Eating Paleo in France (and while pregnant)

If you’re unfamiliar with the paleo diet, Google can explain it better than I can. Though in general, I am more into the idea of a paleo template or lifestyle rather than “diet” and have totally adapted things to suit my needs, and to take into account what I can and can’t get in France.

So I can’t say that I’ve ever been 100% paleo, though I have gotten very close a few times in the past year, especially when I was running on a regular basis. It takes a fair amount of planning to get through a full week of work and evening activities (sports, friends, etc.) and I can only maintain that kind of attention for a few weeks at a time. Also, it can get a bit pricey!


Before . . .

Planning for breakfast is the hardest, because my husband spent years eating cookies every morning. (Eileen posted about eating habits in France, and it’s not just my husband who does this! ) So when I can, I make four or five hard-boiled eggs one night after dinner, or a batch of paleo muffins, to have ready for breakfast the next few days. Almond butter and apples are another go-to breakfast for me, though almond butter is not available in the large supermarkets here, and sometimes I make it myself. But usually I go to organic (biologique or just bio) stores like La Vie Claire. That’s also where I find coconut oil, coconut flour, and sometimes even coconut palm sugar.

Some organic products are relatively easy to find in the bigger supermarkets in France (eggs, butter, chicken, vegetables, fruit) though I’m still unsure as to what is considered “free range” here. Grass-fed would be “nourri à l’herbe” but I’ve never seen that written anywhere, so I assume most of the meat you get in the supermarket is grain-fed.  We go to the outdoor market on Saturdays sometimes, and I could ask the sellers, but for the moment, grass-fed meat is not high on my list of essentials.

What we mainly try to do is avoid processed food, and any treats we want, we make ourselves and it all seems to work out. Avocado chocolate pudding sounds kind of nasty, but is actually super delicious and tastes nothing like avocado, I promise. And it’s already fairly common to make sweets with almond flour in France, so it’s just a matter of adapting the recipes and replacing the sugar with something else (honey, maple syrup, molasses).

Rather than trying to put a name on it, in general, both me and my husband feel better when we’re able to eat less processed food and cook more for ourselves (duh). So I hesitated to even talk about paleo in this post, but that’s where the inspiration for our version of “clean eating” has come from. I am not saying this is the best choice for everyone, but it’s still one that’s totally possible in the land of bread and cheese. Meals with my in-laws are already full of fresh meat (wild boar is hunted in my husband’s hometown) and seasonal veggies, so it’s simply a matter of saying no to the baguette and skipping the cheese course. The apéro is trickier, but there are usually at least cherry tomatoes or olives in addition to chips and crackers.


Now . . .

During my pregnancy, I have been way less concerned about following any particular plan, other than trying to eat vegetables twice a day and starting January 1st I stopped drinking soft drinks. If I feel like eating bread, I will, and if another night salad and baked chicken sounds good, I’ll have that. Since I had cut out so much sugar months and months before even thinking about being pregnant (with an incredibly indulgent break during our last trip to the states in October), I wonder if that’s behind the reason for my relatively tame cravings. Though my other theory is that after getting used to not having all my American treats readily available to me in France, I’m already so used to ignoring cravings, I may not even notice I’m having one.

A dislike for sweets certainly makes trying to stay paleo easier, though in my second trimester I regained the taste for chocolate I had lost early in my pregnancy. I’ve been trying to stick with healthier alternatives most of the time, but without putting too much pressure on myself. If we have peppers, I’ll have those with dip instead of chips, but if all we have are chips, then that’s what I’m eating.

I’d say before we were aiming for 80% and now I’m at around 40-50%. My husband has been cooking a lot more recently, and the rule is that when he cooks, I eat whatever he makes, no complaining. And really I have no reason to complain, he can get quite creative in the kitchen! But if he decides to make pasta and canned tomato sauce, then that is what I eat. And the days when I have more energy, I’ll make a big crustless quiche with coconut milk and cut up enough veggies to last a few days.


The future . . .

So will our bébé be a little paleo caveman? I don’t know yet. I don’t think anyone would argue that more fruits and veggies and less sugary cereals isn’t a good idea for kids. As with most things involving pregnancy and babies, I have my hopes about how things will go but also try and stay open to adapting as needed. My big hope is that all the planning that goes into how we eat will help us stay organized the first few crazy months (years??). But as long as we try and set a good example by trying new things and not eating too much junk, I think it should be fine.

Local French politics

I am not at all interested in politics, which can sometimes be hard in France, where it’s often a favorite topic of discussion among friends and family. However, my interest and knowledge of local French politics has increased the past few weeks, in part due to the recent municipal elections being the only thing on the television and radio, but mostly because my mother-in-law was elected as a deputy mayor of her town.

This was not a big surprise or anything, since there has only been one party running in the town for decades, and she was on the list this year. Still, it was fun to see her officially take up her role this past Sunday, while the rest of the country was all in a tizzy about the results in various major cities.

The first order of business for the newly elected town council was actually to elect the mayor. Again, this was not a surprise, since there was one candidate and he’s been the mayor for a long time and everyone seems to agree he does a pretty good job. I personally have issues with the absence of the annual “roasting an entire pig on a spit” festival the past 4 years due to budget cuts, but no one else seems to share my feelings about this . . . It was actually kind of funny, all the council members had to go through the motions of putting slips in the ballot box, and then they counted them, calling out his name each time.

Then the new mayor presented his list of deputies. My MIL is actually one of 6 deputy mayors. Why 6? It’s because the mayor can choose up to 30% of the number of council members to be deputies. The number of council members is determined by the size of the town.

The council members then had to vote to accept the list, and the whole amusingly redundant ballot box procedure was repeated. Then the mayor called the deputies up in order, and they got their sash and gave a little speech. My MIL’s father had been a deputy mayor back in the day, so this was especially exciting for the family, to have one of his children “go into politics.”

Then, as befits any official occasion in France, there was an apéro. Though I couldn’t eat or drink most of it, it did not seem appropriate for the daughter-in-law of a newly appointed deputy to be grumpy about that fact, so I just stood there smiling with my orange juice staring longingly at the various meats and cheeses on display.

So I’ll probably be hearing a lot more about how a small town gets run over the next months and years (they’re elected for 6 years!), which should be pretty interesting. And as a deputy, in addition to marriages, she can perform civil baptisms. Which apparently we are doing now for the bébé, whether we had been planning on baptising him or not . . . ah, how quickly power goes to the head!

Calculating due date in France

The first question everyone asks when they find out you’re pregnant is “When is the due date?” or “How far along are you?” You would think these would be easy questions to answer. However, like so many things that seem to be different for no other reason than to drive foreigners crazy, dates relating to pregnancy are not talked about in the same way in France as in the states.

To start off, people/books/websites refer to both “semaines de grossesse” (SG) and “semaines d’ d’aménorrhée” (SA). SG is calculated starting with conception so it’s the age of the fetus, and the SA is calculated starting on the first day of your last period.

For months now, I have been wondering, why does this difference even exist?? If all the doctors and the administration talk about SA, why even have SG to begin with? It’s the “real” age of the baby, which is nice to know I guess . . . but still, very confusing. So when I read forums and books in French, I have to pay attention to if they’re talking about SG or SA, or worry about having done/not done something too late before realizing it’s okay, I still have two more weeks to do/undo it.

For various reasons, I actually have a pretty good idea of when we managed to make this happen, and I told my doctor this, but he stuck with the “conception is two weeks after first day of last period” rule (the one rule that does seem to be standard in different countries). So he calculated my due date as July 18th. When calculating using my date, with American tools, my due date July 14th.

Also, in France they calculate a due date based on 41 SA weeks, rather than 40 in the states. And I just read an article (from 2006 ) that the average in the states has gone down to 39. I work in Luxembourg and they use 40 weeks, so I’m actually going on maternity leave a week later than I would if I had a Luxembourgish doctor.

Despite doing my best to read about (and now write about) due dates and stuff, none of this really makes any sense to me. I still have no idea when this baby is “supposed” to get here, besides sometime in mid-July. Which is why I like to tell people July 14th, because 1) as an American, my body will obviously follow American rules; 2) that’s a super fun due date to have in France; and 3) it probably won’t be that day anyway, so why bother telling people what the doctor put on a paper.

There is a full moon on July 12th, and while the belief that more babies are born during the full moon hasn’t really been proven, the final of the World Cup is July 13th, and everybody knows that babies like to be born when there are other things to be done (I was born on Christmas, and my husband’s mom went into labor while the car was being washed. Yeah, I totally win that one.)

One thing I know for sure is that it will not happen any later than July 18th, because my doctor apparently does not put up with any of this “let’s wait a week or two past your due date” nonsense to induce. He said if I’m not in the hospital on the 18th, he will put me there. So sharing a birthday with Prince George is out, unless I want four days of labor. (I’ve never had a baby before, but I’m gonna bet that no, I will not want that).

As for the how far along I am question, I usually say something like “four and a half months” but this seems to confuse people here, and my MIL said “ok, so you’re in your fifth month” just like after celebrating your 25th birthday, you’re in your 26th year. Sigh. More confusion.

Even the months don’t seem to correspond to the same number of weeks on both sides of the Atlantic. Does month three end at 13 or 14 weeks? Month six at week 26 or 27? When the F does my third trimester start??

Anyway, by now, in both countries, everyone seems to agree that I am most definitely in my second trimester, whether at the end of my 4th month or beginning of my 5th is up for debate. I’m at 18 SA (and American weeks) whether +1 days or +4 depends on whether you want to listen to my doctor or to me, the person who was actually there when the baby was made. I personally only listen to him when he tells me I can still eat whatever I want as long as it’s in reasonable portions and that I should cook my meat all the way through.

I realize this was probably pretty boring for people who are not and/or do not want to be pregnant, in France or any country. So to thank you for reading this far, here’s a picture from the Carnival costume party we went to this weekend, featuring my little bump, who, let’s face it, doesn’t really care how old it is, as long as I am feeding it delicious French pastries.

pregnant egg costume

Super Bowl in France

Though we don’t get ESPN anymore, the Super Bowl is shown live in France on a regular channel, so my husband still got to have some fun on Super Bowl Sunday (though with the time difference, it’s more like Super Bowl very-early-Monday). He spent the afternoon making a few recipes from the NFL cookbooks my dad sent him for Christmas. Then we had a few friends over to eat and play Madden while waiting for the midnight kickoff. I say “we,” but I was in bed at 10:30 and have very little real interest in football, since my family was more into baseball. My husband definitely knows way more about the game than I do. The first game he ever saw six years ago (on TV) was between Seattle and San Francisco, and since Seattle won, it’s been his team ever since. So he was even more into watching the Super Bowl than previous years, and actually took Monday off work to recuperate.

While it wasn’t quite the same as a lazy Sunday afternoon hanging out with people and watching the game in primetime with all the commercials, it’s nice that he was able to watch it here and that our friends are interested as well. I’m sure in big cities there are bars that show it and large American expat communities that get together to have all sorts of Super Bowl fun. And if next year we happen to be in one of those cities, we’ll definitely try and experience it that way.

I like creating our own mix of French/American traditions surrounding these types of events. Despite time differences and language barriers, I’m happy my husband is able to experience a tiny bit of the American lifestyle. (I hesitate to say “American culture” when talking about football, would you say watching the World Cup be a part of “French culture”?) The plan is still for us to live in the states at some point, and given how really into certain American things he is, like football, sometimes I think he’ll have less culture shock than me!

Galette des Rois

The start of the holiday season varies, by country, by family, by individual.

In France, for me, I tend to wait until the town Christmas lights are lit before getting any gifts. It certainly feels more festive to go shopping when the streets are all dressed up. This year, in our new apartment, there were even lights on my street, which made everything seem extra Christmassy.

If I keep saying Christmas, it’s because that’s what it is here, don’t even bother mentioning that other holidays exist during December, all you’ll get is blank stares. Not that I particularly mind, since I do celebrate Christmas. But I’m always torn between how extra festive it seems here, without the constant debate about what word to use or whether the displays are offensive, and my ingrained American political correctness that cringes every time someone wishes me a “Joyeux Noël.” The more general “Bonnes fêtes” is like saying happy holidays, but it’s more to include New Year’s rather than avoid insulting anyone.

The end of the holiday season is a little clearer I think, with Epiphany on January 6th. In my parents’ house, this was always the day we took down the tree and packed up the decorations. This is also what I wanted to do yesterday, but I’ve been dragging my heels, enjoying how pretty our living room looks.

One thing my family never did, but that I would occasionally do in my French immersion school, is the Galette des Rois, or King Cake. It’s a cake with a little trinket in the middle, and whoever discovers it in their slice is the King and gets to wear a paper crown for the rest of the afternoon. (The internet can tell you more about what it means and why we do it; I am too grumpy because I did not get the crown this year.)

While very common all over France, I’m not sure it’s always the same type of cake. In my area of France, they look something like this:

Galette des rois

If that looks a little homemade, that’s because it is! For first time in the six years I’ve experienced this tradition, I made my own galette des rois, entirely from scratch. The filling is leaking out a bit and it’s not quite as golden as the nice bakery ones, but I was pretty pleased with myself. Especially for the puff pastry, which was not especially hard, but took a bit of time and involved a technique I’ve never used before. I had to roll out the dough, put butter in the middle, fold it all up, roll it out, refrigerate it, then roll it again, then more refrigerating and rolling.

I enjoy baking a lot, and it’s something that I am known for doing, particularly in my husband’s family, so I put a lot of pressure on myself when making French desserts. I could make the world’s worst cheesecake and none would be the wiser, but mess up madeleines and they will remember it for years.

Happily, I got all around favorable responses from the in-laws Sunday night, so maybe this will become a new family tradition, to have me bake the cake when we wind down the holiday season. It’s nice to think I’m adding to traditions here, not just experiencing them as an outsider/foreigner.

Now that the season is officially over, there’s nothing but a few bleak months of winter ahead. However, all the work on the pastry yielded enough for a few more tarts, so that’ll be something at least to look forward to!