Bonne annee ~ The Year in Pictures at French Affaires Thursday, Jan 7 2016 

Bonne année à toutes et à tous! Happy New Year to all!

As 2016 begins, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a ‘très belle année 2016’ and thank you warmly for your support, readership and participation in French Affaires’ classes, cultural events and trips to France this past year. It has been a fantastic time of sharing the best of French language, culture, travel and l’art de vivre – and it has been our most wonderful year ever, thanks to you. Still, as France is endlessly rich in culture, history, travel and more, I can promise that there will be some terrific new surprises coming shortly in 2016 as well as a continuation of great language, culture and travel offerings. But before we get to some of the 2016 French goodies, I’d like to share a few highlights of French Affaires 2015 in photos. Join us for this virtual year in pictures below - and maybe get inspired to come away with us to France this coming year!

Highlights of French Affaires’ annual “Paris Antiques Trip this past March were the big Paris flea market at St. Ouen/ Clignancourt and the bi-annual foire à la brocante at Chatou just west of Paris. St. Ouen is the world’s largest marché aux puces, or flea market, with everything from bric-a-brac to museum quality pieces. We could have spent several days there alone as there are many different sub-markets spread out over the sprawling, easy-to-get-lost-in complex. On the other hand, Chatou is one of my favorite Paris markets perhaps because it doesn’t happen all the time. Running for about ten days each spring and fall, the fair showcases several hundred antiques vendors from all over France. It is a collector’s dream - café au lait bowls, confiture jars, regular silver, hotel silver, pottery, china, pewter, paintings, portraits, chairs, tables, chests…it is all there. And bargaining is a definite must at this market. Our antiquing group this past year found loads of fabulous finds at these markets and more during our treasure-hunting week in Paris. For info about our 2016 Paris Antiques Trip, please email us at French.culture@frenchaffaires.com.

While hosting the Paris antiques trip, I tasted several versions of one of my favorite French comfort foods – les oeufs mayonnaise. Afterwards, I posted an article on “Eggs in France” which hit home with many French Affaires’ readers. You can click here to read (or reread!) some of the great ways eggs are done in France.

Spring was a riot of flowers and gardens on our French Affaires’ trip designed especially for the Dallas Garden Club this past year. The Dallas ladies came to France in May for the “Great Gardens of Paris & the Loire Valley – a nine day joyous extravaganza of everything gardens and châteaux. Our lovely French hosts gave us a warm welcome everywhere, and nature cooperated by gracing all our destinations with exquisite flowers, plants and landscapes. Quel bonheur!

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In late May and in September 2015, we spent lovely light and color filled weeks in the south of France for the “Provence Painting & Culture Workshops” co-hosted with wonderful artist Jill Steenhuis. From color mixing tutorials to composition discussions to painting en plein air to following in the steps of artists Van Gogh and Cezanne to enjoying the gorgeous scenery to sharing wonderful French meals with wine, our painting groups’ creativity and enthusiasm knew no bounds.

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Since we’re on the topic of Provence, as readers of our French Affaires’ newsletter know, we can’t get enough of this region of France. So this coming May we’ll be doing our “Provence Language & Culture Immersion” trip again from May 6 to 21, 2016. It is a fabulous and laid-back opportunity to “live” in France and really experience the people, the landscapes and the culture – including the art. It’s also a great chance to take tons of incredible photos since everywhere you look is just Provence picture perfect! For full trip details, please email us at French.culture@frenchaffaires.com.

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This past fall, a wonderful group of French Affaires’ trip-goers immersed themselves in the riches of Southwest France. We spent many glorious days in the cool, crisp weather of the Dordogne, the Lot and Bordeaux. The distinctive history, architecture, landscapes, culture, food, wines and people made this a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Our pictures of this harder-to-get-to French region tell it all…

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And of course, faithful to my French professor roots, I was able to share all manner of lovely things about France in illustrated culture courses through SMU’s Continuing Studies program and in French Affaires’ language offerings. We covered the incredible chateaux near Paris in January – perfect for planning day excursions from the French capital. In late spring, I designed a course on “French Kings & Queens: A History of the Monarchy in France” which was an amazing journey through French time and royalty. “Gourmet Paris: A Culinary Tour of the French Capital” was also on our culture course list – and our annual “French for Travelers” reached a sell-out crowd for the eighth year in a row. If you’re planning some travel to France soon or just want to get acquainted with French attitudes, etiquette and basic conversation, you might want to join us for this year’s edition of “French for Travelers” which runs from February 16 to 18, 2016, in Dallas, Texas. Please click here for more details and registration information with SMU’s Continuing Studies program. And more French language and culture classes will be coming in 2016 so stay tuned to this space.

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We do want to pause to remember the terrible events in Paris in November and January of last year. For a short article on our thoughts and support for the French, please click here. The French are strong – and Paris will always be Paris!

Last but not least, our special “French Cookbook Club” and “French Cuisine & Culture Workshops” immersed us in French culinary delights all year long. The hands-on “Spotlight on French Vinaigrettes” was a festival of French tastes and flavors – with nary a bottled salad dressing in sight. And the “French Cookbook Club” – now in its fifth amazing year! – has been an extraordinary coming together of great French Affaires’ friends, great cookbooks and great cooking. We are looking forward to this year’s final celebration dinner and weekend in France – and I’ll be on the hunt for next year’s special new theme.

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So, again, je vous remercie de votre fidelité et je vous souhaite une extraordinaire année 2016. I look forward to sharing more of wonderful France with you this year. Come have some fun French style…A très bientôt!

King’s Cakes in Paris Tuesday, Jan 6 2015 

Move over les bûches de Noël (yule log cakes), it’s time for les galettes des rois (king’s cakes). In France, the holiday sweets keep coming even after Christmas with Epiphanie, also known as la Fête des rois (Three Kings Day, or Feast of the Epiphany), and its signature galette des rois. You can’t miss Epiphany in Paris as just about every Parisian pâtisserie sports loads of these round, golden disks in its windows from December until January.

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It’s proof that the sacred continues to infuse French life and cuisine even if fewer people actually observe this holy day. According to the Bible, three kings or Magi came to pay homage to the baby Jesus and brought him gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are” recounts this journey. Today, the arrival of the Magi and the news of the birth of Jesus to the Gentiles is celebrated by Christians twelve days after Christmas on January 6. This beautiful panel of stained glass from the Basilica of St. Denis just north of Paris illustrates the Epiphany events…

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So what exactly is a galette des rois? In most parts of France, the galette is made of puff pastry filled with a delicious almond pastry cream called frangipane. The Provence version, however, is more like brioche, a rich egg bread, and is studded with candied fruits. What makes the cake and the religious feast eternally festive in France is the tradition of hiding a lucky charm, or fève (literally a “bean”) inside the cake. Even though many pastry chefs today use small porcelain figurines instead of a bean, family and friends still gather around the table as the cake is cut. And whoever receives the piece with the fève inside is king or queen for the day (or year) and wears the gold paper crown that accompanies the galette.

A few years ago, a friend and I went on a girls’ shopping trip to Paris in January. We decided to prepare our own Sunday-night dinner and so shopped at the nearby Boulevard Raspail morning market for provisions. As it was a casual supper, we bought soup that was prête à manger (ready to eat), une quiche aux poireaux (leek quiche), de la salade (lettuce) for a beautiful green salad with homemade vinaigrette, and some stunning brie au lait cru (raw milk brie) for our cheese course. And since it was fête des rois time, we noticed the bread and pastry vendor was selling les galettes des rois, both whole cakes and quarter portions. Perfect! We bought a quarter and took our market loot back to the Paris apartment where I was staying. After a thoroughly simple and satisfying meal, we cut the kings’ cake and in my one-eighth piece was an adorable porcelain magi kneeling with his gift for the infant Christ. What are the odds, I thought. And I was reine (queen) for the day in Paris!

Interestingly, les fèves have become quite collectible in recent years. I keep seeing flea market vendors all over France with huge tables of the porcelain charms for sale. Here are selections from some marchands de fèves (lucky charm vendors – what a job!) at the Aix-en-Provence and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue antique markets.

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If you’ve shopped around lately in Paris for a king’s cake, you have probably come across ‘mod’ versions at some hip Paris pastry shops. Ultra-cool French pastry chefs always like to put their particular take on traditional pastry offerings and galettes des rois are no exception. Citrus, pistachio, chocolate, pineapple, coconut and other exotic flavors are showing up in king’s cakes at fancy pâtisseries such as Fauchon, Pierre Hermé and others. Click here for a quick article from the French newspaper Le Figaro on this phenomenon.

Many of the big pastry shop names also offer a special collection or coffret de fèves each year that fans can collect. This year’s set from from Hugo & Victor features four monuments of Paris for 30 euros. And Fauchon has a limited edition of seven fèves 2015 for 60 euros – only 250 sets will be sold. (Be sure and click on the links for photos.) While these shiny new sets are tempting, it might be more fun – and memorable – to put together one’s own set by rummaging through the colorful piles of figures at the French flea markets.

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Bonne fête!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

On the other hand, you can go fève-less for the fète des rois in America. If you’re looking to buy a French-style king’s cake in the U.S. this year, be aware that many pastry shops now are making the king’s cakes without the prize – see this article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. It seems that some American pastry shops are leaving out the fève or giving it to customers on the side in order to avoid any potential lawsuit due to choking on the charm. Sans blague (no joke). All the more reason then to celebrate Epiphanie in France!

French New Year’s Wishes Sunday, Dec 28 2014 

In France, the holidays, or les fêtes de fin d’année and also known as la période des fêtes (note that the expression “le temps des fêtes” is used in French-speaking Canada), are about family, friends and feasting – especially the feasting. This applies to le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre (New Year’s Eve) in particular. French revelers commonly celebrate with un dîner de réveillon (New Year’s Eve dinner) complete with oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras, chestnuts, truffles, mushrooms, duck, capon and all manner of other French delicacies. (Click here for a previous posting on wonderful French holiday tastes.)

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A beautiful French table set for “un dîner de réveillon”

Of course, no dîner de réveillon would be complete without toasts and good wishes for le Nouvel An (the New Year). The most basic is “Bonne année!” (pronounced buh nah-nay), i.e. “Happy New Year!” Or one can get more elaborate with the following: “Que cette nouvelle année vous apporte bonheur, santé et réussite,” meaning “May this new year bring you happiness, health and success.” Quite nice, don’t you think? And with these good wishes comes lots of bisous – air-kissing family and friends on the cheek.

If you are in Paris for New Year’s, you could follow your dinner and toasts by going out on the town. You could join the crowds thronging the Champs-Elysées. Or you could head to the Eiffel Tower to watch the light show going off at midnight. Or you could enjoy a more laid-back street celebration up by Sacré Coeur in Montmartre. If you are out and about in Paris on New Year’s Eve, you’ll love that Paris transport – Métro, buses, RER – are free to the public again this year from 5pm on December 31st until noon on January 1st, with most of the transport network running full force until 2:15am. Or you could stay home and watch the French President François Hollande on television sending his meilleurs voeux 2015 (best wishes for 2015) to the citizens of France.

On the subject of French New Year’s wishes, it is interesting to note that the French typically send New Year’s cards rather than Christmas cards to their loved ones. Greetings for the New Year in this format are often a little more formal. Here are a few examples:

- Meilleurs voeux pour l’année 2015! (Best wishes for 2015!)

- Nous vous souhaitons une très bonne année 2015! (We wish you a very happy 2015!)

- Nous vous souhaitons une bonne et heureuse nouvelle année. (We wish you a good and happy new year.)

- Recevez nos meilleurs vœux de bonheur pour la nouvelle année. (Please accept our best wishes for a happy new year.)

- Je vous présente mes meilleurs vœux pour 2015. (I send you my best wishes for 2015.)

- Nous vous adressons nos meilleurs vœux pour 2015. (We send you our best wishes for 2015.)

- Que la nouvelle année vous apporte paix, santé et bonheur. (May the New Year bring you peace, health and happiness.)

- Paix, santé et bonheur pour vous et les vôtres! (Peace, health and happiness to you and yours!)

- Paix, amour, joie, prospérité, santé, bonheur… Que cette nouvelle année soit exceptionnelle! (Peace, love, joy, prosperity, health, happiness…May this New Year be exceptional!)

And then there is this lovely New Year’s wish I once received from a good French friend:

“Que cette nouvelle année déborde de bonheur, de paix et de prosperité.” (May this New Year overflow with happiness, peace and prosperity.)

On that note, I’d like to thank you for your support of French Affaires and wish you a wonderful 2015 full of all good things—and mais oui, full of things French!

Bonne année à toutes et à tous! (Happy New Year to all!)

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A previous version of this article appeared in December, 2011.

Happy New Year ~ Bonne Année 2014! Tuesday, Dec 31 2013 

Bonjour, friends! As 2013 draws to a close and 2014 unfolds, I want to thank you for being a part of French Affaires this year. Whether you have joined us for French language classes or the French Cookbook Club or French travel and culture seminars or trips to France or personalized French travel planning or a little armchair travel via ‘French Affaires Weekly’ articles, your participation and enthusiasm mean a lot. I invite you to rester en ligne – “to stay tuned” as the French say - as there are even more wonderful things planned for the coming year. 

On that note, je vous souhaite tous une très bonne année 2014 pleine d’amour, de joie, de paix et de bonheur – I wish you all a very Happy New Year 2014, full of love, joy, peace and happiness!

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Love Paris-style at Ladurée on the Left Bank 

Merci et à bientôt (thanks and see you soon)!

Elizabeth New Seitz

French Affaires ~ www.frenchaffaires.com