Bûche de Noël

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

DSC01438

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.

DSC01421

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!

Fondue and Mousse Au Chocolat

I turn my dinner guests into guinea pigs. My first attempts at a new meal are often when we invite friends over. So far, no one has complained. Fondue is an old stand by, but this was my first attempt at chocolate mousse.

May isn’t the best month for fondue, but it was requested by my friends back in March, then the dinner kept getting pushed down the calendar… did I mention I live in California? This is what we do. Luckily, last week was cold and rainy, so fondue turned out to be the perfect remedy.

DSC00161

DSC00168

Two things broke me out of my Kraft Mac and Cheese habit from college. One – a good girlfriend who was a brilliant cook. I started hanging out at her house, learning what I could. Thank you, Shawna! The second – my husband. On our first “Come on over for dinner” dates, I served him quesadillas and spaghetti with packaged sauce mix. He was gracious and complimentary. So I tried something a little more complicated. He was more complimentary, even excited, and cleaned his plate. So I kept trying. I stopped using packages and started using fresh ingredients. I got bolder, more experimental. Today, my friends know me as a really good cook, and I’m convinced it’s the reason our parties are always so crowded. And to this day, my husband has never once said a bad thing about anything I’ve cooked. At worst, he’s been silent, and when I say something like, “That was horrible, I’m sorry,” he’ll pat my hand and say, “it wasn’t your best effort.” So I keep at it.

The chocolate mousse was a recipe that, six or seven years ago, I would have taken one look at and decided to buy a gallon of ice cream instead. Lots of steps, constant stirring, and temperature dependant… but it came out fantastic.

DSC00172

Beautiful Saturday at the Farmer’s Market in Little Italy

DSC00201

Intimidated by trying to find parking, I’ve never visited this farmer’s market. But my daughter and I were in Little Italy this weekend so we checked it out. It’s huge, maybe even bigger than our usual one in Hillcrest. The views are fabulous:

DSC00193

The music sophisticated:

DSC00194

And they have crêpes. Authentic ones, from Fabrison’s French Crêperie Café, also located in Little Italy. This restaurant has great food, and their crêpes are the real deal: the savory ones are done with buckwheat flour. Hard to find outside of Bretagne, but this is the way a savory crêpe is meant to be. I split a Nutella crêpe with my daughter and chatted with Fabrice, owner of the café, about the challenges of raising kids in a bilingual household (his wife is American) and what we do to try to make sure our kids are learning French.

DSC00197

 

DSC00195

Here are a couple more photos. Spring is blooming in San Diego!

DSC00200

DSC00198

 

 

Lost in Translation: Menus and Restaurants

I see these restaurants in France all the time:

326 Only in France

Because all Asian food is pretty much the same, right? And no, this is not some trendy fusion restaurant. Out of curiousity, I tried one once. It was a bland, fast food type of cuisine that amounted to soggy vegetables and meat bathed in either soy or teriyaki sauce. Nothing like the widely varied and often spicy dishes that could be offered from any of these countries. For a country so renowned for its food, France has a lot to learn about the cuisine offered outside its own borders!

Poorly translated menu items are part of the charm of traveling abroad. We had some classics in China; I lost track of how many times we said, “What the what!?” Here are a few gems:

IMG_1581

IMG_1582

IMG_1583

Then there was the beachside restaurant in a small Cote d’Azur village where I’m pretty sure they weren’t really serving “wolf” and where I decided to avoid the “crusty of salmon” altogether.

Here, in the U.S., we find plenty of mistakes. There’s the most obvious: the use of the word “entrée.” It means the first course, entering the meal if you will. But in the U.S. we almost always use it for the list of main dishes. Then there’s a restaurant near us called “La Café.” Decent food, but my husband gets a nervous tick every time we pass it because “café” is masculine, so it should be “Le Café.” Gender mistakes don’t bother Americans much because we don’t use them. But imagine the irritation that those of us grammar lovers experience when someone uses a double negative: “I don’t have no bread,” and you can see how my husband must feel.

At a nice, upscale San Diego restaurant my husband ordered the bouillabaisse. He used the French pronunciation, boo-ya-bais, or for the phonetically inclined: [bujabes]. The waitress asked him to repeat himself several times, then exclaimed:

“Oh! You mean the bool-a-bass-ey!”

Yes. That’s it exactly.

It can be a challenge, trying to order a croissant or any other French food here. My tongue wants to use the French pronunciation, but then I get looked at either in confusion, or I get a big eye roll because clearly, I’m being pretentious. Using the American pronunciation ensures that I will be understood, but it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

I’d love other examples people have experienced with menu items that got lost in translation. Bring them on!

Belle Ile

I can’t resist posting more photos from Bretagne/Brittany. These are from a trip we took to Belle Ile, just off the coast. Beautiful, windblown place. We rented a tiny little “Zest” and scooted all over the island, braving the wind and rain! We ate our fill of crepes, galettes, and drank plenty of cider. Great trip!

Harbor entrance at Le Palais

Harbor entrance at Le Palais

Le Palais

Le Palais

La Pointe de Poulains

La Pointe de Poulains

Sailboat at Ster-Vraz

Sailboat at Ster-Vraz

Ster Vraz

Ster Vraz

Excellent Galettes

Excellent Galettes

Mussels clinging to the rocks on the Plage de Donnant

Mussels clinging to the rocks on the Plage de Donnant

IMG_1808

Lunch at Creperie Coton

Lunch at Crêperie Coton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Nationality, and More Bretagne

 

My husband and I are working on getting my French citizenship. Surprise: there are many complicated steps to the process and the instructions are difficult to decipher. At times, the steps seem convoluted simply for the sake of being difficult. So we emailed the man in charge at the local embassy. He will only communicate via email; he will not accept phone calls or appointments. In our email, we tried to clarify a few points we were confused on after our research on their website. He sent us a form letter back, politely inviting us to refer to their website for answers to our questions.

 

Oh, the French.

 

Today, I go to the Alliance Française to take an exam that will determine if my French is at a level adequate enough to become a citizen. Will I be worthy?

 

The hope is that if I am a citizen, our family can easily go to France for extended periods during which I can work there, and that all of us will have the right to move freely, or stay, in France and Western Europe. Plus, I think it would be really cool to have dual citizenship.

 

So, I’ll post some more photos of my beloved Bretagne, and then get back to the stack of paperwork that is French bureaucracy at its finest!

One of the great things about traveling in Bretagne, especially when you get away from the bigger cities like Nantes or Rennes, is that much of Bretagne is visited mainly by French tourists, if at all. It’s off the beaten path enough that it remains more authentic, untouched.

 

Flowers growing on an old stone wall

Flowers growing on an old stone wall

Sunset at low tide

Sunset at low tide

Locmariaquer

Locmariaquer

St. Cado, one of the most photographed homes, because the tide isolates it

One of the most photographed homes in St Cado because the tide isolates it

Quimper

Quimper

Quimper

Quimper

Benodet

Benodet

Concarneau

Concarneau

German bunker from WWII

German bunker from WWII

Hay! Hey! (That's for my brother)

Hay! Hey! (That’s for my brother)

Fresh caught oysters

Fresh caught oysters

Locmariaquer

Locmariaquer

IMG_4262

Mmmm

Mmmm

IMG_4273

Catch of the day at the outdoor market

Catch of the day at the outdoor market in Locmariaquer

IMG_4274IMG_4306

 

 

Bretagne, Je t’aime

I love Bretagne (Brittany, for the anglophones). Where Paris is measured, even severe, Bretagne is untamed, free, running wild. It’s a land of legends and history: Megaliths, Fairies, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Bretagne first gave us crepes, galettes (savory crepes, made with buckwheat), and French apple cider. What’s not to love?

My husband’s family has a summer home in a small Breton village at the opening of the Golfe du Morbihan. When we visit them during the summer, we tend to escape to their home here rather than swelter in Paris. The last several trips we’ve enjoyed mostly sunny days, which last from 5 in the morning until 10 at night. We spend our days riding bikes through overgrown pastures and past flower covered rock walls that are hundreds of years old, dipping our toes into the Atlantic, and eating fresh oysters that the neighbor harvests. And, of course, crepes, galettes, and cider. Every time I suggest staying there and never returning to our “real” lives, my husband warns me that I’m not experiencing the “real” Brittany.

“There’s a reason everything here is so green and overgrown, Carol,” he tells me.

I tell him he can’t burst my bubble.

Here are a few photos:

Ile Aux Moines

My favorite spot on Ile Aux Moines, in the Golfe du Morbihan

Golfe du Morbihan

Golfe du Morbihan

Traditional home, looks straight out of a fairy tale to me

Traditional home, straight out of a fairy tale

Winner! Best French Mullet

Winner! Best French Mullet

Port de St. Goustan

Port de St. Goustan

My hubby and me, making crepes

My hubby and me, making crepes

Carnac

Carnac

Breton humor

Breton humor

On our bike ride

On our bike ride

A dolmen and a menhir (megaliths)

A dolmen and a menhir (megaliths)