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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

le 28 février 2002
Uzès, France

February: The season for crêpes
Février: La saison
des crêpes
Imagine our surprise this month when we were informed, not once but twice, “il faut manger des crêpes! C’est traditionnel! – you’re not having crêpes? But you must, it’s traditional!” What is this tradition?
     To start, 40 days after Christmas marks the feast of the Chandeleur, a Roman Catholic celebration of candles for the presentation of Christ and for the purification of the Virgin Mary. Crêpes have been served for this occasion for centuries, with origins from Celtic and Roman rites which became part of Jewish and Christian tradition. In fact, the fête of the chandeleur marks the beginning of the crêpe season across France and Northern Europe, continuing through the month of February, through the carnavale season and ending with Mardi Gras. On Fat Tuesday, the last day to celebrate, eat meat and generally “let loose” before Lent begins, a serving of crêpes is de rigueur as well, and in fact those tasty New Orleans beignets have their origins in this tradition. So twice this month we’ve eaten our crêpes, once as dessert with a bit of butter and jam, once as dinner with a chicken and mushroom sauce. Both delicious, and the crepes themselves very simple to make.
     But back to the Chandeleur, which falls on the 2nd of February…that’s the same date as Groundhog Day in North America, when the groundhog decides by his shadow whether winter will continue for six more weeks. There is no fat and furry marmotte in the French tradition. Rather, crêpes are the symbol of winter’s hold on the land, these pastry solar discs that invite the sun’s warmth back for the upcoming spring. Mighty yummy way to bring in the shortest long month of the year!



Faire les crêpes:
C'est simple, c'est bon,
c'est traditionnel!

1/2 pound of flour
pinch of salt
3 tbsps of butter
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 pint  of milk
1 cup of cold water

Put the flour into a mixing bowl, make a well in the center, add the salt, the eggs, the melted butter, and the water into the well. Mix these ingredients together until smooth, then slowly incorporate the milk, a ladle at a time at first, until it has all come together in a nice, creamy batter. Let the batter rest for at least one hour, 2-3 is even better, and overnight works as well.

Heat a flat, teflon-coated frying pan (or crepe pan if you have one) to a good, hot temperature. Put just a very, very thin swipe of vegetable oil over the pan surface. Take one ladle of the batter, swirl it as evenly as possible into the pan, covering the entire surface. The thinner the crêpe the better, so go easy on the amount (these aren't pancakes!). The hotter the pan the better, so keep the flame turned up under the pan. Watch, listen...the crêpe will take on bubbles. Lift up an edge, look for a golden color, then flip it over. And don't be alarmed if the first crêpe isn't perfect...that's normal. Keep the crêpes between two warmed plates while you prepare more.

Serve with jam, crème anglaise, fresh fruits, or your favorite chocolate or caramel sauce. Voilà!

 


Two newly-found Roman bronzes...


L'Ephèbe at the  museum...

Cap-d'Agde has it all...

...sun, sea, statues and skin.

 

Treasures off the Mediterranean coast at Cap-d’Agde
Découverts au large de Cap-d’Agde

An exceptional archeological discovery at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of Cap-d’Agde, near Béziers and Montpellier. The day after Christmas 2001, a local diver, exploring the sandy bottom in one of his underwater “secret gardens,” came upon a toenail, then an ankle, a knee, then a full statue, and then another. This remarkable find of two young boys, both of them bronze, Roman, and more than 2000 years old, is one of the most important in decades and has archeologists, historians, and local chamber of commerce types abuzz.
     The seaside region around Narbonne, including Agde, Cap-d’Agde, Sète and Béziers, was a major port area for Phoenician, Greek and Roman civilizations, and many ships carrying goods for wealthy Roman citizens were shipwrecked off the coast here in the years before and after 0AD.
     Finds like this are rare but not unheard of. Nearly 40 years ago, in 1964, a beautiful bronze, l’Ephèbe, was brought up from beneath the sands in the mouth of the Hérault River, which flows into the sea at nearby Agde. That statue now sits at the Musée de l’Ephèbe in Cap-d’Agde.
     These latest two statues are considered as important as l’Ephèbe. The workmanship on both bronzes appears to be of the highest artistic quality. The smaller of the statues, about 30 inches tall, is an evocation of Eros, presumed to be from the Vesuvio region of ancient Rome. The other, nearly three feet tall, is the gem of the two, nearly whole with only a left hand missing. What is not yet clear is whether these treasures have been buried at sea for 21 centuries, or whether they landed there in a later era. Further studies will help solve this piece of the puzzle, a very exciting one to say the least.
     For now, the statues have been sent to Nantes in the north of France to be cleaned up and evaluated. But they will return to the Musée de l’Ephèbe in Cap-d’Agde by the end of 2002, adding to that museum’s prestige and to the reputation of a town more known for its seaside bars, restaurants, and one of the largest nudist beach communities in Europe. Sun, sea, sand, skin, and statues…it’s all there at Cap-d’Agde.

 

Spring has sprung...
Le printemps a commencé!

Last day of February, spring may be just around the corner, but we're already seeing signs that bring joy to our hearts. Orchards are in bloom, the almond and cherry trees in white, apricots in blush white/pink, peach trees in a deep rose. A field of flowering fruit trees is like an impressionist painting, soft colors that melt into the landscape. And brilliant yellow mimosa trees are everywhere as well, the brightest and earliest of harbingers of spring.
     In gardens and across the garrigue, forsythia is in full bloom in sunny areas, early violets are carpeting the fields, even irises are starting to pop out. Rosebushes are pushing out new leaves and buds, as are most of the plane trees, those grand sycamores that line the roads and waterways of France.
     Much more to come of course as the season progresses. We'll be out and about enjoying these developments. Meanwhile if you'd like a peek at spring flowers, visit the gallery...

Apricotier.jpg (191003 bytes)
Abricotiers  abloom...
...violets too.

Violets.jpg (399478 bytes)


Short takes...

Faits divers...
 

A really big wind, by any name!
Le mistral, la tramontane!

Last week the south of France saw a day of extremely strong winds, vents violents as they call them.Trains, airports, seaports and even some roadways in and around Marseille were closed for several hours as a result. A cargo ship in nearby Fos-sur-Mer broke away from its tether, causing major damage along the seawall and to the port. In downtown Marseille, the roof of a building blew off, landing on and crushing half a dozen parked cars (thankfully they were empty). The new TGV-Mediterranée lines from Valence to Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Nîmes and Marseilles had to be shut down, with trains diverted to the older, less wind-exposed routes...causing 1-3 hour delays in arrivals and departures. So how fast a wind causes that much disruption and destruction? Clocked at 140 KPH, nearly 90MPH, that's some wind, whatever you call it!

Frankly, it's over...
Le franc, c'est mort...

FYI, as of February 17, 2002, the French franc is no longer in use, it's all euro now. And as of February 28, the rest of participating countries are all euro as well. Any leftover "old" currencies can be exchanged at banks in particular countries. For now, everyone continues to cautiously count their change and do mental conversions back to whatever their base currency was. We're all in the same boat, so to speak...

'Til next time...à bientôt!

 

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