Relatives from out of town are in Vancouver and I thought before they leave they should try some French sweets. I headed to my favourite patisserie at Arbutus and 10th: La Petite France. When I walk in and look at the showcase of baked goods I am reminded of my stay in France with my dear friends V & P.
Though my trip to England and France was a few years ago, the imagery is still vivid in my mind. We travelled across regions of France by car that summer and I got a taste of what life was really like in France. The countryside was amazing with its fields of sunflowers with their heads bowed towards the summer sun. "La plage" was not the kind of beach I was used to in Vancouver, but it was pretty nonetheless. We have sandy beaches lapped by the cold Pacific Ocean; whereas a few of the beaches we visited were grassy man-made affairs ringed with concrete or pebbles around a pool of water. Perhaps this was because we were not hanging out along the coast I reckon.
Staying with V & P was so much better than doing the touristy hotel thing. Each region we visited was so unique that it was like being in a different country. With its diverse topography, France seems to have it all. The regional specialties were the highlights of my trip. I recall the little works of edible art in the patisseries, all lined up like glistening soldiers. Meringues were as huge as your face. Croissants were flaky, buttery, golden brown and ethereal. Hot chocolate never tasted so good in the morning, drunk from a bowl. I dipped my brioche in the hot chocolate and little crumbs of the butter-rich bread floated in the chocolatey-brown froth.
Mousse au 3 chocolat (white, milk & dark chocolate)
V & P shared with me an incomparable lifestyle so much different than the Canadian one I led back home. Life slowed down. I learned to eat more slowly. I realized the open market, with fresh local produce, was the ideal way to purchase and enjoy food. Fruits and vegetables were at their peak and regional cuisine was not a trendy way of eating but a way of life. Red wine became an everyday beverage and I realized that bottled water could be salty too. I realized I loved cheese of all sorts and saucissons sec and rillettes were revelations.
I don't think I ate a thing that was processed in the way we North Americans process our fast foods and junk foods. The French way of life made a lifelong impression upon me and I wistfully remember when I came home I thought our ways "cold". I missed the air kisses on the cheek. I missed the wine, the cheese, the pace of life and of course I missed my friends V & P. I embarked on a mission to try to relive those memories. I tried to locate authentic French cheeses and wines and all sorts of foods. I purchased a cast iron fondue pot and made authentic cheese fondue. I bought an expensive crepe pan to replicate the fantastic crepes I ate (with my favourite filling, Nutella!)Mangue,coco et annas
You know what? though I found some really good renditions of all those foods, it just wasn't the same. I soon fell off the French wagon. It was too difficult and expensive to keep up the ruse. I think it best to live and eat like the locals.
Interestingly enough, I didn't gain any weight during my stay in France. In fact, I think I lost a few pounds. I don't recall snacking at all during my stay there. People just didn't seem to snack like we do in North America. We also walked quite a bit. And we didn't sit around watching television all day.
Walking into the little west side patisserie, La Petite France, is like walking into France. The little shop has a display case with authentic French pastries. You can find madeleines, an opera cake, handmade chocolates, baguettes and croissants. It even has a mini deli if you're hankering for something savoury. When you sit down with your eclair and a little white cup of illy coffee, you're transported back to France for the moment.