I make the same stupid joke every time I visit this city. Nice is nice. I can’t help it.

More than being nice, Nice is a wonderful city. All white and bright colors, bustling people, twisty streets and deadly drivers. Everything you might think of when you think of continental western Europe in general. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Carnival is in full swing here. The husband and I had no idea when we made plans to visit with my family. If we had, we probably would have planned for that – but as it is, we got a glimpse of the end of the nightly parade.

In Nice, like much of costal Provence, the local flavor is all about the seafood. However, I’m terrified of ordering seafood at restaurants because of my allergy and my sister wasn’t in the mood for it. Nonetheless, we found ourselves at Restaurant les Pecheurs to at least SEE the seafood if not eat it.

 

The inside of the restaurant is set up to lightly remind you of the sea and the fishing boats that sail it. But it’s understated. There is a small fish tank in one wall, two portholes, slatted wood ceilings, blue walls. There’s no tacky netting hanging from anywhere nor any ugly mounted fish – fake or otherwise – you’re just reminded this is a fish restaurant.

I ordered a creameaux de courge, or winter squash cream cooked with girolles mushrooms and set with one croquant de foie gras and volaille. This was a subtle dish. Very soft in texture and flavor and consequently, very comforting.

The husband was the only one of our party to have a fish based meal. His entrée was scallops on a bed of lentils with a spicy carrot ice cream on the side. I have a husband who loves to help me with my restaurant reviews and he described these scallops as very tender and soft but full of flavor being cooking in port as they were. The lentils were well spiced and the dish was complimented perfectly by the carrot ice cream.

For my main course, I ordered a duo de volaille – which is just two cuts of poultry – cooked with seasonal vegetables tandoori style. Served with coconut rice and a little cappucino de courgette (zucchini).

This again was a subtle and soft dish. For me, it lacked a bit of flavor. I enjoyed it – the vegetables were well cooked being both crunchy and soft, the poultry tender, but the tandoori lacked spice. Not that I wanted something to burn my face off like I would at an Indian restaurant, but the dish lacked oomf and instead was a bit too creamy and soft for me. The rice on the other hand was incredibly flavorful, the coconut very present and really an excellent side to dip into the tandoori sauce.

The husband had prawns served with the same coconut rice as well as the courgette cappucino and a crumble of sweet potato. His assessment of the two sides were that they were a bit strange for the main part of the plat, but for all that, pretty tasty. I agree about the cappucino.

His prawns were light and well seasoned but after the first course, which had been a wow moment for him, that it too was lacking in just a touch of flavor. Satisfying, but missing an extra zest.

The sister made up for our lack of restraint by ordering only a main course (and dessert) and had risotto cooked in a creamy chorizo sauce served with wild mushrooms and margret de canard. She felt that she couldn’t taste the chorizo, she could smell it, which added a mouthwatering pre-taste element. The duck was well-cooked, tender and tasty and the risotto with a perfect creaminess.

A moment to appreciate the plating. Everything was wonderfully presented, a bit on the modern side but again, like the decor, not overblown. The service was much the same, with a friendly, welcoming staff and a waitress trained to explain every aspect of the dish.

We also saw –courtesy of the other patrons in the restaurant – that if you order a fancy fish – such as sole – for two, they bring the raw, pre-cooked, whole fish to your table to present it to you, in order that you can approve of it’s freshness and quality.

For dessert, I chose a French classic : an apple tart, cooked upside down and flipped over when plated served with vanilla ice cream and a dab of caramel sauce. This was wonderful, again warm and soft, but what I loved was that it wasn’t too sweet. The plate let the sweet and tartness of the apples do most of the work and the pastry crust underneath was almost savory, it was such a nice buttery contrast to the fruit.

The husband and sister, who both have a thing for litchi, chose the same dessert. Charlotte de litchi served with a verine of litchi and red fruit. As I couldn’t resist tasting a bit of the litchi cream, I can safely say that this was a well done dessert. The lady fingers that make up the bones of the charlotte were very sweet, the cream light and full of the fruit. You knew you were eating litchi. The verine was served in a fruit vinegar sauce, which was acidic but contrasted well with the sweetness of the fresh fruit and the sweetness of the cake.

At times, we did find les Pecheurs lacking in a bit of flavor, but this is a gem of a restaurant in a city that boasts about it’s cuisine while at the same time catering to tourists. Let’s face it, in a tourist town, you’re never quite sure of what you’re going to get. Here we found ourselves satisfied. The prices are correct and the portions are good, even for the seafood which can often be quite expensive,  we had nothing to complain about. My menu – for instance – was 29 Euros.

All in all, though it’s slightly out of the way- about a 30 minute walk from the Promenade des Anglais and Vieux Nice, it was worth it. And there’s something for everyone – even for those people who like to go to seafood restaurants to order everything but fish.

One of the best things about having my family here is that I get to cook for people other than myself and the husband. Don’t get me wrong, I like cooking for myself and the husband, but we will eat pretty much anything. Tonight, in fact we just ate out of the fridge. Cold soup, cold cuts, cold lemon slices, cold red bean brownie. It was a light dinner, recovering from a HUGE lunch, but we were still standing up in front of the fridge, eating with the door open.

La classe.

There are some things out there that I like to call gourmet comfort food. Pasta – regular pasta with fresh tomatoes and onion and garlic – that’s comfort food. Cappellini is my favorite. This is pasta that is comfort food with a zing. Fresh, homemade ravioli with peas, smoked and diced ham, garlic, basil, Parmesan and a hint of lemon.

The original recipe comes from Joy the Baker. I cut back on the olive oil, added the ham, ignored the tomatoes, etc. The modifications are key for me, but she gets the credit for leading the way.

The above photo is how I test the pan to see if it’s hot enough. I could always, I don’t know, wait patiently until I know it’s hot enough, but there’s no fun in that.

I added about 150g of lardons fumés which I can only translate as smoked diced ham. I’m not exactly sure of what it is other than you usually cook it à poêle and it can be a little greasy. The salt and smokey flavors of this particular ham add a layer of flavor to the peas, basil and garlic. I wouldn’t call it a depth, because there’s nothing deep about it – it’s right there: Bam! Salty, smokey ham! But then the freshness of the vegetables kicks in and leaves you feeling light and refreshed.

So it has that comfort element mixed into something with a delicate base.

Putting together ravioli can be done alone, but it’s so much more fun, or at least more efficient with help.

I like to call this one 6 hands, 24 ravioli. Mom was taking the photos. Some days I wish we had more workspace.

The husband is the king of making ravoli look good. At least he works with what he has. I can do the base – the dough, the filling – but don’t ask me to plate it pretty.

Not only is it fun to cook for others, but we worked together. We made a mess of the kitchen – flour everywhere, but that’s par for the course with pasta. We had a general good time. Or at least I did; I hope everyone else did. I don’t usually get all sentimental but there’s little better than comfort food with a twist. But sharing it with your family makes it extra special.

The family has arrived. By that I mean my mother and sister. They, and the husband, pretty much constitute my intimate family. I have cousins, aunts, uncles, a grandmother, in-laws as we all do, but I’m bad about keeping in touch with them.

That’s neither here nor there I guess because France is a long way away from the US and I’m the only one who went back to the old continent.

It’s also vacation for me. At first, I was going to be nice and work and make my students happy. Then I realized that my family had spent thousands of dollars to come and visit me and the least I could was tell my students to take a hike for 10 days. This, to no one’s surprise, leaves all of us with more time to explore, eat, and cook.

On the menu for the week:

  • Sunday lunch at Table du Vigneron
  • Three days, two nights in Nice with a quick trip to Monaco
  • Plenty of restaurants in Nice
  • A visit to the Puyricard factory (see previous entry on Valentine’s day)
  • A dinner with the in-laws featuring Filet mignon de Pork – Wellington style, chocolate and lemon tart
  • Homemade pea pesto ravioli
  • and anything else I feel like cooking up

Yesterday had it’s own introductory meal. My sister and mom have both been to France before, several times each. Nevertheless, we had to do something classic for them. The husband and I went through a myriad of options including Cassoulet -too fattening and heavy, Raclette -we don’t have a raclette set, Lamb -we couldn’t decide what to do with lamb, Boar -not the right season. The husband wanted cheese. This is nothing new. He always wants cheese.

So we went with a mont d’or. Mild, creamy, brie-like cheese with white wine baked in the oven for 30 minutes.

Serve with potatoes, vegetables, ham, and fresh baked bread.

We had two Mont d’or because one is never enough. Everyone ate their fill and then some.

Today, we broke out the sugar and made fudge.

My mom is the Queen of Fudge. No joke. She makes the best fudge of so many different flavors, always perfect, smooth, soft, fondant. Last year she tried to send me some for the holidays, when she normally makes it but it arrived two months late and was hard and moldy – completely ruined. This time we had an action plan. She brought the ingredients and made the fudge here.

Lots of sugar – at least a kilo.

A jar of fluff.

I think the reason why my mom’s fudge is so good isn’t the ingredients, but the fact that – as she says “I like stirring.” And if you’ve ever made fudge, you’ll know how much stirring it takes.

Stirring.

And then came the butterscotch. Why make chocolate when you can have butterscotch with chocolate on top?

This was a group effort. One to stir, one to add the butterscotch chips and one to take photographs.

Pouring it into the pans and adding the chocolate was also a group effort.

As was licking out the pot in the end. We love our fudge.

This is just a taste of what the week is going to bring. We’re all loosening our belts and enjoying a vacation together.

It’s Valentine’s Day! That means lots of red and pink and a little bit of purple to add that extra touch of pain to the eyes.

Let’s face it. St. Valentine’s Day is not the most aesthetic of holidays. Pink, red, AND purple? Unnecessary.

It is interesting to note that there are several Saint Valentine’s, most of whom were martyrs for the Catholic faith. The one who’s considered the original – who supposedly died on February 14th – well we know nothing about him except his name and the day he was torn to bits by lions or whatever.

It wasn’t until the tradition of courtly love appeared on the scene of the late middle ages, originating in southwestern France, that people began to associate St. Valentine with romance; for reasons completely unknown to me. I do however know a little bit about the troubadours of medieval France. They’re music is and was entirely enchanting. At least for medieval buffs like me. Here’s a taste:

I’m doing my medieval music professor proud.

Somehow, these lovely songs and the idea of striving for unattainable perfection in love got lost in perfume, candlelight dinners, and Hallmark. And being groped by greasy men. This could be a past-time for me here in France, if I wasn’t already married. Thank god for the husband.

But, all is forgiven. All is forgiven because of the chocolate.

And the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted is from la Chocolaterie de Puyricard.

Named after the tiny village where it is made, these beauties are hand-crafted, artisan chocolates. Puyricard (pronounced pu-ree-car) is located just northwest of Aix-en-Provence, one of my favorite cities in Provence. The factory, if you can call it that, is a tiny organization, made up 40 people, many of them family where chocolate is tradition and life.

They are recognizable in France by their elegant yellow facades, which despite being bright yellow with brown lettering, really are – as I said – elegant. Inside is an atmosphere dedicated to the beauty of the chocolate. Lavenders, browns, yellows, colors that accents the dark and milk chocolates (Puyricard very rarely works with white) that are placed like works of art around the shop.

And I happen to pass by one everyday on my way to work.

The women inside are smartly dressed and know every flavor in the store. They know the essences, the subtleties, the liquors. They will give you a taste if you can’t make up your mind and need a bit of persuasion. And they wrap everything into a beautiful package that always matches the season.

Even if it is Valentine’s themed – I can’t hate this.

Their most famous, and one of my favorites is their palet d’or and palet d’argent. Two truffles of dark chocolate with a ganache of dark chocolate and Tahitian vanilla bean inside. On the outside, hand placed are small leaves of silver and gold. For show, of course, but there is something beautiful and so inviting about the glint of the metal on the silky chocolate surface.

This year, I have a new love, that I sampled in their store. A dark chocolate square truffle with a simple, unadorned smooth outer shell. Inside is dark chocolate ganache peppered literally with black pepper and a hint of mint. It is a very understated taste, discernible only if you take the time to taste it slowly and let the flavors melt on your tongue. But if you do – every millimeter of this tiny square is worth it.

Puyricard isn’t cheap. A box of 250 grams – about 20-25 chocolates is 21Euros. Keep in mind however that these are hand-made chocolates, I’ve seen it with my own eyes – you can visit the factory. They use only the finest ingredients, the purest cacao, and there are NO PRESERVATIVES. So if you happen to be in the United States and decide to splurge and order some, they will Fed-Ex your chocolates to you in order that they arrive as fresh as possible.

Or you can come to Provence and visit the factory yourself. This is the only photo I have of my visit. I don’t know why I only have half the building. It’s a pretty half.

Another beauty to their truffle collection is their lichee ganache. Dark chocolate outside, milk chocolate interior infused with a strong lichee liquor. Graceful and so smooth, a perfect fruity taste mixed with the most delicate of milk chocolates. I was impressed as I wasn’t sure how lichee would go with the taste of chocolate, but I had to try their new flavor.

A truly amazing chocolaterie, the three others that are on the same street as the Puyricard in Toulon, simply can’t hold a candle to the perfect caress of this soft, flavorful chocolate as it melts on the tongue.

Next time you want to treat yourself, check out their website. Even if you don’t order anything, their chocolates are a feast for the eyes alone.

In order to re-educate my brain’s attitude toward food, there was something else I needed to do besides eat mostly soup for the weekend. That was clean my kitchen. Any good cook from amateur to three star knows the importance of keeping the workspace clean. I’m pretty good at these things, my kitchen is usually pretty clean, the surfaces wiped and to the eye that isn’t looking hard enough, things seem to be in order. Until you open a drawer:

Or rather a box.

We live out of boxes. They’re nice boxes. Meant to be lived out of. But they are boxes nonetheless and they can get messy. It’s not just my spice box that was a wreck, but my pasta box, my baking box, my canned goods box. Now don’t get confused. I can tell you what’s in all these boxes. I know everything we have in the apartment food-wise. I can name the six different types of flour I have. Nothing is forgotten, it’s just strewn about.


I had to reorganize. Call it kitchen feng shui if you like. It had to get done. So I reorganized and now everything is lovely.


I’ve been continuing to work with mindful eating. It’s only been what – 36 hours? – but I find it to be a very pleasant experience. It reminds me of the way a sommelier would taste that perfect wine she’s been dreaming of all her life. In my case, a nice 1999 Chateauneuf. I’ve been sticking to my soup theme with a few rice cakes or a bit of bread. I do find that I appreciate the color of soup, the aroma of soup more.

Another important factor, I’m finding is taking more pleasure and giving more mindfulness in preparing the food.  Usually reheated from a big batch I made earlier. Even that can be pleasurable experience.

But tonight I’m going to try it with a real meal that I have planned. Nothing too spectacular. Just a pasta with lots of green veggies and a bit of tuna.

And then I will have a brownie. But these brownies aren’t just any brownies. There’s no flour, very little sugar, no milk, butter or cream. Each one has 120 calories (or less if you cut them smaller like I did – rather by accident)

They are made with beans.

You heard me. Beans. The recipe comes from Baker on the Rise and who doesn’t love healthy sweets? I couldn’t wait to try them.

Only one problem. I cannot find black beans ANYWHERE in Provence.

So I used red beans.

And olive oil because I didn’t have canola.

I like to hand chop my chocolate. Once you get the hang of it, there is something incredibly satisfying about chopping chocolate. I don’t know what it is, but it’s the crunch underneath the knife and the weight of your hands. Maybe it’s the tiniest miniscule pieces of chocolate that are wafting up my nose and into my mouth without me ever knowing…

Who can say if these would be good or not? I put them in the oven with apprehension and waited. I Skyped with my mom. It’s her birthday. Happy birthday Mom!

I even waited for the brownies to cool before slicing one and eating it. Mindfully of course.

It was fabulous. So moist and soft. Chocolatey and even the texture was perfect. There is no way to know that there is no flour in this recipe. If people don’t know they’ll just think you’re a master at soft brownies. The only drawback is that the brownies don’t really puff up when baking but had I used a smaller pan and had a thicker layer of brownie it wouldn’t have been a problem. To the eye, if you concentrated on the thickness, they were a bit lacking. In taste they were dark, bitter chocolate with sweet nibs of the chocolate that melted in your mouth. They were amazing.

Wish me luck for tomorrow. I’m preparing my soups and breads for the day and planning my pauses throughout the day to sit down and enjoy a meal.

And I really do have six different types of flour: buckwheat, whole wheat, all purpose, multi-grain/cereal, fluide flour, and corn flour.

It’s snowing again. And again, I’m not pleased. In fact, it’s freezing all over France. Only here in the Var has it risen above freezing and only then by 4 degrees. It would be an ideal day to spend time with a mug of homemade hot chocolate in my hands, gazing out the window with a wistful expression, remembering my childhood of snow days, snow angels, snowball fights, snow igloos and massive snow suits.

But that’s not happening this weekend. Not the hot chocolate part anyway. This weekend it’s all about the soup.

I’m into week 4 of quitting smoking. It’s not going so well. I hate everyone and have a lot of time on my hands to do it. I know that seems odd. I smoke and run. A cigarette for every kilometer.

I have another confession to make. And it’s pretty serious. Sometimes I go a little nuts on the sweets. And by a little nuts I mean a binge. And by a binge I mean a real binge. The one where you eat 24 cookies in 5 minutes without ever tasting anything. After that I eat a pint of ice cream and then a bar of chocolate. Time Elapsed: 12 minutes. It’s a bad food relationship and it’s been happening a little too much lately.

These two things combined create one very upset digestive system and a very unhealthy mentality towards food. Did you see the Mindful Eating article in the NY Times on Thursday? Though I do consider myself a Buddhist, I’ve never been a very good one. My mindfulness and meditation practices are pretty awful.

But since quitting smoking, I’ve found a need to snatch any moments of meditation where ever I can. See: Be Here Now from NPR for some tips on short meditation. It’s not perfect, but anytime you can take the time to “quiet your mind and open your heart” as Jack Kornfield says, you’re helping yourself in all sorts of positive ways.

What better way to renew a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food and cooking by practicing mindfulness while I eat?

Mindful eating is not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad. ~Jeff Gordinier; NY Times 

When I binge, I don’t actually taste anything. I couldn’t tell you if those almond butter cookies I made yesterday were good or not. If they tasted different than peanut butter cookies or if the white chocolate I put inside added anything in texture, taste, pleasure. The same with the handful of Brazil nuts I ate after. I still don’t know if they were salted.

This weekend, then, it’s about two things. 1) A bit of a liquid diet to go easy on my digestion. 2) Learning to slow down and re-focus my brain and do things more mindfully – in small chunks of course because these things take lifetimes – but especially to be more mindful of my eating and my food.

This is where the soup comes in. When was the last time you tasted soup? Really tasted soup? All the textures, the tastes, the way it slides around your tongue, your mouth and then down your throat. It’s an intense experience if you have a good soup. It could be something as simple as leek soup with a twist of ground pepper. The bite-burn of the pepper, over the leek’s soft twang. When the leeks are puréed they are mushy – as all purée is – but there’s an interesting consistency, not thick, not thin. Almost like a thin oatmeal. Comforting.

Comfort foods are necessary when it looks like this.

There are lots of soups on the menu. Some homemade, some store-bought. Leek soup, Carrot and sweet potato soup, roasted vegetable soup with tahini (recipe below), tomato soup, lentil soup, zucchini soup. I’m stocked on soups.

And lemons. Got to clean out that liver.

Don’t get worried here. I’m not trying to starve myself. Though almost all of my soups are under 150 calories, I’m eating a bowl every 2 hours and keeping myself up around 1200 calories. I am allowing myself a bit of homemade focaccia bread or rice cakes as the mood strikes me.

Spiced Roasted Vegetable Soup with Tahini

based off of Babaganoush Soup by Sprint 2 the Table.

  • 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 100 g Eggplant sliced
  • 100 g Zucchini sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 100 g red onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 tblspn EVOO, divided
  • 1 tblspn Sesame Tahini
  • 1 lemon slice
  • 500mL Organic vegetable broth

And a whole lot of spices. But we’ll get to those.

First preheat your oven to 200°C. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper put all your veggies except the tomato. Keep the garlic in their skins. Drizzle with the olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, turning everything halfway through. Take out of the oven when fully roasted, let cool and remove any blackened skins.

In the meantime boil your vegetable broth in a large pot, slice your tomato and add to the pot. Reduce to simmer. Add the roasted vegetables and cook for 10 minutes at a simmer so that the flavors have a chance to blend together. Add the other tablespoon of EVOO.

Then add your spices. Here are the ones I used all in ¼ or 1/8 teaspoons:

  • ground cumin
  • ground cinnamon
  • ground ginger
  • tumeric
  • cayenne pepper
  • ground nutmeg
  • ground cloves
  • ground black pepper

And add your tahini and lemon. Let simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy with a bit of homemade bread. Enjoy it with mindfulness – every last drop.

Spend the day relaxing, reading, catching up on sleep. Like I’m doing with the cats. We’re all on the couch staying warm together.

I’ll be updating on my journey in Mindful Eating later on in the week. Try the experience with me. For dinner, lunch, or breakfast – or even during a snack – tomorrow turn off the TV, sit down comfortably and spend a good 20 minutes concentrating on what you’re eating. The texture, taste, smell, look. Enjoy it from all sides and experience your food.

Today is World Nutella Day.  A day of chocolate hazelnut spread. A day of goodness. A day that should be celebrated by all.

I kind of stressed about what to make for World Nutella Day. There are soooooo many options but all of them seemed to be tried and true. I’m fearful of creating my own pastry recipes as I’m not a pastry chef and don’t believe – sometimes resulting in incredible fails – that pastry is a precise art.

So, let me tell you a bit about Nutella instead. It’s orginally Italian, though many people I know believe it to be French or Swiss. It’s manufactured by the Ferrero company. They also make chocolates called Ferrero Rocher and Kinder. If you’ve ever been to Germany, Switzerland or France, you’ve had a Kinder. They’re the chocolate eggs with toys in them. They have other types too, but Americans love the idea of the toy inside their chocolate.

I first had Nutella when I was an exchange student in Switzerland. My host mother set it out for me alongside a loaf of bread before she went to work. I got up, my first day in a new country and had a taste of hip-spreading goodness. And it was hip-spreading – I gained 15lbs in Switzerland.

But that’s not the point. What is important is that I learned about a wonderful and versatile dessert. Nutella can be used for all sorts of amazing recipes. Or simply enjoyed with a spoon out of the jar.

You can find all sorts of Nutella recipes on the World Nutella Day website. But let’s keep it simple. Here are some ways you can use Nutella to add that special, sweet indulgence to your dessert:


Nutella and crêpes are a classic French and Swiss tradition.

Try Nutella on top of vanilla ice cream

Go one better and put a waffle under that vanilla and Nutella sundae.

Or just go all out and make Nutella ice cream. Featured here with vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.

Get back to simplicity with Nutella on a warm, fresh brioche.

But wait: who could forget my fabulous 50k Oatmean Nutella Cookies? Not me. They were filled with chocolate, Nutella, cocoa powder, rolled oats and a multi-grain flour that gave these cookies a fabulous crunch. Make them right away.

Enjoy it in coffee or hot chocolate if you’re somewhere snowy and cold.

You can even make your own as I might be doing later – try this recipe for a bit of variation: Hazelnut and olive oil chocolate spread. If there’s anyone who knows how to make homemade Nutella it would be Juls, a Tuscan girl.

So there you have it. There’s not much more to say about Nutella except that it’s fabulous and today of all days is the day to indulge.

Happy Nutella Day!

There is something completely unacceptable happening in Provence this weekend. It’s worse than chilling a 20 year old Château de la Tour. Worse than mixing a good Epoisse with tomatoes and onions. Worse than clam ice cream.

It’s snowing.

No, really. It’s snowing. Big wet flakes coming down from the sky covering trees and cars.

I grew up in New England, so you’d think I’d be okay with this. But I’m not. At all. After living in Phoenix for four years I got used to the happy times of heat and bright sun all year round and never wanted to leave. I thought I’d have something similar in Provence. It is, after all, a Mediterranean climate.

Nevertheless, there it is. I got up this morning, made my morning coffee and oatmeal and opened up the blinds. I was bringing my oatmeal to the couch, when I saw it. My expression was horrified, a terrified, disgusted gasp escaped from the deepest parts of my belly. The cats sat up on their hind-legs and pressed their paws to the glass. Snow.

The husband and I had plans to go to the market and buy some items for the weekend and cat food for the cats – who eat like horses – and so we bundled ourselves up at 10am and set out.

On the way back we were discussing what to have with the lamb and red wine we had purchased and I suddenly remembered: “We still have a can of Cassoulet in the house from L’Esprit du Vin.” Lamb was forgotten. Red wine wasn’t. Cassoulet was on the menu.

Cassoulet. White beans, goose or duck, sausage from Toulouse, slow cooked in duck or goose fat.

It’s direct from the producer. I added tomatoes and onion, to which the husband said “you know there are no tomatoes in cassoulet.”

“They use tomato paste,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“So, I’m adapting it. I’m using a small dice.”

“Ok, I just wanted to be sure.”

There are also carrots in cassoulet, but I omitted those because I knew the husband would complain about my vegetable obsession.

Anyway. Into the pan it went over low low heat. The fat melts and heats up quickly becoming such a thick, wonderful sauce. With a glass of red wine it is truly winter-stick-to-your-ribs food. Comfort food. Perfect for watching the snow out the window and Iron Chef on the computer alternately.


We drank a Crozes Hermitage, 2007 made of only syrah grapes. It was a simple purchase from the supermarket. A light wine but with a full-bodied fruity flavor that worked well with the soft, subtly of the white beans without anything being over powering. Not a complex flavor, no oaken-tones or rosemary and herbs like you find in many Côtes du Rhone, but it was a delightful taste.


It went well with the cheese that followed the meal. Because on a day like this you have to make a holiday of it and have cheese.


And ice cream. Vanilla and Nutella ice cream with fresh strawberries. I found these at the market, coming from Spain, and while I try to only buy French produce, Spain – as I’ve reminded the husband – is not that far away – and I couldn’t resist this touch of summer in the midst of winter. Ice cream might not have been the warmest option in the middle of snow, but I can never resist ice cream. And warm coffee with a piece of chocolate soon followed.


Curling up on the couch with a belly full of cassoulet and red wine and cheese is the way to spend a snowy Saturday. The emergency of this sudden and horrific change in climate has been averted and I have dealt with it admirably, if I may say so myself.

February 2nd in the United States is all about waking up some poor, snuggly groundhog and showing him his shadow. Or not depending, on whether or not you like ski season, I guess…

In France, February 2nd has it’s own name: la Chandeleur, also known as Candlemas. It has to do with the Virgin Mary and Jesus and before that it supposedly had to do with asking the fertility gods to come back and bless the various barbarian tribes of Europe.

Far from being a religious celebration, the French have forgotten all about the Virgin Mary and Jesus and instead, February 2nd has become all about the food. Much like everything else in France. I think that’s what I like about the French. It’s always all about the food.

From bars and cafés to gourmet restaurants, February 2nd is where we all sit down at the table – or stand around the stove – and eat crêpes.

What can I say about crêpes that hasn’t already been said? Other than if you haven’t had one, make them immediately. They aren’t pancakes because they are too flat and thin and they aren’t pannenkoeken for kind of the same reason and because they are French. Pannenkoeken I’ve been told are encouraged to puff. It would be a crime to puff a crêpe.

There are two types of crêpes that can be served today. Sweet and savory. Both are easy to make, but require a different set of ingredients. This meant I had to make a mess of my kitchen.

Some of you out there might have plenty of space to work with. I don’t. I live in an Ikea-sized apartment. The kind you see set up as an example of small living spaces. We’re still setting up.

Anyway. First get out your crêpe pan. It’s thin, flat, and thin. My crêpe pan was inherited from the husband’s grandmother and is rather small, but that’s alright. It just means we get to layer our crêpes in the end.

Prepare your savory:

Makes 8 crêpes

  • 150g Buckwheat flour
  • 1 egg
  • 375ml water
  • ½ tsp salt


Buckwheat flour or sarrasin has an essential color, flavor and texture that is important to the savory crêpe. It’s just that much better than all purpose flour because it’s thinner and more wheaty in taste. I  have no idea what to call it – wheaty seems good.

Anyway, whisk your ingredients together. Set aside.

Prepare your sweet:

Makes 8 crêpes

  • 125g flour (see below)
  • 30g unsalted butter, melted
  • 25g – 30g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 120ml water
  • 120ml milk


There are other batter recipes out there, but this is the one I used and it came out lovely. A word on the flour – I used farine de fluide which supposedly exists as fluid flour in English speaking countries, but I had never seen it until I moved here. It’s very, very fine. I might see if there’s something else I can do with it other than crêpes because I have so much of it now, but anyway, if you don’t have farine de fluide, all purpose works fine.

Mix everything in a bowl, whisk together. Set aside. In the meantime, do your dishes. And prepare your toppings. People recommend letting your batter sit for an hour or two, but I let it sit for 30 minutes and it was perfectly fine.

You can put practically ANYTHING on your crêpes. Seriously. Take your pick. I’ve seen hamburger crêpes, chicken curry crêpes, cheese filled crêpes, lamb crêpes, whatever. I decided on an egg with veggies and some aged gruyère. The husband had an egg with ham.

This was my first time handling the crêpes entirely on my own. The two years previous the husband did the cooking and flipping. It was a stressful moment.

The photo is blurry, but I still thought it a neat shot.

The thing about crêpes is: for the perfect one you want the batter to be completely even on the pan, and as thin as you can possible get. You want to be able to almost see the black of the pan under your batter.

I kind of failed that so my crêpes are a little thick, but that’s alright. It just means they took longer to cook and were slightly harder to flip.

Pile your toppings on your crêpe. Make a little sandwich with the savory ones. It’s delightful.
Crêpes are designed to be enjoyed one at a time, made one at a time standing over a stove top. So it’s the type of thing you eat standing up. Enjoying a glass of cider. The husband was in charge of that. Pajamas are par for the course.

Anything goes for the sweet crêpes too. There’s the crêpe suzette which is set on fire and lots of fun. But we wanted to keep it simple. Crêpes with powdered sugar are the easiest, simplest option, but even better is Nutella.

The husband made a smiley with his.

What else is there to say? Crêpes are wonderful, adaptable, easy, and fun. And I get to use the ^ hat accent on my keyboard over and over and over.

Enjoy your February 2nd and all of your coming weekend with some crêpes and cider. On Sunday enjoy them with Nutella because the 5th is World Nutella Day. I’m still not sure what I’m doing… maybe I’ll go with what a friend suggested and just break out a big spoon.

First of all, have you found me through the keyword search “je mange french meaning teeth?” or have you come here from “french mange?” If so, let me know because I’m dying to know why you are putting these particular words together into Google. Especially the first.

I’ve been over doing it lately. Food wise, work wise, writing wise. Pushing, always pushing. We all get into that mode, the one where you think you’re behind on life and have to race to catch up. When I get like that, I tend to explode. I drink too much, go overboard on the sweets and feel sick the next day.

Also, I’ve been over doing it on the food. Not eating too much mind you, not unhealthy, but with the recipes. I’ve been thinking about food, dreaming about food, obsessing about food, making more and more elaborate recipes.

I need to slow it down. I need to slow it down and remember the simple things. Simple flavors and tastes. A simple dish can have it’s own grace and warmth and make me remember it’s ok to take a break.

Brioche, anyone?


I used this recipe: Panini al Latte and found that the dough came together wonderfully. It was tacky, smooth, soft, I loved the feel of it when I was done kneading.


Brioche. It’s just bread with milk instead of water. A little extra sugar, a little butter. And so comforting. The husband has been asking me to make it for weeks. I couldn’t resist this weekend, just wanting something soft and warm and easy to adapt. Eat it with honey, Nutella, jam, peanut butter, paté, foie gras, olive spreads, tapenades, make it into pain perdu (French toast) when it starts to get old.


It’s a French breakfast staple, found in every bakery, everywhere. And it’s just nice.


But that was dessert and we’ll get to the final result in a moment.

I needed dinner first. And I’ve been craving salmon.


It’s not often I have a fish craving. Usually such things can be satisfied by a tuna sandwich or tuna salad with pasta or rice or something. But canned tuna wouldn’t do here. I wanted salmon, plain and simple.


Baking salmon in parchment paper is a wonderful way to keep the fish flesh juicy and flavorful and quick too. Bake for 15 minutes (NO MORE!) at 220°C with a bit of garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon, and basil. Easy and quick.

Fresh basil is impossible to find in France outside of summer. Believe me, I’ve looked EVERYWHERE. Either by it frozen or wait. I used frozen.


Serve with some pasta tossed with spinach and freshly shredded cheese. Or not freshly shredded. Whatever works for you. Top with olive oil and lemon. Garlic and more basil. So simple and so comforting. The perfect dinner for a Saturday night watching Man vs Wild with the husband.

Seriously. I have to turn away when he eats bugs or pees into his container. Oddly, I’m perfectly fine with the skinning of rabbits.

Anyway, then it was time for dessert.


I have so many brioche and they smell so delightful. That’s only half the batch. See the husband’s hand at the bottom right? He couldn’t wait. They smelled that good.

Just a teaspoon of Nutella on a warm brioche makes the perfect end or beginning of the day. When the brioche is warm, the Nutella melts so sweetly.

We all know there is nothing better than fresh, warm bread. There’s nothing better, nothing simpler, than a sweet, warm brioche.