Category Archives: Food

On pronunciation and the proper way to eat a brownie.

kid brownie

{I don’t know this kid, but I know she knows how to eat a brownie.}

Any of my fellow compatriots who (still) think the French don’t really like us should come to France and see for themselves. The French love America! They listen to our music, they eat under golden arches (admit it, Frenchies, you adore “MacDo”), they speak our language.

Maybe I should rephrase that. Sure, every French person speaks English nowadays, but they also adopt our words when speaking their own language.

I particularly like the food vocabulary that has become increasingly trendy lately. I first noticed it when my friend Hélène opened up her cookie shop in Dijon and I started hearing sentences like, “I’d like one chocolate chip cookies, please.” Apparently, all cookies are plural here. Hélène also sells oh-so-American muffins, which sounds something like “meuhfeens.” A new “American restaurant” just popped up in town. They feature “bayGUHLS” and propose “Looky Charm” cereal for dessert (quelle horreur!).

I’m getting reasonably good at understanding French, but when they use our words and pronounce them their way, it always throws me for a loop.

sweet teeth

A couple days ago, a group of us was at the boulangerie grabbing some “sondweech” for a quick lunch. Victor ordered a “brohnie” for dessert and then asked me if I liked them. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“You know, a brohnie,” he said. “It’s American.”

“Oh! A brownie,” I said.

“Oh, A BROWNie,” Estelle teased, with spot-on American pronunciation. “You always say, ‘oh!’ whenever you recognize an American word.”

“Yea, because when I am listening to French all day, I guess my mind is constantly trying to translate, and then when it hears an American word — pronounced differently — it gets confused.”

We paid for our lunches and made our way back to school for a “pique-nique.”  When we had finished our “sondweech” and were moving on to dessert, Victor pulled out a spoon. I couldn’t help but giggle.

“You’re going to eat your brownie with a spoon?” I asked.

“Is that not the way I’m supposed to eat it?” Victor replied.

“Eat it however you want, but may I take a picture?”

Brownie{Clearly not the American way to eat a brownie)

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Filed under Culture, Food, Just for laughs, Language

Wine is not a cocktail, it’s a condiment

Wine is alcohol, so wine is a cocktail.

It’s 8:00 pm and I’m in my running clothes, sitting on the floor with wine books around me. The phone is tucked between cheek and shoulder as I bend over a piece of scrap paper and take notes. Daniel, whom I think I can rightly call my wine mentor by now, is on a roll, spouting out facts and figures, recommending wine writers, and coming up with publishing analogies to make sure I get what he’s talking about. (Alluding to the value of studying wine before I am professionally involved in the industry, he says “it’s like a writer going into publishing. The job becomes less about writing and more about marketing.”)

I struggle to write fast enough, getting only fragments of sentences down before Daniel switches gears and is on to the next subject.  Tonight he stresses the importance of understanding the American mentality toward wine, and how people in the industry must react to that perspective.

“Americans don’t drink wine before they are in their 30’s,” he says definitively. He pauses, but not long enough for me to mention I’m an exception to that rule.

“First of all, there is no wine culture for us before we are 21, because it’s illegal. That means many of us get our introduction to alcohol in college, where we drink sugary concoctions to mask the cheap liquor taste. But we get used to it. Most of us are raised on sugar anyway, so we might actually like it. Then, out of college, we stick with what we know, which is syrupy sweet. When it is finally appropriate for us to drink wine (let’s face it, college kids associate it with snobbishness), we want it sugary, or big  and alcoholic, and we want to sip it like we sipped our cheap cocktails. But wine is not a cocktail to be sipped. It is a condiment.”

I wasn’t expecting that. Wine is a condiment? The first thing that pops into my mind is a big, red bottle of ketchup on a picnic table. Wine is a condiment?

But I have no time to protest.

“I like to call it synergy,” Daniel says. “Food-wine synergy.”

I write it down.

“You wouldn’t eat ketchup by itself. You wouldn’t sip salad dressing. Wine is like that. It always goes with food.”

I’m surprised he doesn’t have any qualms with referring to ketchup and wine in the same context. “A condiment, Daniel?” I ask. “Really?”

With a shrug I can imagine over the phone, he acknowledges my hesitancy with pure confidence. “Really,” he says. Period.

“We have to reach out to the consumer with this in mind, always encouraging them to expand their palates. We have to talk to them about terroir and sub-appellations, and the fact that southern French wine pairs perfectly with Herbes de Provence for a reason; that Muscadet is made for mollusks because its grapes are salted by the Atlantic.”

Remembering my famous bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges, I mentally add Burgundy pinot noir with the local sauce à l’Epoisse to the list.

“As people start to get to know wine,” Daniel continues, “they can choose which best complements their meal. But if they don’t try a lot of wine, they’ll stick with what they know. And we have to get them away from the unfortunate wine-as-cocktail schema!”

I chuckle to myself. Wine as ketchup is better than wine as cocktail?

But what he says is true, and I respect Daniel for using the unflattering term “condiment.” It brings the whole subject of wine down to earth and forces us to wonder in which context wine is at its best. It really is meant to be drunk with food. The French philosophy that it is best to beraisonableapplies here: is it ever very reasonable to drink without at least a little something to eat at the same time?

As our conversation concludes — five pages of notes later — I think about the experiences I have had drinking wine in France. Call it the power of suggestion, but a host of pairings comes to mind: Chignin and fondue, Nuits-Saint-Georges or Aloxe Corton and coq au vin, vin jaune from the Jura and a slice of comte cheese, Champagne and popcorn, crepes and cider… Every region has its wine, and every dish has its drink! It has been fun to learn about the pairings, and to branch out from the old, and very general, standby of white wine with fish and poultry, red wine with dark meat.

If you’ve recently experienced great food-wine synergy, let me know. If not, what are you waiting for?!

Cheers!

Click here to read the translation from my future belle-soeur! Continue reading

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Swiss Chard, parmesan rinds, and white beans: a unique recipe for the end of winter and a colorful welcome to spring

It seems like springtime here in Kentucky. I slept with my window open last night and awoke to birds chirping in the tree outside. Spring birds. Happy birds.

They reminded me that in a few weeks it will be too late to make one of my favorite winter soups. (Sure, you can make hearty soup in spring, but it’s just so much more satisfying when it is cold outside!)

As I washed and patted my chard to the sound of white beans boiling on the stove, I thought, it would be a shame not to take a picture of this beautiful bouquet. I ran for my camera.

Not all chard is technicolor, so I recommend searching for “Rainbow Chard” in the supermarket. When it is packed together in the produce section, you can’t see what surprises are in store. It’s a real pleasure to unwrap the tie that binds the leaves, revealing bright red, pink, orange, and yellow stems. More than the recipe, this is what I wanted to share with you. It made me smile, and although I was using it to make a good hearty soup, I couldn’t help but think again of spring when I saw that rainbow in my hands!

*Some people are leery of using greens in soup, and a lot of people have never tried chard. Please, oh, please do! It is subtle, almost sweet — not at all like spinach — and delicious!

greens

Parmesan Broth with Swiss chard and White Beans

A deeply satisfying soup that can compete with chicken noodle as a winter cure-all.Serves 4 to 6.

Over low heat, steep 8 cups chicken stock with 8 ounces Parmesan rinds for about 45 minutes, until the rinds are soft. Strain the liquid and reserve. // In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, sauté 1 smashed garlic clove in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until garlic just begins to color. Add 1 dried red chili, crumbled; 4 cups loosely packed Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves cut into ribbons; and stir to coat. //Add the warm, strained stock and 2 cups canned cannellini beans and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper and add a teaspoon lemon zest. To serve, ladle soup over a slice of toasted country bread and drizzle with olive oil. —Sara Jenkins of Porsena and Porchetta, New York (Click here for full article)

{Hello, from Rêve}

Click here to see it in French, from Mélie: Continue reading

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Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes/Cooking

Ground hog or Crêpes? + Recipe

Ground Hog Day is this Thursday. Pretty exciting day for some, apparently. I’ve never been a big fan, probably because the tradition doesn’t involve food or festivities (at least not that I am aware of) and usually passes with nothing more than a quiet mention on the radio or a comment in passing at the dinner table.

Chandeleur, par contre, is a day the festivities of which I would never choose to forget and that even in Kentucky I plan to celebrate this week.

(For those of you who aren’t aware, we Americans used to celebrate Candlemas too, until it was replaced by Ground Hog Day, for shame.)

It is the celebration of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, a date that falls around forty days after Christmas, as the Old Testament tradition of presenting a newborn boy accompanied by an offering of two turtledoves prescribes. The feast as celebrated by the Church requires that blessed lamps (chandelles) be lit in place of torches inside churches to bring special attention to Christ as the light of the world.

The feast as celebrated dans la famille requires crêpes.

Crêpes with cheese. Crêpes with ham. Crêpes with spinach. For dessert, crêpes with sugar, crêpes with Nutella, crêpes with jam. Big crêpes, small crêpes. Stacks and stacks of crêpes.

Legend has it that by their round and golden form crêpes symbolize the disk of the sun, evoking the imminent return of spring (and linking this day to Ground Hog tradition). Christians also say that Pope Gélase I, who instituted the celebration in the fifth century, distributed crêpes to pilgrims arriving in Rome.

Just as there are superstitions associated with our esteemed little rodent, folklore has developed to include predictions for the new year. If one holds a gold coin, or more commonly a piece of change, in the writing hand and succeeds in flipping a crêpe with the other hand, the year is predicted to be prosperous. And, if the first crêpe that is cooked is then placed in an armoire for safe keeping, the year’s harvest is sure to be plentiful. (I have not yet met anyone who observes this tradition, which seems more likely to attract mice than to please the harvest fates.)

This week, my French meetup group has planned a Chandeleur celebration in Louisville. Although I’m only in charge of bringing the cheese, I want to share a special dessert crêpes recipe with you, in case you want to celebrate the French way too.

Crêpes Suzette
From Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of French Cooking

For the batter:

  • 1/3 cup (60 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 ¾ cups (430 ml) whole milk, plus extra as needed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Suzette Butter (explained below)
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml) brandy
  • 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  • Thin strips of orange zest for garnish

To make the Suzette Butter, you’ll need

  • 1 orange
  • ½ cup (125 g) butter
  • 1/3 cup (90 g) sugar

Let’s start with the Suzette Butter. Grate the zest from the orange. Cut the orange in half and extract the juice. In a food processor, combine the orange zest, butter, and sugar, and process until completely blended. With the motor running, slowly add the orange juice and process again until blended. Use at once, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Continue reading

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A little Serge, a little Edith. Some Quiche Lorraine and good French wine: It’s a party!

The week between Christmas and New Year’s my parents hosted a fabulous party for Nicolas and me, which turned out to be quite the celebration. We had decided a French theme would be appropriate, so before leaving France, Nicolas made mix CD’s of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg and found room in his suitcase for such delicacies as authentic French spice bread and chocolates (all of which made it across the Atlantic unscathed). The day of the party we made Quiche Lorraine (which I am cutting in the “action shot” above), and scattered cards identifying all the French foods on the decorated table.

But nevermind the food. What about the wine? Comical as it is, we received more compliments and inquiries about our wine selection than about our decorative array of Frenchie hors d’oeuvres. To be honest, I couldn’t be more delighted. Dad, Nicolas, and I had devoted quite a bit of time — and two trips to the wine store — to our reds and whites, and we wanted them to be special.

Of course they had to be French.

We had chosen two whites, a Vouvray and a Picpoul, and two reds, both Grenache blends from southern France. Dad encouraged me to write little identification cards for each wine as I had for the food.

And that’s how the wine stole the show from our mini macarons and baked brie.

As you can see, I had a lot of fun. How did I know “picpoul” meant “lip stinger?” I looked it up! I looked up all four of the wines and was just squirming with excitement to share what I learned. I had to take notes and narrow down the choices of what I wanted to share in order to fit a few short tidbits onto the cards. At the bottom of each, to bring it closer to home, I wrote the time it would take by car to travel from each vineyard to Dijon.

The cards not only helped people choose which wine to try, they also became conversation starters. (“Five hours and twenty-three minutes from Dijon? I love it!”) Some people told me they had never heard of Pigeoulet before, but they liked it. One friend said she felt compelled to taste all four. Most flattering was the elegant lady who was still talking about the wine days after the party. Calling to ask the name of the Vouvray, she gushed, “It’s the best wine I’ve had in my life.”

Wow! What a compliment!

I should note that the food was well appreciated too. After all, many more hours were spent creating Mom’s beautiful spread than on our well-researched wine selection. But sheesh, it seems with the wine as center of attention we might simply have served mixed nuts and gougères and everyone would have been just as happy.

A lesson for future celebrations?

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Filed under Christmas, Culture, Food, Wine

A Burgundian dinner in honor of Chinon

The kitchen of the old stone farmhouse glows with activity as Nicolas and I drive in after sunset. Inside, we spot Françoise fluttering this way and that, visible to us through the window as she washes something in the sink, disappearing in the direction of the stove, then reappearing moments later.

The very first time we drove up this drive together was after dark, and I remember the dim light from the kitchen as the first welcome I received, even before entering and reading the sweet note from Françoise:

Warm some water and prepare a tea for Emily. We can’t wait to meet her!

On this night, like so many evenings I have become used to spending at Froidvent, the lady herself greets us as we climb the stairs from the salle de jeux–the ground floor “game room” that serves as familial entryway. The smell of squash and chestnuts envelopes us as we rush to Françoise’s side, receiving a quick kiss while she tends her soup.

Ca va, mes chéris?

With grandiose gestures I present my bottle of Chinon for Françoise’s approval. In like manner, her eyebrows rise and fall, as if this will be the tasting of the day!

“Hurry and put it in the decanter,” she instructs. “And the glasses will need to be rinsed.”

I scurry into the dining room in search of the glasses and find the table dressed for the occasion. A pressed linen tablecloth lies beneath festive gold rimmed plates, and crystal water glasses accompany exceptionally round Burgundian tasting glasses. Lifting two such receptacles from the center of the table, I head back toward the kitchen, shaking my head.

“You’ve trop préparé, Françoise!” I say, giving her shoulders a quick squeeze. She continues her preparations at the stove and humbly mentions that it isn’t every day one gets to taste such special wine. Imagine that! An American girl brings a bottle of wine to a Frenchwoman, who prepares an entire meal in its — or rather, her — honor. In my heart I know it’s not about the wine. The unspoken understanding is that I will be leaving for America in just a few days, and this may be the last grand meal we have together for some time.

The lady of the house has prepared chevreuil, or roe-buck, and chestnut purée to accompany my wine. But first we’ll have soup and of course after there will be cheese, and on the kitchen table the plates of partially prepared dessert lie hidden beneath overturned bowls. A four course meal. “Normal,” she might say with characteristic modesty. Extraordinary is more like it.

When we sit down, the ceremony begins. Nicolas conscientiously pours each of us a glass. We sniff. We swirl. We talk about first impressions. “Un bon nez”  is the general consensus. (This one has a promising nose: spicy and complex.) The purple color is astonishingly different from Burgundian pinot noir, especially noticeable when being poured.

To taste, the first thing we all agree upon is that it isn’t as powerful as we anticipated. (In hindsight, perhaps it should have been drunk a little sooner: Charles Joguet recommends 5-6 years max in bottle for the 2005 cuvée, having hypothesized that 2009 might have been its peak year.) But the fruit flavors are still explosive. Nicolas is convinced of raspberries, while Françoise and Bruno taste black currant. I am hooked on the hint of cherry. One thing is certain: its slight tartness and seasonally appropriate spice marry perfectly with our chevreuil and chestnut dinner.

“It has a fine finish,” Nicolas says, smacking his lips.

“But not like the Birthday Nuits-Saint-Georges,” I counter. Once uttered, the words ring reminiscently in my ears. Will I from this day forth compare wine to that remarkable bottle? Will I ever find a wine so  magical?

Nicolas agrees. His hand darts into the air, miming a bell-curve with an extremely wide peak. “This was the Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Vaucrains,” he specifies, before demonstrating another curve with a shorter, but more dramatic peak. “And this is the Chinon.”

A good, no, great wine, to be sure.

Dinner finished, cheese dispensed, there is still a little wine left in our glasses at dessert. Françoise presents a beautiful assortment of fruit and sorbet to cleanse the palate, topped by a bit of chantilly and glittering red currants. The last sips of wine do not compete with but complement the fruits’ gentle sweetness.

François Rabelais claimed he did not drink “more than a sponge.” Although I certainly cannot compete with that (nor would I want to) I like to think that at moments like these, a good bottle of wine can indeed make one more like a sponge: soaking up the flavors, not only of the wine, but of the atmosphere in general. The flavors of family and friends, of love and good cheer. The aroma of the holidays. The bouquet of what is and that wonderful perfume of what is to come.

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Filed under Christmas, Culture, Food, Gratitude, Wine

Inspired by une fleur: Hélène Dujardin’s Apple Tart

Si tu aimes une fleur qui se trouve dans une étoile, c’est doux, la nuit, de regarder le ciel. Toutes les étoiles sont fleuries.

“If you love a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make you happy just to look at the stars.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

When I saw this apple tart on Hélène Dujardin’s site, Tartelette, I said out loud, “I have to make that.”

I’ve made apple tarts before, but this one is special. Just look at it. (Did that sound conceited? I should say, look at Hélène’s.) Passionate about photography and food, Hélène brings the two together with exquisite creativity. I’ve been inspired by her blog for about two years now, and this apple tart just put me over the edge. I followed her recipe to the letter — which included about 34 studious glances at the flower design as I sliced and arranged my apples.

I didn’t think about the Little Prince’s rose until the moment I reached into the oven and delicately wrapped my potholder hands around the edges of the tart. The fragrance of warm, sugary apples filled my nose, and the room, and I thought, this is why people spend so much time baking beautiful things.

Beneath the flower arrangement is a layer of apple-vanilla compote, spread without moderation over a buttery homemade crust. Just before putting it in the oven, I sprinkled the top with lemon zesty sugar. I haven’t tasted it yet, but I think this is going to be the “ooh-ahh” ingredient.

If you have a little time, make this tart — and don’t cheat on the crust. I made the crust and compote last night, and baked the whole thing this morning. It’s super-simple, but it does take time. Which, I think, makes all the difference, anyway.

Here’s the recipe from Tartelette.

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Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes/Cooking