facebook video below. You don't need to know French to understand what a treasure this place really is.

During my last week of school, some Colombian students took me out to a café. Of course, I had chocolat chaud, and it went down very well along with the wonderful conversation we had about the students' career plans and their gratefulness to their parents who sent them to France. One young woman plans to be an industrial engineer and the other three are majoring in design. A couple of them were in their gap year in between high school and university. It was a great opportunity to meet these women who are going to shape the future of their country!  (BTW, they all know English and are now working on their third language, French.)

The chocolate is on a stick and it melts in a hot cup of warm milk. Delicious! 

Viva le chocolat!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Rhône River

One of my great joys of living in Lyon in January and half of February was to walk along the Rhône River on my way to and from school. One section of the river was graced with platanes, the beautiful white trees planted in Lyon's parks and lining its major streets. As I walked I would prepare for class by doing practice warm ups in French. This included reading street and store signs in French, which helped me articulate the sounds as well as forcing myself to express my  thoughts in French instead of English.  

Next to the walkway among the trees is a lower walkway. Bicyclists and joggers seem to like it because it is safe from cars. On Sundays and holidays, families typically stroll here.  

The riverfront is also lined with tourist boats securely moored during the winter months. When the weather is nice, the boats offer cruises with food, music, and stunning views. 

This view of the Rhône shows the Lafayette Bridge and the 17th century buildings built on the riverfront. I crossed this bridge almost every day on my 45-minute walk to school. In the background (center-left) above the buildings is a white, castel-like structure. That's the Basilica on Fourvière Hill. It was built in 1872-84. Although it's difficult to see in this photo, to the left of the Basilica is a small chapel where Mother St. John Fontbonne used to go every day to pray for the sisters she sent to America. On my way to school I'd look up at that chapel as one of her daughters and pray to her for help with my French.

This is a view of the Rhône moving downstream toward the Confluence with the Saône. 

The city uses its two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, to make Lyon a more beautiful and welcoming gathering place for residents and tourists alike. That includes creating places for people to sit. In warmer weather, these steps are lined with people. 

The towers in the  background (left) provide lights for the swimming pool below. 

Some background on the Rhône

The Rhône's 500-mile journey begins with the Rhône glacier located near Oberwald in the Swiss Alps--altitude 7,244 feet. It flows southwest through Geneva and later through Lyon where it meets its major tributary, the Saône River. It then goes due south through Avignon and finally through Arles where it forms a delta and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. In French, the Rhône is called a fleuve because it flows into the sea. The Saône, on the other hand, is a rivière because it is a tributary and flows into a fleuve

The Rhône has been an important transportation route since the ancient Greeks and Romans. Before modern railroads and freeways, the Rhône continued to be an inland trade highway.

Traveling down the Rhône by barge would take three weeks. Now, with motorized vessels, it takes only three days.

Mouth of the Rhone

The Rhone at Night

I didn't go out much at night, but one night I did and I discovered a whole new world. The Rhône was a magnificent sight as street lights reflected on its waters. The river also seemed to be at its calmest quite a contrast to  its daytime rush downstream. And, although winter temperatures in Lyon are in the 40s, people are constantly out walking along the river. Night time is no exception. 

This photo above shows the river upstream with the Lafayette Bridge in the background. Below is a photo looking downstream at the Wilson Bridge.


Behind this riverfront is the huge pedestrian shopping center that runs several blocks along Rue de la République from the Hôtel de Ville (city hall) to Place Bellecour, one of Europe's largest open squares; it measures 15 acres! There was a Ferris wheel there and next to it a churro stand (fried dough). It seemed odd that there were not other rides, however, the wheel gave stunning views of the city along the riverfront. Maybe that was the reason it was there. It also helped me find my way whenever I need to orient myself. I could see the Ferris wheel at the end of the street where I lived.

The Rhône at Flood Stage

One day the evening news announced that avalanches were occurring in the Alps. We certainly could see their effects on the Rhône as it passed through Lyon. In these photos below, the lower walkway was flooded. City workers put up barricades to prevent people from going into these areas. Meanwhile, people stood on the bridges with their cameras to record the flooding.

With the floods came whole tree trunks bobbing downstream.  I imagined they came from the Alps. There were also things like wool hats and ski gloves floating in the river. Because the river was quite stirred up, it was also muddier than usual, and it moved much quickly. I saw whitecaps about 2 feet high! 

The parking lot along the river and under the main street was totally flooded. I estimate that the river rose 8-12 feet! Clearly, this flooding was a clear reminder that whatever happens upstream affects those places downstream!

What the Rhône Meant to Me
Walking along the Rhône each day became a highlight as well as an opportunity to observe its daily changes. Gradually, I began to relate to the river and even personify it. 

One day after nearly four weeks of French lessons, I walked home feeling frustrated and depressed wondering if I were ever going to learn the language? My speaking abilities seemed to be degenerating, and I wasn't sure how much spoken French I really understood. My reading of French had improved greatly, but I couldn't recall the words whenever I tried to use them; I only remembered that I had studied them. As I passed by the Rhône on my way home from class, I stopped and asked it to help me. There was no answer. 

I told the sisters I lived with about my asking the river for help and was surprised when they suggested that I give it some time to speak to me. That night I had dreams and awoke with a stream of ideas about learning French. The river had opened my understanding about why I was so stressed about it. As I walked along the Rhône the next day, I felt quite uplifted in the belief that the Rhône had indeed spoken to me. Then I got another answer from it as I passed the sculpture on the Bourse building. The sculpture             shows the Confluence of the Rhône and Saône as lovers: the Rhône is the man and the Saône is the woman. 

Look at the determination on the Rhône's face. He is not diverted or distracted by anyone or anything. He has to go to the sea no matter what, and he will get there at his own pace! That was the river's message to me: only unceasing determination would help me to learn French and achieve fluency. Suddenly, I became more relaxed and less stressed. I focused on how I could be more determined to learn French rather than wondering why I wasn't learning fast enough. 

Artists have oftentimes personified Nature. The ancient gods and goddesses are depictions of Nature! Artists have also personified the Rhône. Here is one by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1883-86).

My favorite, however, will always be the small sculpture outside the Bourse building on Rue de la République in Lyon. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Trip to the Local Bouchon

I had cervelle d'agneau meunière at the Tête de Lard bouchon one Friday night with some of my classmates from the Inflexyon language school. We wanted an authentic Lyonnais experience and figured the bouchon was probably the best way to get it. 

A bouchon is a traditional restaurant of Lyon. It uses animal organs from cows, ducks, pigs, and sheep to make such dishes as andouillette (sausage of intestines and/or blood), foie de veau (veal liver), tête de veau (veal head), échine de cocher (pork spine), onglet de boeuf (beef tab on the stomach), and cervelle d'agneau (sheep brains). 

My classmates and I felt that this sounded like pretty gruesome fare, but eating all parts of the animal instead of just the muscle is a testament to the French aversion to wastefulness as well as a celebration of tasty, rustic peasant food. The dishes are typically fatty given the types of meats used, and they are nowhere near the lighter and fancier haute cuisine we usually associate with French food. 

Bouchons originated in the 18th century through "the Lyon mothers." As the website, Les Bouchons Lyonnais states: 
[The mothers] were cooks from humble origins. They set up their own businesses after working for bourgeois families in Lyon. The Mothers cooked simple and refined food. They used inferior cuts as they were in the habit of not throwing anything away. 
The Lyon mothers flourished during the inter-war period. The impact of the war and the 1929 economic crisis were to change the face of Lyon’s cuisine. A lot of these cooks were dismissed from the homes where they worked. This is when they opened their own restaurants… much to our delight! Workers, celebrities and rich businessmen sat side by side at their tables, in a friendly atmosphere!

Among the most famous mothers were Mère Françoise Fillioux (1865-1925) and More Eugénie Brazier (1895-1977), dubbed the "Mother of Modern French Cooking." She was the first woman to win three Michelin stars and among her famous protegés is Paul Bocuse. Mère Fillioux also earned three Michelin stars. For more information about the mothers, check out

The Bouchons are anxious to guarantee both the quality of products and cuisine as well as the authenticity of their tradition, which includes the bouchon's welcome, ambience, and respect for Lyon's history and heritage. In 1997, Pierre Grison created the organization, L'Association de Défense des Bouchons Lyonnais (Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons), which certifies bouchons as "authentic." There are about 20 officially certified bouchons in Lyon and the Tete de Lard is among them.

Typical items in the bouchon repertoire include:
Tripe soup, pumpkin soup

Salads and cold appetizers
Chicken liver salad, pork head cheesegroins d'âne salad (literally, "donkey snout" salad), marinated herringssalade Lyonnaise (lettuce with baconcroutonsmustarddressing, and a poached egg)

Hot appetizers
gateau de volaille (chicken liver cake), boudin noir (blood sausage, usually served with warm apples)

Andouillette (pork offal sausage), assorted offal gratintablier de sapeur

Stingray, quenelles (ground fish dumplings), grilled fillets

Coq au vinpot au feu (pot roast), chicken thighs stuffed with morels

Cardoon à la moelle (in bone marrow), barbotonpailasson de Lyon

Saint-MarcellinSaint-FélicienRigotte de Condrieu

tarte praline (praline tart), lemon meringue pie, caramelized apples, bugnes de Lyon(miniature beignets)

One of the great perks of the Inflexyon school is that it provides students with the opportunity to meet other students from all over the world. My new friends here represented the countries of Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Iraq, Japan, and Thailand. I was one of the few Americans at the school, however, nearly everyone I met spoke English, which is routinely accepted as a universal language. However, during our dinner at the bouchon, we all spoke French. Our instructors would be proud of us!

At first, it was a little difficult to choose from the menu options because the dishes were so unfamiliar. In fact, we took out our cell phones to look up words that described the dishes. Once I found cervelle, however, I knew I had to have it. My Dad ate brains when he served in France during World War II, so I wanted to try them. He said they looked like cauliflower but were more tasty. My cervelle was light with a crusty finish to its soft but not mealy interior. The lemon, butter and parsley meunière sauce made it tangy. 

Meunière refers to both sauce and a method of preparation. Cooking something à la meunière requires that the meat is first dredged in seasoned flour and then sautéd in brown butter, chopped parsley, and lemon. Meunière means "miller's wife" in French, which refers to its non-elaborate rustic nature.

Since my friends and I had almost everything on the menu, we could see and taste each other's dishes. We generally found the food good and tasty and its appearance not at all what we imagined. But as one other student who had eaten at a bouchon a couple weeks before said, "In order to try the food, you have to get over the fact of what it is." As is evident in the following photos, the chef knew how to present the food to make it both appetizing and appealing.  

The bouchon once again demonstrates my contention that every food they make in France is great.

The menu board at La Tête de Lard was simple and affordable. Each plat (main dish) included a complementary appetizer of crispy pork rinds and saucisson (pork sausage). Hmmm, good!

We also received a casserole dish of au gratin potatoes to share among us.

Below are photos of my friends' dishes.

Lyonnaise salad with a soft-boiled egg to drape thick pieces of bacon and fresh lettuce.

Foie de veau persille
(calf's liver with parsley sauce)

Onglet de boeuf sauce St. Marcellin (tab of beef with a sauce made from St. Marcellin cheese mixed with cream, stock, mushrooms) 
Tête de veau (veal head) in gribiche sauce (mayonnaise-style cold hard-boiled egg yolks, mustard, and oil finished with chopped pickled cucumbers, capers, parsley, chervil and tarragon)

Échine de cocher à la crème de lard (pork spine with a sauce of cream and bacon)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Thank God for French Pop Music

Being in France has been nothing short of an exciting adventure for me. One of my most important discoveries has been French popular music. Lately I've been copying the words and singing along as we used to do in high school French class every Friday. Songs help me to practice articulating French sounds and become familiar with common phrases so that I don't have to think about them. 

My favorite vehicles to music is  Cherie radio (100.6) and the game show, "N'Oubliez Pas Les Paroles" (Don't forget the words). Learning French through music makes my heart sing (no pun intended). The music is is melodic and infectious, and I wanted to share it with you, courtesy of YouTube. They are divided by the artists (but not prioritized) with an English translation of each marked in blue. Get a taste of France's popular music and enjoy it. 

Celine Dion
(Celine Dion is French Canadian and she's been around a long time, but I've just discovered her--and, je l'adore!!) 
Je Ne Vous Oublie Pas      English

S'il Suffisait D'aimer        English 


Je joue de la musique     English  

Fondamental      English 

Fréro Delavega 

Le Chant Des Sirènes      English  

Autour de moi  English 

Kids United

On Ecrit Sur Les Murs    English

J'ai Cherché    English 


Les filles d’aujourd'hui      English

Lara Fabian 

Je T'aime        English

Je Suis Malade      English

Claudio Capéo 

Riche     English


Si t’étais là     English

La Famille Bélier - Je vole       English

Maman   English

Avenir        English

Julien Doré 

Coco Câline         English

Jean-Jacques Goldman, Sirima 

Là-bas          English

Jasmine Thompson (British)

Mad World - Tears for Fears