Tuesday, November 25, 2008

French Breakfast

I'm in love with breakfasts from around the world. When I found my passion for the anglo-saxon culture when I was 10, I was always curious to know how the British started their morning. I specifically remember the day our English teacher told us about it: cornflakes, grapefruit, toast and marmalade was apparently the classic British breakfast! I will always remember my first Sunday breakfast when I was staying with a host family in Ipswich: fried egg, sausage, blood pudding, tomato, mushroom, beans and toast. It was a bit much but I've always been very open minded with food, so I happily devoured it (though the food coma that follows is never fun. I would not recommend it for every day). 

I love a pretty table set for breakfast. Simple white china and lots of colors in my food. I'm not always able to do this every day during the week, but when I do, it always puts me in a good mood to start the day with a note of elegance. 

Growing up in France,  I would always start my breakfast or petit-dejeuner by squeezing the juice of an orange. For years and years, I ate bread (usually from a baguette) or biscotte (it's close to a Melba Toast if you like) with butter and jam along with a bowl of chicory coffee - my absolute favorite breakfast drink. Now I add plain yogurt to the menu and often replace the chicory coffee with a cup of Earl Grey. 

In France today, most people still have a hot drink: coffee, tea or hot chocolate - a popular one among children. With the Anglo-Saxon influence, cereal has known a huge success, even though bread definitely still is at the center of the table along with butter and jam. Brioche is another item that commonly comes to mind when you think about breakfast in France. It's a rich and lightly sweet bread that we eat plain or along with jam. 

So what about croissants you ask? They are most definitely the ultimate petit-dejeuner food, along with the runner-up, pain au chocolat. But because they are so high in fat, most people choose to keep them as an occasional weekend guilty pleasure. It's always a treat in France to surprise the person you live with, by going to the boulangerie to buy freshly baked and warm croissants and pains au chocolat for breakfast. 

Saturday was one of these days, where I wished I was back home, to be able to do just that. Even if I can't find croissants as good as I would in France (or maybe I'm not going to the right places in Austin), I like to recreate a French breakfast once in a while.  I just hop in the car when I wake up and go buy a fresh baguette and a couple of croissants. I usually always have some good quality butter in the fridge (I like President, an imported brand from France) and Bonne Maman fruit preserves, which I find everywhere now in the US. I try to bring back my favorite chicory coffee brand back from France but otherwise I use Cafe Du Monde in the US, which I serve with milk only (and sugar of course). 

Needless to say, Saturday's breakfast hit the right spot. But I'm always curious to learn more about other breakfasts. So this is an open call to all you readers from around the world! Tell me what you eat for your petit-dejeuner, and feed my curiosity. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Meat Pilgrimage to Snow's BBQ

Have you ever eaten BBQ for breakfast? I did, last weekend, at Snow's BBQ, just an hour away from Austin. Juan and I have been on a quest for the best BBQ places in Texas and Snow's had been on the waiting list for quite a while. Snow's opens at 8 am on Saturdays - and Saturday only (hence the "BBQ breakfast") - and closes when everything is sold out.

After a small bowl of cereal (just so we don't starve too much), at the wee hour of 8 am on Saturday, we headed for the town of Lexington, TX to meet our partners in crime, Lauren and Steven. 

It's a drive, and some might think that it's way too early to eat anything, but Juan and I would drive far for good food. Plus it's always an opportunity to discover new places (I love day trips!). There wasn't too much traffic on the way there, but probably more road kills than I had ever seen before! Finally we arrived in the little town of Lexington. We spotted Snow's very quickly as it was the only place with a small concentration of cars parked around. It was 9 am and apart from Lauren and Steven waiting for us inside there were maybe a couple more people. 

We didn't waste any time on ordering our meat: brisket (beef and pork), sausage and ribs. A cup of ice tea in hand, our butcher paper "plates" stacked to the max, we sat down at one of the few large tables inside (it was actually pretty cold on Saturday). I was wondering the night before, how I was going to be able to eat meat that early (especially with how nauseated I've been lately), but honestly I could not resist anymore. 

The verdict: I loved how juicy and tender the pork brisket was. Really. And not to mention the sausages. These were my two favorites. I don't want to start a war here, but my favorite beef brisket still is at Black's BBQ in Lockhart, TX. Period. But Snow's is definitely worth the drive. It was unquestionably one of the best BBQ experiences I had.

Ten minutes into our meat feast, I turned around and saw a huge line of people. It was 9.30 am. The line went all the way to the back of the room, right next to where we were seating. Dozens of other hungry BBQ lovers from all over the country had converged in the same little place. 

My only regret is that I did not try their chicken. Argh! I guess it means I have to go back...

** You can pre-order your meat if you don't want to get there too early, but I personally recommend just getting there at 9 am, and take advantage of the place before the rush.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Childhood Food

French fries? I don't think so! Doughnuts? Please stop! How about some chips? Ok, now you're talking.

My food tastes have been so odd and random lately - not to mention the aversion;  it's been hard to stand in the kitchen and cook. I don't feel so bad considering, and happy to say the least, but I am nonetheless not spared by the common symptoms of early motherhood. 

I'm not too worried, I have a very healthy appetite and it should be back in no time. In the meantime, I have been thinking a lot about the guilty little snacks I used to have in France when I was little. I like to think (well at least I hope) that everyone has at least one of them. 

I was told repeatedly about my favorite breakfast when I was 6 months-old. Apparently I could gorge on Roquefort cheese early in the morning without a problem. And so my love with cheese started. The butter tartines on fresh bread and crumbled blue cheese on top and what best accompaniment to that than dark chocolate! Oh the idea of it makes me salivate right now! Then my interest shifted from blue cheese to Camembert, and it became a love story, no, an affair. Every day at 5pm, my Mamie (grandma in French) would welcome me from school with a slice of baguette, Camembert, dark chocolate and a glass of Limonade. And I loved it!

Is there a link with pregnancy and hunger for food from our childhood? I wish I could be home right now to enjoy little pleasures like fresh bread and local cheese, and just in general the freshness that reminds me of my Mom's cooking. Of course fresh food is available in Austin too, but the idea of a plate of fresh sauteed "haricots verts" (or green beans) from our garden really tickles my fancies for example. I hope to be able to go home soon and take advantage of all that...

In the meantime I eat healthy (that's when I can eat) and enjoy this wonderful adventure. So patience, my friends, I promise I will be back with some recipes before you know it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On my mind...

Sorry I've been less present lately. My mind has been on other things. Here's a sneak view of what's been keeping me busy:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Joyeux Halloween!

Growing up in France, the closest celebration of Halloween (costume-wise) we had was Mardi Gras, celebrated in February. Nothing like the celebrations of New Orleans or even here in Austin, Mardi Gras in France is more celebrated by children. 

They wear a costume and basically go trick or treating (only we don't have a word for it in French), and I don't personally remember being given candies (maybe a few) but more money! The costumes are not necessarily scary ones, but just whatever you can make a costume with (at least that's how I did it) or can buy (I am not from a big town in France). I remember putting together a gypsy woman costume one year for example. 

I think the big highlight of Mardi Gras for me was that I got to make and eat crepes. Usually, my grandma would come all day and make crepes in the afternoon - which is a common time to make crepes in France. Simple toppings: sugar or fruit preserves. 

Even as a child, Mardi Gras was not anticipated as much as Halloween is, here in the US. I know today Mardi Gras is less and less celebrated in France. So it's no surprise that every year I get so excited during Halloween. I love all the decorations in the neighborhoods, all the parties organized, the children trick or treating and the fact that a lot of people, including adults, do actually celebrate it!

There was suddenly a surge of interest for Halloween in France in the 90s and people started celebrating it. But even though some people still celebrate it, French Halloween is not sticking. I guess you can't force a tradition onto a nation, especially one from another country.

I think I was lucky to be an exchange student at the university of Austin in 2001. It was my first Halloween and I got to go to some crazy student parties and the parade downtown. We were a big group of 10 friends and that's what made it real fun (I wore a French maid outfit).

This year, we have been invited to our friends Alison and Josh's party. They really go all the way and cook a whole Halloween menu. Juan always helps me get into the mood because he's always working on a crazy costume idea weeks before. And this year, he went all the way and created a fantastic "flux capacitor" costume (we both love Back To The Future).

These are the things that make me excited to live in the United-States. So, until we bring back Mardi Gras in France, you will find me celebrating Halloween every year.