Tag Archives: Chocolate

Frenchie and a Year in Review – 2013

2 Jan

Wishing you a very happy New Year 2014.

Une très Bonne Année… full of good food, adventures, colorful travel experiences and health.

And starting the new year with a chocolate recipe is a good way to start the year.

Resolution for 2014? More chocolate!

Looking back at 2013 – the most popular photos and posts – the delightful memories of a busy year full of excitement.

Los Angeles, Malibu and a Boston blizzard in January.

The preparation for the move – from the Northeast to the Southeast.

A leap of faith. A new region.

Boxing up my Boston life and saying goodbye to lovely New England.

Financiers and roasted vegetables to gather friends around last meals before the movers take everything away.

Setting up and creating a new life in North Carolina.

A thirst for discovering places, flavors and what the area has to offer.

Un changement de vie.

Fresh ingredients for a quinoa tabbouleh.

Fresh air experience with Relish Carolina and their roaming dinner club.

Oh the joys of exploring Charlotte through food.

2013 took me twice to Mexico.

Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City.

The vibrant colors of a culture and country yet unknown to me.

The fond memories of times well spent with friends on the beach and at a wedding.

France, summer, a peach and cherry mousse, a chilled cucumber soup, and summer weather in Charlotte were also in the cards for me.

Spending time with family, photographing life as it happens, and finding food inspirations in Charleston,  Newport and Wisconsin travels.

Bright green countryside and golden sandy beaches.

Parisian walks and quaint cobblestone Charleston streets.

This past summer included everything needed for an escape and break from setting up a new home – all thanks to friends and family for welcoming and inviting me.

And if the anticipation for fall wasn’t high enough…

Not only my favorite time of the year.

But a Tahiti trip was in the works – comme un rêve.

French Polynesia vs. North Carolina’s autumn transformations.

A tale of two worlds apart. Each with their own unique colors.

And frankly, it’s probably impossible to take a bad picture in French Polynesia.

Le paradis.

And with a New Year resolution to eat more chocolate, it is only appropriate to share the first recipe of the year – with chocolate of course!

Neither a cake nor a gratin.

But a delicious treat to start the year.

And what about you? Any New Year resolutions to share?

May 2014 be full of joy and health.

Happy New Year!

And thank you to the Charlotte Observer, the Journal of the American Chestnut Foundation and NoshOn.It for featuring F & Y last year.

Un grand merci!

Orange-Flavored Warm Chocolate Cakes with Sour Cherries

makes four 2/3-cup ramekins

1 egg + 1 yolk

1/3 cup (65 g) Turbinado sugar

zest of half an organic orange + 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

2 Tbsp hazelnut flour/meal

1 Tbsp millet flour

1 Tbsp Dutch cocoa powder

1 Tbsp black onyx cocoa powder – it gives a more intense color/taste to the cakes (replace with another Tbsp of Dutch cocoa if needed)

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of sea salt

2/3 cup (155 ml) coconut milk

3.5 oz (100 g) of dried sour cherries – roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C) and butter the inside of the ramekins. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg, yolk, sugar, orange zest and orange juice together.

In a medium bowl, combine the flours (hazelnut and millet), the cocoa powders (Dutch and black) with the cinnamon, ginger and salt.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Whisk until well mixed.

Pour the coconut milk slowly while whisking until well combined.

Put 1 Tbsp of chopped dried sour cherries at the bottom of each ramekins.

Fill each ramekin with batter, over the dried cherries. Top each ramekin with 2 Tbsp of dried cherries.

Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 min. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 min.

Frenchie and the Gluten-Free Easter Teacakes

4 Apr

With Easter fast approaching, I remembered that I used to spend Easter brunches with my friends “E. and D.” back in the Midwest until I moved to the East Coast.

Isn’t it always the same feeling? When punctual yearly Holidays come right around the corner and remind you of joyous past times spent with friends and family.

A gesture, a smell, a sight and the memories rush back.

A group of friends you hear heartily laughing as you walk by. The warm smell of baking a cake early on Sunday morning for breakfast. Or the brisk breeze coming through the window left ajar as you set the Easter table for a brunch with friends.

It works every time for me.

I have been obsessed with the unusual marriage of dried sour cherries and tarragon since last summer when a friend served them in a colorful salad on a hot bright evening thus creating a new combination of flavors for me, which left me thinking…

Why haven’t I thought of that before? And most importantly, how can I turn this strange marriage into a sweet treat?

I tried many variations from tarts, loaves, cakes. Nothing was satisfying.

And then I forgot.

So when my Midwestern Easter brunch friend “E.” recently told me he has been missing and craving my baked goods, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to experiment again with that subtle and peculiar blend.

“E.” taught me everything there is to know about celiac disease – maladie cœliaque ou intolérance au gluten, en français – as well as gluten-free diets, traps to watch for, pitfalls to avoid etc. when he was diagnosed with it.

At the time, I used to joke that my house would most likely be a treacherous and dangerous landmine for him because, let’s be frank – French cooking or baking is all about white flour.

So it’s only fitting that my Easter post would feature a gluten-free recipe.

Nutritiously delicious, these teacakes are everything I’ve been wanting for Easter: different, moist, unusual, simple and, yes, addictive!

I eat them as snacks. As desserts. As breakfast.

In the street too – they fit nicely in my pocket.

Round or square, they’re just that cute.

The teacakes even made it to Wellesley, MA on a beautiful spring weekend to admire the blooming colorful trees and cherry blossoms.

A long day spent outside rewarded with more teacakes once back home.

And I certainly took it upon myself to try as many batches as possible to find that perfect magic formula.

Yes, only the best for my friend!

Adding milk in the recipe when needed so they are not too dry. Dropping chocolate chunks for extra texture. I tried it all!

In the end, with tea or coffee, dunked in milk or plain – the eating combinations are endless.

And with every Easter spent in the U.S. comes my favorite hunt of the year – like the Hunt for Red October with a tiny sprinkle of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I make it my Easter mission to find a chocolate hen.

For those who are already familiar with my Easter menagerie post, it will come as no surprise that my dedication to the chocolate hen hunt is intense and, well… obsessive!

This is when random acts of kindness can turn your whole world around. When a friend drops off an unexpected present at my door one night.

A beautiful, plump, deliciously appetizing chocolate hen.

And the best part? It’s home-made!

Une beauté !

I now know what will be proudly displayed on my table Sunday.

And there might just be more teacakes too, who knows?

Both will make Easter than much more special as they represent friendship, old and new.

Happy Easter! Joyeuses Pâques !

Coconut, Chocolate, and Dried Cherry Teacakes with Tarragon

5 Tbsp (60 g) of cane sugar

2/3 cup (75 g) of hazelnut meal/flour

3 Tbsp (21 g) of coconut flour

1/3 cup (52 g) of sweet white rice flour

a pinch of sea salt

2 Tbsp packed of finely chopped tarragon

1/8 teaspoon (0.7 g) of baking powder

1 egg

1/3 cup (78 ml) of whole milk

1/2 stick (56 g) of melted butter

6 Tbsp (45 g) of dried sour cherries, roughly chopped

2 Tbsp (40 g) of semi-sweet chocolate chips or use coarsely chopped chocolate (60 to 70%)

Optional

2 Tbsp of unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 teaspoon of powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon packed of finely chopped tarragon

Preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C). Make sure to read until the end – the oven temperature will need to get lowered during the baking process.

Butter a mini-muffin pan. This recipe will make 12 teacakes the size of mini-muffins.

If you are using square tins like on the pictures, the cooking time will differ a little – see below.

In a big bowl, sift the sugar, flours, salt, and baking powder together. Add the tarragon and mix well.

Melt the butter and let it cool at room temperature.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg and the milk. Fold in the flour bowl until you get a coarse sandy paste.

Pour the butter slowly over the sandy dough and mix well until completely absorbed. You should end up with a smooth, sticky batter.

Fold in the dried cherries and chocolate. Mix well.

Using 2 big spoons, fill the mini-muffin pan. I find it easier to use 2 spoons because the dough is sticky. Flatten the surface of each cakes with the back of a spoon.

Bake in the oven at 400 °F (200 °C) for 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 300 °F (150 °C) and bake for an additional 20 minutes if you are using a mini-muffin pan.

If you are using thinner tins (square or round) to bake the teacakes in, only bake them for an additional 15 minutes instead of 20.

Remove from the oven and unmold right away. Let the teacakes cool on a cooling rack or a cutting board.

These teacakes stay moist for at least 2 days as long as you keep them in an air tight container in the fridge. They are best eaten at room temperature.

Optional: mix the shredded coconut, powdered sugar and tarragon in a bowl and sprinkle on top of the teacakes before serving for stronger coconut/tarragon flavors.

Frenchie and a Clafoutis for the Insider Awards

6 Feb

What a wonderful surprise to receive an email on February 1 and find out Frenchie and the Yankee was nominated for an Insider Award by the BostInno crowd in the Lifestyle/City category.

Both a shock and an honor to even be considered for an Award and included in that category with 4 other wonderful Boston blogs/sites.

Being part of this ceremony is an excitement of its own.

Of course, I wrote down the day of the special reception right away in my calendar. I wouldn’t miss it!

You can cast your votes by visiting the BostInno Insider Awards voting page here. You can vote until February 15 - the winners will be announced February 23.

Thank you for your continued support for Frenchie and the Yankee if you decide to vote for my blog. Merci beaucoup !

When the weather outside looks mid-gray, damp, with Boston misty rain whipping your face unpleasantly, there is always comfort to be found in whisking old fond memories, lightly sprinkled with recollections of smells and tastes, and paired with a tiny dash of reminiscences of the past.

Springtime sadness.

A day spent inside baking will do the trick!

Les plaisirs de la pâtisserie.

Unlocking my box of failed made up recipes, ideas that ended nowhere, concepts that were abandoned.

A perfect time to try one of them again.

A clafoutis would be perfect as daydreaming about the tiny round shiny droplets of rain suspended upside down from the branches outside my window seems to give me some inspiration.

We’ll need 2 sorts of sugars after all. C’est décidé.

What are you planning to do with all these eggs and chocolate bars? 

The cashier at the local supermarket asked inquisitively.

A clafoutis – I joyfully replied.

A WHAT? Is it edible? – doubtfully looking at me.

Oh you don’t know what you’re missing! I was raised eating clafoutis.

And I wonder when will clafoutis-in-a-box be available for all?

The desire to create a dessert to share with a loved one.

One medium dish. Two hungry spoons. Four caring eyes. One tasty dessert.

And a sweet conversation.

C’est bon et c’est goûteux.

Perfect for the end of meal lit up with candles, elbows on the table, heads resting in hands.

Those moments, they’re unbelievable.

I like to revisit old posts and watch how this blog evolved through the years when it comes to the pictures, aesthetic of the pages and the writing.

Last year, I made this clafoutis, which is still a favorite of mine.

It’s interesting to go back, compare and see the transformation. And with the Insider Awards in mind, it was fitting to take a trip down memory lane.

I thought for a minute of retaking some of the pictures from old posts and update them.

But the traces of the past are important so I decided not to.

So here’s to a fun Insider Award race.

Mini Chocolate Apple Clafoutis

3 eggs

3/4 stick (85 g) of butter

1/2 cup (95 g) of Muscovado sugar

2 Tbsp (25 g) of powder sugar

1.5 cup (35 cl) of milk

2 Tbsp of brandy or liquor (use apple brandy Calvados, or a pear brandy if available)

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/3 cup (40 g) of white flour

1/3 cup (40 g) of almond meal

2 Tbsp of unsweetened cocoa

2-3 Granny Smith apples – sliced (4.5 mm)

3 oz (85 g) of coarsely chopped chocolate (70%)

vanilla sugar

Note: you will have enough batter to fill 4 mini gratin dishes like on the pictures or a 9-in (22.86 cm) round baking dish

Preheat the oven at 400 °F (200 °C).

In a big bowl, whisk the eggs with the melted butter until combined and pasty.

Add the sugars, milk, brandy, cinnamon, vanilla extract and salt. Whisk until smooth.

Sieve the flour, almond meal and cocoa over the batter. Delicately incorporate them until the batter is smooth again.

Peel and core the apples. Slice them thinly (4.5 mm). Butter the gratin dishes.

Pour the batter in the dishes – fill them to 3/4 so it does not leak when the apples are placed over the batter. Arrange the slices of apples on top and sprinkle with vanilla sugar.

Note: I use about half an apple for 1 mini gratin dish. If you feel gourmand like me and if you prefer more fruit over cake, feel free the use 1 apple per dish and layer them. Spread a first layer of apples directly at the bottom of the dish. Cover 3/4 with batter and arrange the rest of the apple on top. If you decide to use a round backing dish, arrange the apples at the bottom of a buttered dish and pour the batter over.

Place in the oven and bake for 35 min.

Let cool at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle each dish with the coarsely chopped chocolate. It will melt instantaneously. Serve immediately.

Each mini gratin dish can be split between 2 people.

Frenchie and the Colorful Thanksgiving

18 Nov

I need to start this post with a quick update on the FriendsEat competition for Best Food Blogger of 2011 since I last mentioned it when I got nominated back on September 21.

I’ve been waiting for the contest to be over and for FriendsEat to follow-up with me after the fact so I could include a little blurb in a brand new post. And here it is!

As many of you saw from the banner on the blog (top right) when reading the last three posts, your votes and participation landed me in the Top 10 – at #4! This was truly a great and wonderful surprise and I need to thank all of you who took the time to click on the FriendsEat link and vote. Merci, merci, merci!

Following the contest, FriendsEat decided to interview all bloggers from the Top 10. Interesting exercise I must say. But fun nonetheless.

So without further ado, the Frenchie and the Yankee interview is now available online and you can read all of it by clicking here.

Thank you again to Blanca for interviewing me and her wonderful team at FriendsEat.

I would be lying if I told you that Thanksgiving wasn’t my favorite Holiday.

This probably comes as quite a surprise since I obviously wasn’t raised celebrating Thanksgiving in France and ended up adopting this Holiday for the first time back in 1999 when I came to the U.S.

And yet, it’s my favorite one.

The French tend to be a little fuzzy about what Thanksgiving really is and means. When they hear the word Thanksgiving, the only thing that comes to their mind is manger and dinde.

And yes, eating and turkey pretty much sums it up!

Thanksgiving is really the National Stomach Stretching Prep Week before the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations roll right around the corner in December.

No need to explain in great details what the story behind Thanksgiving is – Wikipedia does a wonderful job for that in French.

However, what is worth mentioning here is why as a foreigner I adopted Thanksgiving and made it part of my very own tradition.

I was recently advised to tour the Mount Auburn Cemetery (thank you Michael H.!) to catch wonderful views of Boston and admire the colorful foliage.

A long walk on a lazy sunny and warm Saturday morning was the perfect moment to photograph the joyous picturesque trees around and discuss the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend plans.

One of the thing I really appreciate about Thanksgiving is that it’s a Holiday you can count on. You can never count on Christmas especially when it’s on a Sunday! A total let down!

Thanksgiving is always on the 4th Thursday in November. And I bet that Thursday must feel really lucky to be #4!

And with Friday wrapped together with Thursday as a one-package deal and Wednesday usually requested off from work, the Holiday weekend seems endless.

The cemetery offered such ranges of colors that a painter’s pallet would have been too small to recreate those combinations.

Yellow, brown, green, red, orange. Bright and lit. Dark and shadowed.

Like a linguistic declension, these colors paired themselves by groups following similar and drastically different patterns and changes.

And food is also color. Nuances in tones, combinations and subtleties.

Hints of bright colors among white plates.

The thrilling part about Thanksgiving is the tints of colorful food on the table.

Thanksgiving is meant to bring people together and gather around a table.

It’s a family event. And when you don’t have any family nearby, it becomes a dinner with friends.

Will it surprise anyone to know that during the week of Thanksgiving I usually attend 2 or 3 Thanksgiving dinners?

A friends’ Thanksgiving get-together is always in the air before the real Thursday dinner.

A long table, 12 to 15 guests, many dishes, glassware, chairs, laughs all mingling and waiting for the one and only turkey to magically appear from the oven.

And then there’s always a leftover party. And you know what? Leftovers are the best part about Thanksgiving.

Colors, friends, turkey, eating, being thankful for what you have – it doesn’t get any better than that.

But what I enjoy the most about Thanksgiving is bringing a new twist to an old tradition.

For some reason, most people complain about having to eat the same turkey every year, with the same cranberry sauce recipe, and the boring mashed potatoes with the bland boiled squash.

The exciting part for me is to plan, test and invent new flavor and color combinations to bring cheers to the table and awaken the palate.

Maybe this post will give you new ideas! I hope!

Being different in a sea of old too-familiar family recipes and breaking away from them.

Will my turkey be lavender-scented this year with French grey sea salt, lavender and herbes de Provence?

Or will it slowly and nicely roast with a home-made sage and pancetta butter inserted under the crispy skin?

Cranberry sauce, of course.

But add oranges, lemon, lemon zest and ginger to spice it up and make a citrusy cranberry compote.

Stuffing, definitely.

Remove the bread and turn it into a wild rice stuffing with small chunks of Granny Smith apples, dried cranberries, spicy pork sausage and walnuts.

Spaghetti squash, absolument!

It is my favorite thing to prepare. I had never seen one until I came to the U.S. and what a treat to be able to create “spaghetti” from a squash with a fork.

The recipe I am obsessed with is Deb’s at Smitten Kitchen with her Moroccan-spiced spaghetti squash. A treat!

A butternut squash, why not.

Bring more scents and flavors to it. Braise it and pair it with prunes, apricots, golden raisins, cumin, lemon zest and mint. Sprinkle with cardamom pods.

Or surprise your guests with a red kuri squash, which has a spicier flavor, and a roasted red kuri squash and apple velouté soup with mint and sage.

Dress up your mashed potato dish with drops of truffle oil.

Or steer away from potatoes all together with a rutabaga apple purée – aka faux mashed potatoes! <recipe below>

And of course dessert!

Thanksgiving is all about pies, pies and more pies.

Yes for apple pie. A new kind of apple pie with orange blossom water and cloves.

For the French touch, a grated apple tart will delight the end of your meal.

A new take on the pecan pie? Bon Appétit did it with their toasted nut tart recipe here. Toasted hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios.

I adapted it quite nicely – my notes are below.

A wonderful dessert.

And if you want to bring more French traditions to the Thanksgiving table, a clafoutis will do the trick.

Maybe a cinnamon cranberry clafoutis with hints of port and whiskey.

Or this wonderfully rich chocolate glazed cranberry chocolate cake with walnuts. <recipe below>

Thanksgiving is a meal. It is a time to spend with friends and family. And it certainly isn’t a time when you have to think about the pressure of giving presents.

It’s a Holiday involving an exchange between people who love each other and want to share a special time together.

One cannot possible think about skipping Thanksgiving because your presence is required around the table.

And as someone I met last night at an event casually mentioned to me: “Everyone who comes to this country is part of it <Thanksgiving>. This is what America is all about”.

Frankly, I think the French are secretly jealous and envious of not having a special Holiday like this one. There is no equivalent in France.

I am curious, what does Thanksgiving mean to you? And how do you twist traditional recipes?

Notes for the Bon Appétit Toasted Nut Tart:

I added 1/2 cup of ground hazelnut in the crust.

Replace the 1 cup of corn syrup with 1/2 cup of agave nectar combined with 1/3 cup of water.

The crust baking time is off: not 35-40 min but 15 min the first time. Not 15-20 min but 7 minutes the second time. And lastly bake for a total of 45 minutes and not 60 minutes.

Rutabaga Apple Purée – aka Faux Mashed Potatoes

1 celery root, peeled and cut into chunks

2 turnips, peeled and cut into chunks

1 rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup (120 ml) of vegetable broth

2 cups (475 ml) of beef broth – the beef broth is meant to bring a saltier taste to the purée. Replace with 2 cups of vegetable broth if you prefer.

10 cups (240 cl) of water

2 Tbsp (30 g) of butter

3 Tbsp (50 ml) of orange juice

dried sage

dried chervil

1 garlic clove

salt and pepper

In a big pot, bring the vegetable and beef broths with the water to a boil.

Add the celery chunks, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the pot and reserve in a bowl.

Add the rutabaga chunks to the boiling pot and cook simmering for 20 minutes. Remove from the pot and reserve in the bowl.

Add the turnips chunks to the boiling pot and cook simmering for 10 minutes. Remove from the pot and reserve in the bowl.

While the root vegetables are cooking and cooling, bring the apples and the orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan. Cook for 7 minutes or until soft.

Discard the boiling broth in the pot and add all of the vegetables with the apples.

Using a hand blender, purée the vegetables directly in the pot. If you do not have a hand blender, a regular blender will work as well.

Add the butter. Mix with a wooden spoon until the butter is melted.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the crushed garlic clove.

Add the sage and chervil upon serving by sprinkling them on top of the purée as garnish.

Rich Chocolate Glazed Cranberry Chocolate Cake with Walnuts (adapted from Papilles Magazine)

200 g of dark chocolate – at least 70%. I use 100%.

1 cup (190 g) of sugar

1 cup (100 g) of flour

1 stick (125 g) of butter

4 eggs

1.5 cup (150 g) of fresh whole cranberries

3/4 cup (175 ml) of orange juice

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

3/4 cup (85 g) of chopped walnuts

150 g of chocolate – 60%

2 teaspoon (10 g) of vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).

In a small saucepan, bring the cranberries and orange juice to a boil and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the cranberries are soft and open. Cool on the side.

Melt the dark chocolate and the butter in 2 separate saucepans.

Separate the yolks from the whites.

Whisk the sugar with the yolks in a medium bowl until smooth and whitish.

Add the melted butter. Whisk well.

Add the melted chocolate and the almond extract. Mix.

Add the flour to the chocolate batter and incorporate slowly.

Beat the egg whites until firm. Fold in the chocolate batter.

Grease a 9 inch (23 cm) round pan. Strain the cranberries to get rid of all the juice. Fold them in the chocolate batter.

Divide the batter in half. Spread the first half at the bottom of the pan.

Add the chopped walnuts on top of the batter and cover with the second batch of batter.

Bake for 25 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the glaze by melting the rest of the chocolate with the oil in a small saucepan.

When the cake is completely cool, remove it from the pan and place it on a wire rack above a roasting pan.

Pour the glaze over the cake and spread with a brush on top and on the side. Use some of the dripping chocolate to cover the sides if needed.

Place the cake on a plate and in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

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 European Noises

23 Mar IMG_0615

Closing my eyes. Early morning at Heathrow airport, still a bit sleepy from a transatlantic flight, waiting for a connection to go to Prague. I have a few hours ahead of me. I’m listening. And I hear noises I haven’t heard since the last time I came to Europe.

I can hear there is a busy bar nearby. English pub/French café – we’re in Heathrow after all. Busy but still quiet – it embodies this certain European withholding and containment that you won’t see (hear?) on the other side of the pond where the noise level is considerably more elevated. A quiet hubbub is what it is. I hear stifled conversations and shifting chairs. People are laughing, talking, sharing and eating. Some are reading, some are daydreaming. I’m resting my eyes. I hear grumbling too.

Here they serve coffee, wine and beer. It’s early in the morning but someone is drinking a beer. It’s quite possible it’s 6:00 p.m. where they come from. I smell cheese. It’s breakfast time. Eggs and ham. There is also a hint of sausage lingering somewhere. And of course it smells like butter – a delicious buttery fresh crispy bakery that’s still warm on the inside. Another patron is breaking a hard-boiled egg on the porcelain saucer of his espresso cup. Turning and tapping the egg on all sides. I hear the crushing of the egg shells. And then I hear them – these noises I know so well from my childhood and from going to cafés with my parents and friends.

At first, I notice the little spoons hitting the porcelain of the espresso cups. Someone just dropped one in his coffee cup. The small sugar tube packet is torn up and tossed to the side. The little spoon is bumping the cup as the coffee is stirred to dissolve the sugar. Delicately placed face down on the side, the spoon makes a magical noise as it touches the metal zinc of the copper-topped café counter. Or maybe it’s stainless steel, I did not look carefully before closing my eyes. Or was it brass? I will double check later.

I am pretty sure the tables are small and round, like a table should always be at a café. And I can hear people adjusting themselves on these old but oh-so familiar chairs made out of some sort of plasticy wicker. More saucers are hitting the café counter. At the same time, the waiters are picking up their metallic round trays to go dispatch breakfast orders and morning coffees. Actually, they don’t pick up their trays, they drag them clanking them with the counter in some sort of metallic togetherness.

The person behind the counter is preparing more coffee. The steam is hissing. The coffee machine is in motion and makes everything around it slightly move. The columns of clean saucers piled on top of each other start banging quietly in a tinkling noise. The medium-sized lunch plates continue clattering sending waves of table dishes noises that aren’t unpleasant to hear. The rows of espresso cups creating a wall next to the coffee machine are moving and hitting one another in a clinking rhythm – I picture an impressive row of cups – 20 long by 10 high.

All the while, a waiter is towel drying glasses, putting them away and placing them upside down as they rattle against each other back on the shelf. A blackboard erasing sound is barely audible through this lively atmosphere but the crisp noise of the chalk writing up today’s menu and specials remains strong and determined. Plat du jour and œuf mayonnaise? Fruit tart? A jambon-beurre sandwich with a fresh baguette and real butter? I will look later.

More noises are trying to surface amidst this busy morning – I hear whistling from the coffee machine and one of the waiter, I hear more clinking from the glasses and the small plates, more espresso cups and saucers hit the café counter. I imagine that someone is going to order a kir framboise or a Pastis any minute now.

Close your eyes and listen. Listen to these particular noises. These noises are what makes Europe so distinct from the U.S. No paper cups topped with plastic lids. Now open your eyes. You’re in Europe!

Hear: busy French café noises

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