I #lovelansing, so why did I ring in 2020 in Canada?

The only thing I asked of my husband when we got married seven years ago was that no matter what, I wanted to continue my lifelong tradition of celebrating the end-of-the-year holidays with my family. For most marriages this wouldn’t seem like a big deal, but given that my family is spread across Europe, the Caribbean and the eastern fringe of North America, it’s made things a little tricky for us.

Thankfully, we’ve been able to make it work out every year, with holiday celebrations taking place in Guadeloupe, here in Michigan and, this year, at a remote cabin in the woods of northern Quebec, a few hours away from my cousin’s home in Montreal. We had many adventures between Christmas and New Year, including taking our boys snow tubing for the first time and hiking up a frozen stream on crampons, the same thing hikers on Mt. Everest wear on their boots. As an immigrant, being around my family is a great way to recharge my batteries, and this year’s journey into the Great White North also gave me some valuable time to think about everything I’ve accomplished over the past year, and to reflect on all the little things that make me happy. As I did that earlier this week, I was able to finally put my finger on why my business, Aux Petits Soins™ is so important to me — I realized that it’s become my home away from home. 

One of the questions people often ask after learning about my French roots is where I prefer to live — Paris (where I was born), Guadeloupe (where I mostly grew up), Montpellier (where I went to grad school) or here in Michigan? The answer is that each city/country has its own advantages. Before having kids, all I really cared about was being able to have a successful career so I could afford to fly to see my family as often as possible — sometimes just for a long weekend. Everything changed, however, when I became a mom. 

I am who I am because of my family, my religious values and my French and Caribbean cultures, and it’s vitally important for me that my children have these same influences in their lives as well. That’s why I’ve made sure that both my boys would be bilingual by only ever speaking French to them, but I won’t lie — raising a dual citizenship child is an everyday challenge. The French language is their passport to have access to the French culture, but it takes a village to raise world citizens. 

That’s why I’m grateful to live in Lansing. The baby and children’s programs at APS grew out of a demand from parents I knew and strangers I met who heard me speaking French to my boys and asking me to teach their children, too. Later, some of these same people asked me to teach them as well, which allowed me to build my adult program. This formed the foundation for the French center I continue to work on, which is allowing me to recreate a little slice of France right here in the heart of Michigan, providing a space and a community where my kids can fully embrace being French.

And so this year I realized that APS was my way to create a village for anybody in mid-Michigan who has an interest in the French language and culture … including me. I would be homesick without it, and probably would have left Lansing by now to live closer to my family. But thankfully, APS has allowed me to bring the cultural traditions I grew up with to me, starting this week with Epiphany. Growing up, I did my part to kick off the month-long celebration by walking to a local bakery on the first Sunday of the new year to pick up a king cake for my family. I remember the younger ones eager to find a charm inside their piece, which would bring good luck for a year and the title of “king/queen for the day,” while those in the older generation would claim that they would rather not so they would have more of the sweet frangipane filling in theirs. 

When I moved here to Lansing, I couldn’t find a bakery selling king cakes, so I started baking my own. This annual tradition started with my close friends; eventually I introduced it to my APS students, and it has now become something I share with anyone in Lansing who wants to celebrate with me. Next Sunday, Jan. 12, I will host the Fourth Annual King Cake Party, and for the first time some of the kids will have the opportunity to bake their own pastries. And it’s been fun to see the young ones acting the same way my cousins and I did as kid wishing for a charm in their king cakes!

Epiphany is just the start of the beginning-of-the-year celebrations that involve sweets. And fortunately, I now get to celebrate these and the rest of the French annual traditions with my village here in Lansing again this year — just one reason why I #lovelansing.

Why should I learn French?

Today, one of my adult students, Robin, brought to class a French pastry that she had baked. I guess her love of French food is one of the reasons she’s learning French – and it’s a good reason, if you ask me!

In fact, people often ask me if they should learn French. Well, they’re asking a French native who loves her language and culture, so in my opinion, YES –– EVERYONE should!

The truth is, learning a language is a deeply personal experience, and only you can answer that question yourself. But there are some very easy questions to help you figure it out:

·      Do you enjoy French cuisine, like Robin does?
·      Do you watch French films?
·      Do you dream someday of going to a French speaking place, such as Paris, Montreal, Guadeloupe or the Ivory Coast?
·      Do you simply like the way French sounds?

Of course there are many more aspects of French culture, but if you answered “yes” to any of these, then you may want to take an introductory class to see if it might be for you. And who knows – you might get lucky, and one of your fellow students will bring in some home-baked French treats (thanks again, Robin – it was delicious!)   

So – have you ever considered learning French? And if so, is there anything specific keeping you back? I may be able to help!  

The Guadeloupe Carnaval

Carnaval is a major cultural event in Guadeloupe, the Caribbean archipelago/French department where I grew up. Festivities are loosely tied to the Christian calendar, roughly lasting from Epiphanie (January 6, the proverbial “12th day of Christmas”) and ending on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It’s a wild season of celebration full of music, costumes, and — of course — lots of great food, including beignets. I miss home even more during Carnaval as there is nothing similar to it in Lansing.

It actually starts on January 1 with a parade of the “groupes à peau,” who bring offerings to the sea. This tradition, called “ben demaré,” symbolizes leaving behind issues from the past year and asking for better luck for the coming year. Then over the subsequent weeks leading up to Mardi Gras (which falls between mid-February and early March), there are parades in cities around the island. Some of these parades are expected, others are impromptu.

Carnaval reaches fever pitch with three spectacular parades between Shrove Sunday (the Sunday before Lent) and Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). The Carnaval groups showcase the results of weeks of hard work with elaborate floats and intricate dance numbers. Each year there is a new theme, and groups fight to get the first prize.

On Shrove Sunday, Carnaval parades compete in the afternoon in Pointe-à-Pitre, the largest city in Guadeloupe. The next evening, the parade is held in Basse-Terre, the island’s capital, with costumes and floats designed to light up at night. Then on Tuesday — the big day, Mardi Gras — it’s another afternoon affair, with another parade in Basse-Terre. The festivities end on Ash Wednesday, and an effigy of Vaval, the King of Carnival, is burned.

The uniqueness of Guadeloupe is seen on Ash Wednesday as the streets are filled with revelers dressed up in black and white. Contrary to the previous days, everybody is invited to be part of this parade. It’s not a contest — the only rule is to be dressed in black and white; most people just use whatever they already have in their closets. Everybody has another chance to perform without being part of a group on Tuesday during a pajama parade in multiple cities of Guadeloupe early in the morning.

Then, with one exception, everything gets subdued on the island until Easter. There are no real celebrations of any kind but there is a built-in release day: Mid-Lent Thursday. Falling exactly halfway between Ash Wednesday and Easter, it allows everyone who’s been “good for Lents” to revive the Carnaval mood for one day only, albeit with a mischievous twist. Celebrants dress up in red and black costumes, depicting themselves as devils.

Carnaval in Guadeloupe is a rich celebration based on more than a century of tradition. It would be impossible to try to recreate that in Lansing, but hopefully by sharing details about it — and sharing beignets with all my classes — I can inspire an appreciation for this special aspect of French culture here in mid-Michigan.

Stranger in Paradise

After being featured in The New York Times in its Jan. 22 Travel Section, Guadeloupe was also the setting for a recent edition of the podcast, Radiolab. “Stranger in Paradise” covered the interesting history of raccoons on my island, getting into issues of how science can affect cultural paradigms. But the best part for me was getting to hear the sounds of home: in the podcast, you can hear the frogs chirping at night, the birds chittering during the day, and the distinct Guadeloupe dialect in the people who were interviewed. It’s a great listen!

New York Times loves Guadeloupe!

As you might know, although I was born in a suburb of Paris, I grew up in Guadeloupe, a French island in the Caribbean. It’s where I made my most treasured childhood and teenage memories, and it’s where my heart calls “home.”

So imagine my thrill this week to see that The New York Times featured Guadeloupe in its Travel section (“A Return to Guadeloupe: Tropical Life, French-Style”). It’s a lenghty piece, going into great depths about how the writer and her husband relished the island’s cuisine, delighted in its clime, and reveled in its culture. They truly immersed themselves in Guadeloupe, and by doing so she was able to present what I see as an authentic vision of the island — of my home. It’s a good read, and an excellent primer for anyone thinking of visiting. Which, of course, I highly recommend you do.

And when you do, make sure to stop by the rum cave/spice boutique named Le Comptoir du Nouveau Monde (The New World Counter). It’s not featured in the story, but it will become one of your favorites!

To France and back!

Last month, I took my Michigan family to France for two weeks to attend a wedding in my family. It was such a fulfilling trip, but it went by way too fast — of course, I always feel like that. But I came back with a lot of great ideas for Aux Petits Soins, as well as some new books, music and toys. (Some of the things I brought back will be for sale — ask me about them if you’re interested.)

It was an emotional experience being able to introduce my sons to the city I was born in. I know they won’t remember this trip, but being immersed in the French language for two straight weeks and watching their little eyes light up again and again seeing these historical cultural icons — the Eiffel Tower, the Paris Opera, Notre Dame, the Louvre — I know something much deeper than memory was sinking in. They were absorbing my culture.

It’s always so nourishing being able to spend that much time with my extended family. I don’t get to see them often enough, but what person living halfway around the world from her parents and sisters wouldn’t say that? Their unconditional love and support is the reason why I know I can live anywhere in the world.

And that’s my goal with Aux Petits Soins — to be able to give all the students “cultural passports” to another country where they’ll feel confident of their own success, knowing they have a strong support system back here in Lansing.

Recette de la galette des rois

Depuis que je me suis installée aux Etats-Unis, il a fallu que je me mette aux fourneaux! Je n’avais jamais fait une galette des rois et après avoir essayé plusieurs recettes, j’ai finalement trouvé la perle rare sur le site marmiton.org (lien)… une recette facile et rapide.

Temps de préparation : 15 minutes – Temps de cuisson : 40 minutes

Galette des rois

Ingrédients (pour 6 personnes)

  • 2 pâtes feuilletées
  • 200 g de poudre d’amandes
  • 150 g de sucre semoule
  • 2 œufs
  • 100 g de beurre mou
  • quelques gouttes d’extrait d’amande amère (facultatif)
  • quelques gouttes de vanille (facultatif)
  • 1 bouchon de rhum vieux (facultatif)
  • 1 œuf et jaune d’œuf pour dorer
  • sirop d’érable (facultatif)
  • 1 fève !

Préparation de la frangipane

  1. Dans un saladier, mélangez le beurre mou avec le sucre en poudre jusqu’à ce que le mélange soit homogène et mousseux.
  2. Ajoutez un œuf, puis la moitié de la poudre d’amande.
  3. Ajoutez le deuxième œuf et l’autre moitié de la poudre d’amande.
  4. Incorporez l’extrait d’amande amère. Mélangez bien.

Montage de la galette

  1. Déroulez la première pâte feuilletée sur du papier sulfurisé. À l’aide d’un pinceau à poil, appliquez de l’eau sur les bords (2 cm du bord).
  2. Etalez la frangipane (1 cm du bord) sur la pâte feuilletée. N’oubliez pas d’y mettre la fève (sur un bord, pour minimiser les chances de tomber dessus en coupant la galette!)
  3. Refermez la galette avec la seconde pâte, chassez l’air avec les doigts. Puis, soudez les bords en appuyant fermement. Retournez votre galette. Chiquetez avec le dos du couteau tout autour de votre galette pour sceller à jamais les 2 pâtes.
  4. Pour dorer parfaitement votre galette, préparez une dorure composée d’un œuf et d’un jaune d’œuf. Appliquez votre mélange à l’aide d’un pinceau à poil. La dorure doit être uniforme mais ne dorez pas le côtés, cela risquerait d’empêcher la pâte de se développer.  Après avoir conservé votre galette au frigo pendant au moins deux heures, appliquez une autre couche de dorure.
  5. A l’aide d’un couteau, décorer la pâte en y traçant des dessins.
  6. Percez le dessus de petits trous pour laisser l’air s’échapper sur les bords, sinon elle risque de gonfler et de se dessécher.

Cuisson de la galette

  1. Préchauffez votre four à 200˚C (390˚F).
  2. Enfournez votre galette à 200°C (390˚F) pendant 10 minutes, puis réduisez la température à 180˚C (360˚F) pendant 30 à 35 minutes environ (surveiller la cuisson dès 25 minutes, mais ne pas hésiter à laisser jusqu’à 40 minutes si nécessaire). Ne pas ouvrir le four pendant la cuisson.

La touche finale! (facultative)

  1. Lustrez votre galette avec du sirop d’érable à la fin de la cuisson pour la faire briller!