I know when you hear 'France' and 'country house' you think, "Fancy!" and "Ooo, la la, these people are rich!" And some of them probably are. But certainly not fancy.
French people, to an American perspective, are very thrifty. They do not throw things away, tear down old buildings, etc. Especially food, never...that's why French toast exists, along with lots of other recipes designed to use up leftover food. And thank goodness for my Aunt Sylvie's dog because some of that stuff, I was not eating. Lights are always turned off when you leave a room and broken things are not thrown away. Repaired or not. For example, my grandmother had three pairs of scissors in the house, all completely chewed up and horrible looking. She hasn't had a dog in years. I chucked the worst pair when she wasn't looking. The toaster had two settings, not enough and incinerated. After a week, I wanted to hurl it out the window. My grandmother, above, is 93 years old and a queen of thriftiness. I couldn't help thinking...Lady, you have two houses, and you're worried about the price of tomatoes? But she was and would put them back if she found a price she liked better. But she would wave off other things for not being good enough quality too. It was a challenge, let's just say, to do the daily grocery shopping for 6,10,12,14, and even17 people!
As you can see, they're not really fat, except for my cousin's son, Matthieu there in the middle...and that's just baby fat. ;-) That poor kid has the curse of being picky in a country where food and meals is such a part of the lifestyle. I feel like the whole day there was about food. Meal planning, grocery shopping, meal prep, serving, eating, cleaning up...start again. Anyway, Matthieu commits the daily crime of not liking much and eating mostly what would show up on a kids menu in the US. Here, he'd be a slight irritation, there was a major deal. They talked about it for DAYS before he came, and then every meal was: what's he eating now? Well, whatever his dad would make separate for him: nuggets, pizza, plain pasta. They had to explain to my grandmother what a 'nugget' was, but they did sell them in the grocery store. There, they consider it part of their upbringing to teach kids to eat meals, and table manners mattered, even when eating outside in your swimsuit, a little at least.
My kids instantly won my grandmother's affection by eating everything, especially Gigi, even if they didn't make it to dinner a few nights because it was so late. Lunch at 2:30 and dinner at 8:30, 9 pm is tough for little kids. My grandmother was really alarmed the first time I put one or the other to bed without lunch/dinner. "But when will she eat? She needs dinner!" Seriously, it worried her. It was a problem. Kids (and adults sometimes) are expected to eat a snack at 4-5pm, and cookies are completely acceptable. Other than that, I didn't really see much snacking. I grab fruit or yogurt for them or myself as necessary, and thankfully, there was plenty of that. I ate so much white flour bread, butter, full-fat cheese, and second helpings on lots of stuff (just to please my grandmother, of course) and didn't gain weight (much...but that was all the pastries I ate in Paris #noregrets). Portion, shmorshen, fiber, shmiber. Not an issue. But I did eat lots and lots of fruit because 1) it was delicious, especially the cantaloupe...to-die-for, and 2) most meals started and/or ended with fruit.
People sometimes ask me if I cook for "French food" or I want to make French food, what do I do? Here it is. Courses. It MUST be in stages. There are rules for what is served and even for who served what (men pour the wine, offer the dish to the people around you before serving yourself, the guest is served first, host sits at the head of the table, etc.).
1) First course. Everyone starts eating 1 thing. Like an appetizer, but the options are more like, in the summer, a slice of melon (cantaloupe or watermelon), carrot salad, tomato salad, cucumber salad---aka tossed in vinaigrette, or in the winter, cold cuts, pate, soup. Chips and salsa, a Texas staple, would be a pre-first course, an aperitif (served with champagne! I may defect.)
2) Main course. Meat and veg. Veal and peas, Roast beef and mashed potatoes, sausages and rice, etc.
3) Cheese course. Bread, butter and cheese.Multiple kinds of cheese. After every lunch and dinner. I don't think I've eaten cheese but once or twice since we've come back. So.much.cheese.
4) Dessert. Yogurt, fruit, and if you're lucky, cake. I did make cookies too. The 12 year old French kids said they were the best they'd ever had. :-)
Finally, Rudy the goof and Indiana, wanting to be just like him.
It was so fun and rewarding (and so challenging) to take my kids to another country. I hope we can do it again when they're a little bit older and will do their mother a solid and sleep on the dang plane. A mother can dream, right?