Bûche de Noël

We got this beauty at La Crêperie of Fort Collins. Without a doubt, worth the drive from the Boulder area.


The Bûche de Noël, or Yule Log, is a traditional French Christmas dessert, made of frosted sponge cake that is then rolled up and decorated to look like, well, a log, often complete with a dusting of snow and a few mushrooms or berries. I rather like our panda. The tradition of this celebratory log goes back hundreds of years; its origins are in the celebration of the winter solstice.

For our part, we enjoyed a lunch of authentic, believe-you-are-in-Bretagne galettes and crêpes and Christmas music on the accordion when we picked up the bûche earlier this week.


Tonight, I offer this as our pièce de résistance. To all my dear readers: happy holidays and bon appétit! May your stomachs be satisfied, your laughter be plentiful, and your joy be heartfelt. Happy Christmas to All!

Christmas Baking

DSC01405Among the things I swore I would never do if I became a mom:

1. Be a stay-at-home-mom.

Two kids in quick succession and I stepped away from my career – albeit temporarily – to (gasp) stay at home. Don’t tell anyone, but I kind of like it.

2. Feed my kids “kids food.”

“What is this ‘kid’s food’ nonsense? They’ll eat what we eat, the way we eat it!” the old me used to say. This was reinforced when I married a man from France, where “kid’s food” doesn’t exist. I stuck to my guns with Thing 1, then came Thing 2: the pickiest eater in history. My son will boycott entire meals, toss food disdainfully to the floor, or, my favorite: spit things out then scrape off his tongue with his fingers like his mouth has been violated. I haven’t given up entirely, but I admit I experience a small panic, even indignation, if we go to a restaurant and there’s no kid’s menu. Or dip of some kind. He’ll eat it if he can dip it. “Blueberries and ketchup? Whatever.” My new mantra.

3. Allow my child to kick the seat back in front of him on an airplane.

I was once the person on the airplane who avoided kids if at all possible. Whose flight experience could be ruined by a seat-kicking child. Now – hello karma – that kid is mine. I get it, poor lady who chose the seat in front of my son. I feel your pain, really I do. But when my son’s car seat is in place (No Way can we go without it, our little Houdini will wiggle his way out of any restraints other than a five-point harness) his knees are folded uncomfortably into his chest. He’s an active, exuberant toddler, constantly on the move. When nothing else can move, he kicks. My husband and I spend entire flights blocking his feet, trying to minimize the assault on the seat in front of him. I’m forever grateful to understanding fellow passengers, and I’ve found that the most gracious ones are those who have kids of their own. They’ve been there, too.

4. Emulate, in anyway, Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart.

After all, it’s so anti-feminist. Cliché. Expected, even. I had better things to do than be in the kitchen.

Thing is, though, I like to eat. When I eat, I want the food to be good. I don’t have the wallet nor the waistline to handle eating out all the time, so… I learned to cook. To play hostess. To make a room cozy and inviting. I get giddy, even, at the thought of the wide range of things that can come from flour, sugar, and eggs mixed together.

So. Freaking. Girly.

Yet, turns out I don’t mind.

I actually love cooking. I suspect more than one person in my life decided they wanted to be my friend because of something they ate at my house. I’m okay with that.

Christmastime, the oven spends more time on than off, my hands grow chapped, and the floors have a fine coat of flour as I bake an array of treats then box them up for gifts. I love every minute of it. I even pulled a baking (almost) all-nighter this year. So I’ve gone from studying all-nighters to partying all-nighters to up all night with babies to, now, Betty Crocker all-nighters.

Here are the sweets of my labors:


Next up: Prime rib for Christmas Eve, and classic Swiss Fondue for Christmas Day.

I really love good food.

Photo Day: Christmas in the Alps

I haven’t been to France in over two years (a toddler and a preschooler on a plane… I wish I were so brave), so many of my photos are older. These are from a Christmas we spent in the French Alps, in a small mountain village called Samoens. A beautiful, charming place, where we stayed in a cozy converted farmhouse, read books (the house had quite an Asterix collection), and indulged in Raclette after days spent on the slopes. It was my first Christmas away from my own family, so I learned of some of the French traditions my husband grew up with. Midnight mass (3 hours! We Presbyterians shudder at the thought), bûche de noel (yule log), and real chestnuts roasting on an open fire served in the village at their Christmas carnival – it was charming and so different from my own traditions. It was here, too, that I first saw Le Père Noel est une Ordure. I sat there, perplexed and not understanding, while my husband, his brothers, and my sister-in-law rocked with laughter and called out lines before the characters. Now that my French is better, as is my understanding of French humor, I find it pretty hilarious, too.

Here’s the charming farmhouse we stayed in, taken before the snow came:

035 Le Ferme

137 Le Ferme

Some photos of Samoens:

025 Fountain in Samoens

026 Samoens

139 Samoens

Twelfth century church where we attended mass . We sang Angels We Have Heard on High, one of my favorites, in French:

141 Samoens

The Alps, near Samoens:

045 Alps

075 Alps

055 Alps

060 Alps

070 Alps

Early morning frost:032 Frost

A visit to the nearby village of Annecy, with me obviously American in my running shoes:

091 Annecy

093 Annecy

097 Annecy

100 La Roche sur Foron

La Roche sur Foron

098 Annecy

And skiing in Alvoriaz:

130 Carol

135 Alvoriaz

Interview with Patrice LeJeune, Marquetry Artist

Patrice2Patrice LeJeune is a Marquetry Artist working out of Antique Refinishers in San Diego, CA, where they also run the American School of French Marquetry. I’m lucky to be friends with Patrice; aside from being a very talented artist, he’s also easily one of the funniest people I know. With his wicked, dry humor and ability to do voices and impressions, he’s a fantastic guest at any dinner party, a fun partner in Belotte, and a guy you don’t want to mess with in poker.

The term “marquetry” is from middle French, meaning “inlaid work.” It is the art of assembling veneer pieces (usually wood, but sometimes other materials like ivory, pearl, or even metal) together to make a design or picture. The techniques began in 16th century Florence as well as 16th century France. In the mid-seventeen century, French furniture makers began using marquetry techniques to provide the ornate furniture that would decorate Versailles and Louis XIV’s other royal residences.

Patrice notes that he is, “working on developing new techniques that I did not create but for which I am putting different aspects theories in place.” Wikipedia expands on Patrice’s new techniques, you can read about them here.

Circle of Life - Fusion Marquetry

Circle of Life – Fusion Marquetry

Here is my interview with Patrice:

What interested you/attracted you to the field of Marquetry?

My father was a harpsichord maker; I grew up with the smell of wood. I chose to study furniture making in order to work in the family workshop and entered Ecole Boulle in Paris at the age of 15 for a 5 year program. Unconsciously, I am sure choosing this profession at that age was to try to get closer to my father, but soon my thoughts and desires switched from musical instrument making to furniture.

In my 4th year in school we visited and studied for a couple weeks in other workshops. One of those workshops was marquetry. I really fell in love with that art and always wanted to add this skill to my toolbox.

Patrice at work

Patrice at work

What kind of school did you go to and what was your education like?

I did go to Ecole Boulle. It is an Arts and Crafts School focusing on Decorative Arts. It hosted at that time 11 workshops such as cabinet making, upholstery, turning, marquetry etc., all related to the different fields of decorative arts. The 3 first years are dedicated to traditional furniture and how to make them by hand and machine. Then 2 more years to learn how to create furniture, and to produce a master piece on a theme, “artists house,” during the last year. {It was} a piece of furniture which could be included in a house where an artist lived open to the public or a museum. I chose the Horta House in Brussels and realized a piece mixing Art Deco and nouveau.

The program included all the regular classes you have to follow in high school, with a slightly lighter program, French, another language, mathematic, science, etc. Plus an artistic side, drawing, composition, modeling etc. Plus the technical aspects, technology, machine shop, workshop, and for me, cabinet making.

What are your favorite projects to create/work on? Any favorite completed projects?

I like to work on anything that includes marquetry but mainly a job which offers challenge. My favorite project is usually the last one but there is a difference in my heart between what I do for a living, the traditional stuff, and my modern art work. Both of them are very important but I wish I had more time to work on my art.

What is a typical day like on your job?

Morning starts with breakfast in front of the computer, doing emails. Then strong coffee and chasing money. Our main business at which I spend more than half of my time is restoration. I repair and restore furniture, with a specialty on veneer and marquetry restoration, but I am also a French polisher and a gilder. When I am done chasing money, then comes the IT choir: marketing, graphic design, website design, etc. Then if I have time left, I can work on our spec marquetry projects; for now I try to find as much time to work on that.

One of Patrice's projects

One of Patrice’s projects

From this original I redesign a better quality marquetry just using the overall composition as a guide.

If I have time or a deadline or spare energy then I work on my art…

Tell me about the school at your studio.

American School of French Marquetry in San Diego, CA

American School of French Marquetry in San Diego, CA

In our school, the American School of French Marquetry, we teach French style marquetry, which for us is the best and most efficient and with the possibility of a better quality result, methods and techniques.

Our students range from amateur, hobbyist, or curious to serious professional. We have people coming from all over the world (though not Europe), but our main source of students is in the US and Canada.

Our programs are designed by weeks, each week students learn a new technique or refine their techniques. Most of the students take 2 to 3 weeks in one or two trips.

What brought you to San Diego?

Agnes (Patrice’s wife, who just completed her PhD) had a exchange program in Scotland in 2002. We loved living abroad so we looked for a good place to carry on speaking and learning English. Nothing came out of scotland or UK so We turned to the US. I did not choose San Diego, I was looking for a job and contacted Patrick Edwards who had come 4 years in a row for 3 months to my school in Paris to learn marquetry. I asked him if he knew anyone in San Francisco and he offered me a job. Not a bad decision overall.


If you are in the San Diego area, be sure to visit Antique Refinishers in their North Park workshop, or sign up to take a class or two at their school and discover your inner artist!

Here’s a link to Patrice’s blog, and some videos to learn more.

Here are some photos of Patrice’s work:

This one took Best of Show at the Design in Wood Show 2010

This one took Best of Show at the Design in Wood Show 2010


Replication of a piece

Replication of a piece

The finished piece

The finished piece


Photo Day: Les Villages Perchés en Provence (Part II)

Part II of those charming perched villages:



St. Paul de Vence

St. Paul de Vence

Moi, in St. Paul de Vence, 2008

Moi, in St. Paul de Vence, 2008

St. Paul de Vence

St. Paul de Vence



St. Paul de Vence - this place is made for photos

St. Paul de Vence – this place is made for photos

Newer part of St. Paul de Vence

Newer part of St. Paul de Vence