March in France can be a little variable in climate, depending on the region. In the north it can still be cold, whereas in the south it can be mild so if you are planning a trip over this month you will need to be aware of this and perhaps take a few warmer clothes just in case.
It is a good time to take a break in France as there are still bargains to be had at this time of year and air prices remain lower before Easter.
New life can be seen everywhere in the countryside as the trees begin to bud and spring flowers show their heads in the warmer spring sunshine. It’s definitely my favourite time of year – a promise of new life.
France is of course a meat eating nation but they also have the most wonderful fruit and vegetables. Their climate is perfect for growing an abundance of fruit and vegetables, of all colours, shapes and sizes and to see their displays in the local markets is to see an artist at work.
Most people will have heard that a Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest diets to eat and it is of no wonder when you see the displays of superior fruits, vegetables, fish, chickens, herbs and fresh eggs in the French market places.
In most homes in France, lunch was and still is in many families, the main event of the day. It usually consists of many smaller parts with hors d oeuvres, entree or pate followed by the main meal of fish or meat with vegetables served separately after the meat. A green salad is always included and then cheese and fresh fruit are served at the end of the meal.
Here in the UK a salad is not often served with a main meal which is a shame. Sometimes a few pieces of lettuce and a few slices of tomatoes are added to the meal as an afterthought rather than a healthy addition every day.
The first course is to stimulate the appetite rather than to satisfy it, so with a few healthy colourful hors d oeuvres on offer, a family will have a really healthy and substantial meal.
The hors d oeuvres don’t have to be an elaborate dish with expensive ingredients but rather, consist of raw vegetable salads, sardines, tuna, olives or smoked ham and sausages.
They only have to be small amounts, just to stimulate the appetite before the main meal, which again is not a massive plate of food but a healthy moderate amount of good quality ingredients.
Pates are another standby and are delicious served with some fresh crusty bread but again, eaten in small amounts and not devouring the whole loaf at one sitting.
It is said that keeping one’s weight down is easy if you eat a healthy Mediterranean diet and to remember to have smaller portions rather than omitting some foods altogether. This sounds most sensible to me - if only I could keep those portions smaller!
So you see French recipes really are healthy if you eat like the French and eat a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat, fish and fresh herbs. A glass or two of French wine is also good for you but again, in moderation and keep to the one or two glasses and not bottles!
For those of you who have children you will know what it is like to try and encourage them to eat their vegetables, it can be difficult at meal times if they refuse to eat what they need. However, with a little thought here, even the most difficult of children will get to like vegetables and accept them on a daily basis.
It simply means offering small portions of raw vegetables each day; presented to the family as hors d oeuvres are in France, or crudités – raw spring vegetables. Just to see the colourful presentation of the vegetables on your table will encourage everyone to eat healthily.
For this months’ recipe I have chosen fresh vegetable crudités which can be served with a choice of dips. Simply by having a small piece of each vegetable, everyone will have a good start to their meal and of course, a much healthier diet.
You can prepare them and leave in a box in the refrigerator; they can be ready for you in advance and of course, will be a healthy snack when anyone is hungry. Ideal if you are at home or on holiday as they will save you time.
There are no set ingredients for these, simply include small pieces of vegetables especially spring vegetables that need no peeling.
Here are some suggestions but you can of course include any of your choice: carrots, courgettes, cauliflower sprigs, radishes, spring onions, mushrooms, celery hearts, peppers – red, green, yellow, and of course cucumber.
Simply wash your vegetables, dry them and trim any pieces that need trimming.
Cut the peppers into slices.
The cucumber can be cut into slices about an inch thick – round or in sticks.
The carrots, if small and new spring carrots can be left whole, otherwise cut into thin strips.
Mushrooms sliced thinly.
You can serve all these colourful vegetables together on a large plate or dish with your favourite dips, such as a fresh mayonnaise, a garlic mayonnaise (aioli), sauce verte which is a green sauce containing herbs, or a French vinaigrette dressing.
I’m sure you will agree they are fabulous and a healthy addition to your family table and when you are entertaining.