Tag Archives: Baking and Confections

Frenchie and the Easter Brunch

24 Apr IMG_6319

There is this thing in the U.S. called brunch. You might have heard about it! A twilight zone between breakfast and lunch taking you straight from 8 a.m. to noon on an express train via a Champagne glass. Unfortunately for them, the French aren’t much into the brunch fad and it’s hard enough to find a place open for breakfast on a week day at 8 a.m. in Paris, you might as well just give up and eat your sugar brioche at home. It’s true! The French just don’t go and eat outside for breakfast or brunch. Actually, let me rephrase that: the French have tried to bring the concept of brunch in the country and for the past 5 years now restaurants advertise brunch menus on weekends – but let’s just face it, it’s slowly picking up in Paris only and it can’t compare to a good, fun, loud and opulent American brunch.

Here’s what I love about brunch and especially about Easter brunch. The casualness of brunch is easy and relaxing. It can be as simple as elegant and sophisticated as you want. It can be hosted at home or outside with family or friends. And it is by far the best opportunity to drink before 2:00 p.m. without judgement. There is this little something about brunch that I can’t quite explain. A fun day when everyone is just happy it’s Sunday – no worries nor troubles. A time when you can just kick back and appreciate what you’ve been working towards all week-long. And let’s be frank, Americans have this tremendous and fantastic ability to give up and/or surrender – you choose! – all moderation when it comes to food and drinks. There is enough to eat for 35 and trust me, it’s just that good to sip Champagne amongst friends mid-day for as long as you pleasurely want. As any Parisians would testify – or only testify under torture for fear to actually admit it’s true – Sundays are the dreaded day. It’s the worst day of the week. [Great post explaining why here] And I am so relieved to live somewhere where Sundays are simply considered “fundays”.

Easter brunch is a great tradition here in the U.S. Throw together some painted eggs, some coffee, oj, a little champagne, some pastel colored clothes, a jacquard sweater and you’ve got yourself an Easter brunch party. Americans love to dress up for Easter brunch – they bring out Spring colors and welcome the season with a warm hug one can only find on this side of the pond. Forget the boring rainy French Easter lunches at grandma’s house where aunt Monique is telling you again for the hundredth times not to put your elbows on the table.

Today, with a 70 degree F (21 degrees C) weather shinning beyond the beautiful yellow daffodils in bloom in the neighborhood, the Spring game of peek-a-boo was more than taunting and tantalizing. Easter brunch started with tangerine Champagne cocktails, Mimosas and Bellinis with a home-made peach granita. Today’s menu and appetizers included a prosciutto plate paired with Asian pear wedges and mint, a blue cheese wild mushroom spinach quiche and a salad of shrimp and roasted peppers (aka Insalata di scampi e peperoni arrosti).

As the afternoon went on, the Moroccan leg of lamb with mint sauce accompanied with a vegetable sauté with orange and balsamic was ready to be consumed. I don’t know if it was the harissa, the ras el hanout, or the strong mint flavored sauce, or perhaps even the overindulgence of Champagne, but the light was shinier, the flowers more fragrant, the guests and the birds happier carrying noises of Spring and a new season about to bloom through the open windows.

As expected for brunch, desserts were plentiful and varied. Mini tarts for all! Lime and ginger, chocolate raspberry with cayenne pepper, rhubarb and almond with a St Germain syrup – and to continue the celebration of citrusy fruits and fresh flavors, a pomelo-pistachio tart.

The afternoon went by and the bottles got empty. Everyone left with a sense of fulfillment that only a brunch can bring. This feeling of togetherness and of a delightful happiness that Sunday night is going to be a slow and enjoyable night with fun memories rushing through to be treasured forever. Oh and this old fear of Monday morning looming over your shoulder? Disappeared in a puff of smoke. Happy brunch!

Frenchie and the Easter Menagerie

22 Apr

Every year at this time, I go on this mad search across town covering every square inch, looking in every gourmet food stores for a chocolate hen. You can call this my very own Easter tradition. Alas, chocolate hens I never find because Americans only believe in the Easter bunny.

Now, let me explain before you start snickering at the idea of a chocolate Easter chicken. It’s not just a chicken – way too trivial and unimaginative – it’s actually a hen, which is a lot more elegant. When you grow up in France, depending on the region, the focus during Easter is on the eggs as well as the hens. Not a bunny. The stores will feature plain as well as pastel colored decorated chocolate eggs and hens for kids and adults to enjoy… or pig out! Dark, milk or white chocolate, these big hollow hens are a delight for whomever has a sweet tooth. I have only found one chocolate hen once in my life in the U.S. and I should have kept it forever like a long lost treasure instead of eating it right away.

So bunny or hen? Actually, there are more animals involved in this zoological Easter tradition! In Switzerland, they talk about the Easter cuckoo. And in Australia, they have the Easter bilby – this tiny little endangered marsupial. It seems that in Eastern and Northern Europe, in Anglo-saxon as well as Germanic countries – including Alsace, the Eastern region of France – the chocolate eggs are brought by bunnies. Apparently, bunnies being the most prolific during the Spring season used to represent fertility and renewal. Now how can I explain to the bunny believers that rabbits are mammals so they do not lay eggs therefore cannot be responsible for bringing eggs?

In France, as well as Belgium, the hens lay the eggs for everyone to scavenger hunt in grandma’s backyard during Easter lunch. However, the other emblematic symbol of Easter, along with the hens, is the church bell. Being a Christian tradition, Easter places the church bells as an important part of the celebration and the story says that they took a trip to Rome and brought eggs on their way back dropping them in everyone’s gardens. Now if you’re not a Christian, you don’t really hear or talk about the bells traveling to Italy with a round-trip ticket and empty suitcases to bring back chocolate eggs for all kids. The funny part is that illustrated children’s stories and store signs will feature drawings of bells with wings flying away to Rome. Yes, wings – on each side!

The stores in the U.S. only carry chocolate eggs and bunnies, which is quite sad and dull. In France, the stores are much busier with all sort of chocolate symbols and animals. We have hens, we have bells (yes, they do make chocolate bells), we have eggs, and now that we live in a globalized world we also have bunnies. Oh and more oddly, we have chocolate Easter fish too… don’t ask, I have no clue.

Did somebody say chocolate?

Frenchie and the Dessert Spork

28 Feb It is not pie (FR) / It is not easy (ENG)

If you’re like me and you like eating desserts, it will come as no surprise that eating the last course of a meal in France and in the U.S. requires a mastery of kitchenware juggling in order to indulge. Yes, you have guessed correctly, the war has begun between the fork and the spoon.

Guests and friends who come to my house for dinner always experience dessert à la française, meaning with a spoon sitting above the plate. If they’re unaware of this dessert-eating difference, it can be quite challenging at first. Some people will hold their spoon in the air to clearly show that a mistake has been made, waiting for someone (me?) to say “Sorry, this was an oversight”, while others will carefully take a shameful quick peek at other guests, hoping for a courageous someone to dig first and all the while thinking “Are we really doing this with a spoon?” It’s another one of my little pleasurable dinner games. The more outspoken guests will raise their voice and request that a switch be made – this is how forks end up on my table at dessert time.

The table has turned on me many times and I found myself on many occasions asking a waiter for a spoon so I can “properly” enjoy my dessert. Disappointment can only follow wide-open eyes and transient lack of motor reactions from the wait staff as they bring me either a tiny teaspoon or a big spoon. This is dessert, not soup! Americans will need to continuously explain to me over the next decades to come as to why it seems logical to eat dessert with forks. My fellow Europeans will be scratching their heads to know that when you order cake or pie in this country, it comes with a fork – even if a scoop of ice cream is served with it! I am never sure if it means I’m allowed to lick my plate at the end to enjoy the last bit of ice cream or if I simply need to use my finger to be part of the Clean Plate Club. In any case, not very proper!

Both dessert fork and spoon are provided in upscale restaurants in France just like in the U.S. They are supposed to be used simultaneously as the fork pushes the food into the spoon for proper eating. But it looks like both sides of the pond dropped one of them for daily usage on modern kitchen tables therefore becoming complete opposites. Our ancestors probably knew that dessert eaters and lovers across Europe and the U.S. would be challenged in the future because patents for “spork” and “foon” designs were already created at the end of the 19th century. I don’t know if a “spork” is the answer to all our dessert prayers but it is an interesting concept and could mean a reconciliation to come.

Whether you like to stab your dessert digging into it with a fork and ferocious appetite or prefer to romantically scoop and spoon your way till the end of a sweet indulgence, take the quick poll below. After all, we’re all here to eat dessert!

Frenchie and the Baguette Issue

27 Nov

Heard at a dinner party:

“I can’t get myself to buy bread ahead of time. It needs to be fresh. I’d rather go bread-less than bring a day old baguette because all of the stores are closed today.”

The French still like their daily bread fresh. I approve! The patron saint of bread, Saint Honoré, celebrated every May 16, would be proud.

Saint Bread

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