Rosé, stripes, Françoise Hardy, Bensimons, Claude Monet, Isabel Marant, baguettes and Marion Cotilard; the list of French favorites is long and plenty. They have somehow mastered the idea of keeping things effortless, timeless yet always cool. We have always been a bit intrigued by that “je ne sais quoi” thing they have going on. So, we decided to ask our dear friend, Valerie, to share her thoughts (and her famous crêpe recipe) on French Culture. Hardly knowing any english Valerie bravely moved from France to sunny skied California with her three children in tow. In short her story proves that you can take the girl out of France, but you can’t take France out of the girl.
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT LIVING IN FRANCE?
The smell of fresh bread coming from the bustling bakeries. And of course being surrounded by different countries that you can visit with relative ease like Spain, Morocco, England, Switzerland, etc.
When I first moved to the U.S. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Even before speaking people would recognize that I was foreign just by the way I dressed. Currently American’s are a bit obsessed with France, especially when it comes to clothing and interior design…and the funny thing is that I suddenly fit right in. Ironically the French are just as inspired by California style. Each time I return home to France I see more and more ‘California-bohemian’ influences.
WHAT ARE SOME ITEMS YOU STOCK UP ON WHEN IN FRANCE?
Mariage Fréres Teas, Homeoplasmine, Biafine, Herbes de Provence, Coté Sud Magazine, wine from Cotes du Rhone, levure chimique Alsa aka baking soda and some candies that are nostalgic of my childhood.
FAVORITE PLACES TO SHOP IN FRANCE?
Aside from the many boutiques I have to say the French Pharmacies. It’s a one stop shop where I am able to find everything I need such as medicines (like Biafine which is amazing for sunburns) and some beauty products that I can’t live without like L’huile Prodigieuse de Nuxe or Klorane Dry Shampoo…I still prefer French beauty products as they tend to be lighter in scent and made with natural ingredients found locally.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST SURPRISE ABOUT LIVING IN THE US?
Seeing people driving or walking while drinking coffee (or even worse eating). I was so surprised to see parents walking the kids to school with their mug of coffee in hand. I didn’t know it was possible to walk and drink or eat for that matter at the same time! Sounds silly but it’s just not something we do in France.
HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED SINCE LIVING HERE?
Well, I take my tea to go
ANY TRADITIONS YOU’VE PASSED DOWN OR BEGUN WITH YOUR CHILDREN?
France is full of traditions. One of my favorite little traditions is in February when each member of the family has to flip a crêpe with a silver coin in your hand. If you successfully flip the crepe then your year will be full of riches, but if it lands on the floor, supposedly it will be a tough year. It’s a bit superstitious but my kids and I love it.
Cooking is everything to my culture. My grandma and mother were always cooking, gardening, and shopping daily at the local markets…so being in the kitchen has always felt like home to me. When I was 8 years old my mother gave me my first recipe book which inspired me to begin cooking desserts. Later she gave me the La Bonne Cuisine Francaise, a French staple to any cookbook library. I probably have a thousand or so family recipes that I truly treasure as most of them have sweet memories of my childhood. Passing along these recipes (along with some of my tricks in the kitchen) to my children is not only a joy but necessary part of our sharing our culture.
3 INGREDIENTS YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
Rum (which I always use in my cakes and crêpes)
Herbes de Provence
GO-TO FAMILY MEAL?
Crepes…savory or sweet my kids are happy to eat crepes anytime of the day.
When I initially moved here I was overwhelmed by the different options at the grocery store. Not only are there so many companies selling the same item but options like ‘low calorie’ or ‘fat-free” or most recently ‘gluten-free’. I never really bought into any of it, probably because it doesn’t really exist too much in France. My motto has always been to use local, organic, whole ingredients which means real butter and whole milk. Oh and we eat fresh bread daily.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT CALIFORNIA?
There’s so much beauty here. Many people take the weather for granted, but coming from France I indulge in the sunny warm California climate. It’s such a treat to get to see palm trees and the ocean on a daily basis. I love the effortless ‘bohemian’ look that all California girls have (including my California-French daughter). Oh and of course happy hour with some margaritas!
DESCRIBE YOUR DAILY UNIFORM?
With all of this warm California weather I gravitate towards little dresses or skirts paired with a simple neutral t-shirt and a pair of gladiator sandals or my tried and true ballet flats.
WHAT ARE SOME STAPLE PIECES EVERY WOMAN SHOULD HAVE IN HER CLOSET?
Good pair of tailored jeans that falls at the ankles, neutral shirts, a white button up, colorful scarfs, a little black dress, a pencil skirt (to be warn with ballet flats or tropezienne sandals aka gladiators—never heels), a blazer, trench coat and some sneakers. The French really don’t play into trends too much, instead we prefer to keep it neutral, simple and therefore classic.
NOW THAT YOUR CHILDREN ARE TWEENS AND TEENS HOW DO STAY CONNECTED?
I remember when the three of them were younger…I was just so overwhelmed at times and wondered if I would ever have a moment to myself. And now it’s the opposite as they would prefer to play with their friends than hang out with me. It really does go by so quickly. For us, food is an easy opportunity to connect to one another, the kids love to congregate around the kitchen as I’m cooking and we always make the time to eat together, sans phones, iPads or TV.
ANY ADVICE TO SOMEONE LEARNING A SECOND LANGUAGE?
Be patient and practice, practice, practice! Find a native speaking teacher and set time aside each week to study whether it’s listening to music, audio tapes or watching a foreign film. I have started a blog Everyday is French specifically for my students, or anyone for that matter who would like to learn French. Here, I share ideas, current topics and a bit about my culture. Reading in a foreign language goes hand in hand speaking, so find a website, blog or magazine where you can practice reading and translating. If your children are learning a second language in school do it with them, it’s a fantastic way to connect and laugh together…and it’s never too late to start!
ADVICE TO SOMEONE MOVING ABROAD?
Be open minded, humble and curious. Don’t judge until you’ve tried it…and try it all!
VALERIE’S FAMILY CRÊPE RECIPE
1 ample cup of flour
5 tablespoons of cornstarch
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup water
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons of rum (optional but recommended if you are making sweet crêpes)
crêpe pan or small frying pan
Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and mix in the oil. Mix wet and dry ingredients together. Slowly begin to pour in even amounts of milk and water and continue to beat until thin and smooth. The batter should become a thin milk-like consistency. Heat the pan on medium-high heat. Use an ample amount of butter to coat the pan. Scoop some batter onto the pan and tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly. Loosen the edges with a spatula and flip to cook the other side of the crêpe. Below are some of Valerie’s staple toppings whether its savory or sweet…
Nutella and banana
lemon and sugar
ham, cheese and a bit of creme