They say when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. But what happens when you drink too much of it? Is too much of a good thing actually a bad thing? All that acidity is sure to damage your teeth, and there’s a lot of sugar in lemonade. We’ve been making a lot of lemonade lately in Lyon, with the global pandemic and all. But is it time to stop sprinkling sugar into our cups?
The days in Lyon are a consistent gray, and the nights are long. The weather has been cold enough just to be annoying. Repeated calls for snowfall by meteorologists were reduced to a few flurries that don’t stick on the ground. Our lockdown-turned-curfew has been raging on for almost three months. Instead of fewer restrictions like the French government initially announced, we were issued more. Our already early 8:00 pm curfew is now an even earlier 6:00 pm. Better make it home by the time the street lights come on!
France is struggling with the vaccination rollout. But is anyone surprised? We’ve seen how they handle the paperwork. It’s a slow and lackadaisical process. Not to mention that the French are some of the most skeptical when it comes to the vaccine.
We’ve been home from the Maldives for three weeks and are already itching to go on another adventure. Our daily routine is nothing to write home about: work, walk on the river, make dinner at home, and repeat. The past few weeks have gone something like this:
January 1: We rang in the New Year with an 8:00 pm curfew and a bottle of champagne.
I talked to my parents on New Year’s Eve and told them I would not make it until midnight. What was the point? There were no fireworks displays, parties to attend, or countdown to watch. But Jordan and I committed to staying up to midnight, just to make sure the world wasn’t ending with 2020.
We opened the clock on Jordan’s phone to have an official countdown. At the clock struck midnight, we opened the door to our balcony and popped a bottle of champagne. Jordan must have accidentally shaken the bottle, as champagne started rapidly flowing out! He tried to stop the bottle by taking a sip, and the champagne went everywhere on the balcony floor. I laughed too hard to take action, and Jordan finally yelled, “get the glasses!”. We may have wasted more champagne than we drank.
Outside, families were yelling “Happy New Year” and cheering from their balconies. It made us not feel so alone on the holiday. A six-person group had a small dance party with their windows open in an apartment in a building across from us. How nice of them to share their music with us! What were they playing? Mambo Number 5 and eighties hair band music. Are we in America or France?
January 6: Introducing Queen Laura Shane.
The French celebrate Epiphany, the twelfth day after Christmas. This Catholic holiday officially commemorates the visit to baby Jesus from the Three Wise Men. There is a tradition in France dating back to the 13th century to eat a “galette des rois”. The “galette des rois” literally translates in English to “pancake of kings”. The cake is made from puff pastry and frangipane, a creamy almond paste. This cake is similar to a king cake; the finder of the charm gets to be crowned king (or queen) for the day. A slice is cut for each person, plus one additional to represent those who can’t afford it.
Jordan and I bought a “galette des rois” from our local patisserie down the street. We waited until after dinner to try it. Whoever was crowned king or queen of the Shane household would only have three hours to reign. Many French homes have a tradition that the youngest person in the house chooses who gets what slice. Since I am younger than Jordan, I cut the cake, but I let him choose his piece.
With our slices on our plate, it was time to determine who would reign over the Shane household. Jordan read online to pull up the cake’s top layer to see if the charm was in the slice. That would spare our teeth from the sharp and unpleasant crunch of the charm. We lifted up the top layers in anticipation to see who would wear the crown. There was a chance that the charm was in a different slice that neither of us chose. But as I lifted it up, I spotted the charm! I would be Queen Laura for the evening.
We thought there was only one charm in the cake, but we were wrong. The next evening, we enjoyed the remaining slices. Jordan felt a sharp crunch in his mouth and pulled out a porcelain charm. Our boulangerie was hosting a competition, “Ou est Charlie”, which translates to “Where’s Charlie.” This is France’s version of Where’s Waldo! If we found “Charlie” in our cake, we could return the charm for a prize. Jordan had bit down into a character named Blanche Barbe, which unfortunately did not win us anything. Our Blanche Barbie charm is now proudly displayed on our bookshelf.
Last weekend: I perfected the macaron recipe.
France is famous for their delicate and delicious macarons. These hard to master cookie bases are made with almond flour and are typically paired with a rich buttercream or ganache filling.
My sister and I visited Paris for New Years’ in 2014 and took a macaron baking class at La Cuisine. Our English-speaking instructors taught us how to make macarons using the traditional methods. We had the opportunity to make these cookies first hand, and as a plus, we could take what we made with us! We made brightly colored cookie bases with a variety of fillings, including vanilla bean and chocolate ganache. They were delicious, and didn’t last long.
I did not make macarons again until 2019. Jordan and I lived in our house in South Carolina, and I was on a baking frenzy. We had received a Kitchenaid stand mixer as a housewarming gift from my parents. The mixer would be the perfect tool to get the egg whites the perfect consistency required. Or so I thought. They were lumpy, bumpy, and not at all picturesque like the ones I made in Paris. They were hideous to look at but tasted delicious. Each batch got progressively better as I made them a few weekends in a row. I made the last batch the same weekend I ended up on crutches for the next three months due to a freak stress fracture in my knee, so that was the end of my baking!
Fast forward to 2021, and I had not attempted them again. While my injury and baking were not related to each other, I had not baked much since. But we’ve been cooped up in our apartment for so long, and I wanted to do something to help pass the time. I already had all the supplies needed: piping bags, piping tips, and silicone mats for the oven. All was left was purchasing the ingredients from the store. I found a new macaron recipe in French online. The ingredients were simple enough: almond flour, sugar, eggs, and food coloring.
But there was one problem. I no longer had our Kitchenaid stand mixer (don’t worry, Mom, it’s safe in storage). We didn’t have a hand mixer either. The only thing that we had was an immersion blender that had a whisk attachment. It was going to have to work!
I followed all the rules I had learned over the years about making macarons.
- Mix the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. (I’m pretty sure I almost burnt out the immersion blender battery).
- Fold the batter until it can make a figure-eight pattern.
- Let the macarons sit on the counter for a while before putting them in the oven.
- Pick up the tray and smack it down on the counter to get all the air bubbles out.
And voila! The output was the most perfect macaron cookie base that I had ever made. The top of the macaron was smooth and uncracked and had a perfect cookie crust. Best of all, the cookies did not stick to the silicone! To say I was impressed is an understatement. Not only did they look good, but they also tasted good. It must be the French air that made them so perfect!
Today: It snowed in Lyon!
After weeks of false claims about snow in the forecast in Lyon, we had a snow day! The snow started after our 6:00 pm curfew on Saturday night, so we had to wait until Sunday to enjoy it. Snow was not worth the risk of the high fine for being caught outside after curfew.
I was like a kid on Christmas day! I woke up early Sunday morning excited to play in the snow but still had to wait a few hours for Jordan to get up. Only a couple of inches had fallen, and the city was covered in a light, white blanket of snow. By the time we went outside, most of it was a slushy mess. Beautiful, but slushy.
We threw a handful of snowballs at each other before taking a walk along the river. If it was a competition, Jordan won the snowball fight. He was too quick! Numerous snowmen had popped up along the path, and there was even a snowcat. After enjoying the snow for a couple of hours, we returned back home to finish off our pot of homemade chicken noodle soup Jordan had made for the week.
So, as you can see, there’s really no choice but to keep making lemonade.
But what if, instead of making lemonade out of lemons, we changed the phrase? Why not, “when life hands you grapes, make red wine.” At least there are health benefits known for drinking red wine in moderation. Drinking red wine has been shown to improve moods, which we could all benefit from! Red wine can also protect the heart and sharpen the mind. And there’s no shortage of red wine to choose from in France!
So as the former “queen for the day,” I would like to recommend formally changing the phrase to “when life hands you grapes, make red wine.” All in favor? Say w(I)ne!