France: An attempt to become a vegan French man living in Birmingham

Proust and a Chambord — Crémant de Loire cocktail. So nice to not be British for a while.

OK, I knew from the beginning that France was going to be a challenge, the French are our best friends, our worst enemies, they beat as at football and they don’t, in general, take kindly to vegans. It is also hard to shy away from the cliches we’ve been brought up with all our lives. I was glad, therefore that my first foray into French film was not Goddard, but a short little B-movie called Fuck UK, about a man who so hates our beautiful country that he creates a team to carry out anti-British commando actions. It’s a one joke film so I wouldn’t recommend it, but at least it made the point that we are not the only ones who like to mock our closest neighbours.

A vegan croissant in a train station. This is my life.

But this gentle amuse-bouche cannot be allowed to distract from this week’s biggest challenge — veganising French food! I started with a vegan steak and frites with mushroom sauce, even going so far as to buy the vegan steak from Belgium… The result? Nice fries, superb mushrooms sauce, but the steak was appalling. It will never pass my lips again. Instead I moved onto a cassoulet, not this tasted far better, so good in fact that I sent a photo to a French-ish friend who responded “the cassoulet doesn’t look anything like a cassoulet, it makes me question every recipe you’ve done up until now.” Another disaster then! But undaunted I carried on, this time trying to create a vegan coq au vin (not such a crazy idea really as people would have made those in the old days when they couldn’t afford the meat.) This, was a TRIUMPH! We all loved it and I will make it again — though I guess maybe the lesson here is that anything can be delicious if you added enough wine and brandy to it! France being such a foody nation, I could not stop there, I made vegan pain au chocolat, two type of vegan croissant and one of my kids even made vegan crepes using flax seed eggs. All were great, especially when paired with the fresh baguettes we ate all week.

How to make your French friends cry. I am not sure onion rings count as truly French. This was the attempted steak. Please ignore the vinegar and ketchup.

Talking of pairing, I got a little over excited and tried to buy a bottle from each of the 17 wine regions of France. This meant wine with every meal. The trick is not to have too much — no more than one glass with breakfast, two with lunch and so on. It is hard to pick a favourite from all the wines we drank as all hit the spot. I am one of those wine tasters who can distinguish what he does like, but not what he doesn’t. I remember the but the Côtes du Rhône (we accidentally bought two) were wonderful, and the Pouilly-Fumé was hard to beat. Though I also loved the Crémant de Loire which we drank with Chambord — a delightful raspberry liqueur. There was one, however, that topped them all — the bottle of champagne brandy I received for my birthday — along with a card addressed to Mr A Traveller.

Homemade vegan croissants, orange juice and a half bottle of claret — temperance is everything.

Once you’ve had your fill of wine, it makes sense to follow the French and retreat to a sofa or bed to watch something intellectual. French films are not hard to find, but it’s not easy to plump for one to define the whole genre. To give you some idea of how tricky, check out this blog which lists in chronological order every French film since time began… some people have too much time on their hands! I concluded the only way to make a fair decision was to watch the most recent French film being advertised on Mubi. This happened to be the rather lovely black and white romance called Paris, 13th District, which weaves together multicultural, gay and straight love stories and moves from feel bad to feel good with care and precision. Please do watch it to the end! With so much wine to drink we also decided to watch the first series of Dix pour cent, the smash hit series of a talent agency in Paris, including cameos from France’s biggest stars. It is a super easy watch and is the perfect thing to sober up to at the end of each day.

Cassoulet and three bottles of wine (for scale) — note the baguette.

The same cannot be said for bloody Proust, a writer that I thought another French-ish friend had recommended, but when I challenged him, he responded “I would never recommend Proust to anyone.” My God, that Proust can type… In search of lost time starts with 10 pages about a doorknob, includes a nine page paragraph about a train journey he is considering but never actually goes on, and despite being 500+ pages, it carries on for another six volumes. Reading it made me remember the time before smart phones and pointless blogs about people travelling the world from their armchair, when people could spend hours each day getting lost in someone else’s world, using reference books to find out about obscure paintings an author constantly refers to and trying to fathom why in the name of arse the upper classes use their great wealth and power to keep up hierarchies that do nothing but bring them misery. If I had infinite lives I would certainly read volume two, but as existence is fleeting I shall instead wait for the movie (the Jeremy Irons version seems impossible to find on-line).

Remy Martin! I shall spare you the photos that followed!

OK! This blog has been the longest one yet, but, you know the French aren’t famous for their brevity and I guess I’m kind of a Francophile. I particularly loved making this week’s nine hour playlist which I sent to my French correspondent with the excitement of a new father, waiting impatiently to hear whether he thought I’d done well linking songs from Gainsbourg to Letitia Sadier to La funk mob to Les Gam’s. He responded semi-positively, giving me a score of 70%, along with a stern telling off for being elitist and including 80% white males. Luckily he sent me an alternative playlist, perfect for those who find mine elitist and bland!

You’re welcome.



Zero carbon lockdown travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.

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Armchair traveller

Zero carbon lockdown travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.