Le Weekend, 5/26/23: The French Cantine for Dinner and Channeling Tina Turner 🇫🇷

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May 26, 2023

Dear Frenchly Readers,

When my family and I were in Lyon this past spring, our dear friend Nils suggested we meet him for dinner at his  “cantine,” the clean, well lighted Café Clos Jouve.

When the French say “cantine,” they are not saying “cantina,” the Spanish word, which means bar or wine cellar. Instead, they are invoking the familiarity of childhood. “La cantine” is where they went for school lunch every day, the cafeteria. But there is more to it than that. Like a lot of things in France, there is a history and custom, and also some good old-fashioned egalitarianism, behind the word. After World War II, the school cantine was implemented to give children at least one balanced hot meal a day. Many staples like meat, butter, cheese and milk had been, and were still, scarce in France. Lower income children, in particular, the government of France decided, needed one round meal that wasn’t thinned by scarcity. Soon, even middle-class children were eating lunch regularly in la cantine, as more mothers were joining the workforce, and it was harder for them to pick up their children and bring them home for lunch. Today, out of roughly 12 million French school children ages 3-17 in France, over 8.5 million of them eat in la cantine, where they consume an entrée, a main dish, a salad, a cheese course and some dessert. Most of these lunches are prepared by private catering companies that are contracted by a combination of town and state governments. Each child is charged only 4 Euros a year for this daily meal—or, roughly, about $4.50. (In my great state of Maine, school lunches were made entirely free during the pandemic. After noticing what a difference this made to many children in Maine, Governor Janet Mills made the program permanent last summer—every child in Maine can now eat a hot lunch every day, for free.)

Now, when Nils was telling us to meet him at his cantine, he was invoking the familiar, the Cheers-like quality of it all. (He might have even been skipping down the streets of Lyon and singing, “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.”  Go head and listen, it’ll put a smile on your face, I promise.) In a text to me this morning, he told me that the cantine is the place that is “local to you, you know it by habit and they know your tastes and kids, etc.…not touristy. It’s easy to go to and not too expensive.” In other words, a kitchen away from your kitchen where you know you can eat well on a Tuesday night and not have to do dishes.

On the night we were at le Café Clos Jouve, we had a lovely local Rhone wine in a “pot,” which means, in Lyon-speak, exactly 46 centiliters decanted into a glass jar—not quite a full bottle, but enough for a few full glasses. In Paris they call this, “Une fillette,” or “un quart,” but you get less: only 25 cl. (In Lyon, it’s said that there are 3 rivers: the Rhône, the Saône, and the Beaujolais (wine).)

This was followed by steamed peas in a pesto sauce, and then small cubes of grilled fish that sallied forth from the kitchen on top of a fragrant coconut infused vegetable sauce, which was served alongside bowls of lamb curry. Dessert was dispatched to the children with enough spoons for us all: a black sesame creme brulée tarte with a crunchy sesame top. We walked home sated, happy, and glad to have eaten well and simply in a neighborhood spot. We enjoyed every centiliter of the true meaning of “la cantine” that night.

À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:

Very few lives weren’t touched at some point by Tina Turner’s music. Her raw voice that embodied a moving mélange of hope, pain, joy, and anger could flip a dull or angsty moment into one where you felt on top of the world. Somehow, just by singing, she gave women, in particular, a sense of power and agency. She died on Wednesday at her home in Switzerland, where, she told the Harvard Business Review in 2021, she had finally found peace and a sense of place. She said, “The natural environment here embraces me with a loving energy.”

It’s Friday: Put some Tina on loud and pour yourself a river of Beaujolais. After all, Friday only comes once a week.

If you need some apéro with that wine, Cat Rickman has some suggestions here for Bayonne ham, a French ham that comes from the foothills of the Pyrenees. (It’s not Prosciutto even though it looks like Prosciutto, I promise.)

And, if you want to start planning for a real or virtual trip this weekend to Provence, Keith Van Sickle has this enticing guide for what to do in Provence.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, the official start of summer here in the U.S. Many of us will grill, mow our lawns (even if we’ve been doing a no-mow May, many will throw up their hands this weekend) and listen to baseball on the radio. If baseball isn’t your thing, we’ve got two fun listen-ables on Spotify for you: Cat Rickman has released her first episode of a podcast she’s creating in her not-so spare time called Expat Horror Stories. The first one is about Berlin. There are some fun revelations about Germans and Berlin in this first episode.

And, my book Pete and Alice in Maine, is coming out in 5 weeks. Crazy. The ramp up has begun, events being planned, real books already are here. To go with the excitement, Dan and I made a Spotify playlist of some of the music in the book that inspired me. Check that out and tell me what you think!

Have a great long weekend filled with lilacs, sunshine  and easy summer foods,

À bientôt,


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