Les Vacances

Jean, Luthier and International Man of Mystery

Person: Jean
Location: La Roche-sur-Yon, France
Recipe: Jeanago, a mysterious French drink

This post is dedicated to Kristin Espinasse, the wonderful blogger who writes French Word-a-Day. It’s Kristin who keeps me connected to the French language, and to my imaginary life in France, when I can’t be there. Subscribe to Kristin’s blog for your own thrice-weekly dose of her inimitable joie de vivre.

The Couchsurfing Cook was in need of les vacances. So, lickety-split, she hot-tailed it over l’Atlantique to the centre de la cuisine, a.k.a. France.

Typical French fare: A castle in Nantes

There, aided by her host fantastique, Jean, she experienced once again les plaisirs de la vie, and took a walk, not on the wild, but rather le gentil, side of life, at least for a week.

A violin and cabinetmaker by trade, Jean, I quickly discovered, had the soul of a chef; he bakes his own pain de campagne nearly every day. Que dire de plus? Need I say more?

Jean's pain de campagne

In France, or at least at Jean’s home, every meal was an occasion. And with an hour required for preparation, an hour for a leisurely repast, and a half hour to wash and dry dishes, I’d hazard that 7 1/2 hours of a typical French person’s day is dedicated directly or indirectly to food. How the French get other work done, I have no idea. But, no matter. I was on vacation and, tout de suite, this New Yorker found herself sold on a life that revolved, if not entirely, at least frequently, around le cuisine.

It also doesn’t hurt that, despite la vie de la bouche, no one in France appears to gain weight or age, other than with graciousness and youthful glow intact.

So what, you ask, does the French diet consist of? Well, at chez Jean, it included the following:

Breakfast: Croissants or bread with jam, honey, and butter, alternating with yogurt and fruit.


Lunch: Pasta with seafood, salad, a glass of wine, and chocolate for dessert.

Le déjeuner

Dinner: Duck with vegetable, a glass of wine, and two or three cheeses for dessert.

Le dîner

How people stay thin in France remains a mystery to me. But I’ll let the diet doctors fight that one out. In the meantime, I’m merely lounging on my canapé, waiting for the beurre to melt from my thighs.

The other activity, besides eating, that requires one’s full attention in France is buying food from the local marché, which occurs a few times a week. Saturday is the busiest day because, unlike New York City, stores close on Sunday so people can – you guessed it – stay home with their families to eat.

Visiting the French market.

“How do businesses make money here if they’re closed all the time?” I asked Jean, nosy New Yorker that I am, as we perused the aisles.

“How do ze people in New York find time to enjoy ze life?” he parried.

Damn. The man had me. Touché, Jean. Touché.

Of course, I didn’t fall dans l’amour with every dish to which Jean introduced me. Take, for example, bigorneaux, brownish-yellow squiggles of gelatinous sea snails that one consumes as an apertif.

Sea snails awaiting the dining table.

Removing the tiny buggers from their curvy lairs requires stabbing and dragging them out with long, metal pins topped with colorful round baubles. If I hadn’t watched Jean eat one first, I’d have sworn we were supposed to make earrings out of the little guys, not pop their salty bodies into our mouths like so much edamame; consider me unconverted.

I was also introduced to grenouille, their tiny frog legs lightly dredged in flour, then sauteed in butter to give their miniature thighs, knees, and calves a delicate, crusty crunch. A cross between chicken and I’m not sure what, I tried not to imagine where those legs had been or to what kind of squooshy body they’d been attached before gnawing as close to the bone as I could manage, while keep my pinky finger extended to maintain ma haute French manners.

But the real surprise came not from a dish I ate, but rather a refreshing summer beverage I drank, courtesy of Jean. It was one he invented many years ago, and which we imbibed at an outdoor cafe, following a canoe ride down the green-watered canals of the Marais Poitevin, in the Vendée region.

The green canals of France.

Unfortunately, being the international man of mystery that he is, Jean asked me not to reveal the secret ingredient that makes his drink special, though he did give me permission to offer a prize to the first person who can guess what is is.

J'ai soif! Je dois avoir un Jeanoco.

The drink is similar to a popular one in France called a Monaco. In Jean’s version, grenadine is replaced with another sweet syrup, lending the drink a more sophisticated panache. As a hint, the syrup is made from a food that, although nutritionally good for you, can often be found in a food most dentists deplore.

Think you know what turns a Monaco into a Jeanaco? Simply post your answers in the Reply section below. The first person to solve the mystery wins a bottle of the syrup to add to their cocktail mix collection.

And, in the meantime, check out the recipe for the original Monaco to let your own French vacances begin!

Recipe: Monaco
10 ounces lager, a light, golden-colored beer
6 ounces sweetened lemonade
Dash of grenadine

1. Fill glass with lager.
2. Add lemonade.
3. Top with a dash of grenadine, and stir.


* And to buy some fabulous wines on your next trip to the Vendée region, check out the award-winning choices from Domaine Coirier, a warm and welcoming vintner in the town of Pissotte.

Wine crate to go.