Happy New Year everyone! I hope you have all had a good start to 2012 with lots of fine celebrations, good food and good company.
Christmas for us is usually spent with our family in Brittany, a cold and windy region in the north-west of France. Except, this year, it was thankfully not so cold and windy, which meant that my Ugg boots which I had lugged with me on the 9 hour train journey from Zurich didn’t even make an appearance this winter. There were even moments when the sun shone for more than a few hours, allowing us (and every other family it seemed) to take a lovely stroll along the magnificent beaches, something which one would normally only want to brave in summer.
The holiday season is often synonymous with an abundance of food, which is necessarily coupled with bouts of inactivity (preferably on the sofa) where one is unable to move for all of the food which has just been consumed. I have still yet to work out if it is a norm for my in-laws or a custom which they adopt only when I am visiting, but each meal that we sit down to comprises of an alarming 6 courses, and once you add up the time taken to get through each course, you will find that you’ve been eating for a good 3 hours before coming to the sudden realisation that the next 6 course meal is only a few hours away. Do this a few times a day for a week and you would hardly need encouragement to ensure that your New Year’s resolution will include some form of dieting.
If you wish to see how well I ate during this holiday season, here is a peek of some delicious home-cooked treats …
On those evenings when my mother-in-law needs a break of sorts from the cooking, she visits one of the butchers or food stores in town to buy something ready-prepared which she can simply reheat at home. Meals such as homemade beef stews, braised tripes and vol-au-vents to a selection of pâtés can be bought fresh and provide for a fantastic dinner when time is short, not to mention a nice alternative to something frozen from the supermarket. On one occasion, my mother-in-law bought some crab cakes for dinner from the Vietnamese vendor at the local market, a gesture to show me that they were open to eating exotic food at home. I was so delighted to sit down to a Vietnamese meal and the crab cakes were so delicious that I greedily helped myself to the last piece.
Brittany is famous for its coastline and maritime history, and, in the culinary world, it is famous for its butter, thus making Brittany synonymous with salted caramels and butter biscuits. One particular specialty of Brittany is the Kouign Amann, a cake where the main ingredient is butter and therefore not recommended for those with high cholesterol, but tastes great when it is hot and fresh from the oven (see main photo).
And you need no reminder that Brittany is also well-known for its crêpes and galettes, always to be served with a small bolée of cider.
One gem of a store we came across was in Paimpol. Upon entering the store, customers are instantly greeted with shelves of tightly packed plates and bowls and other sorts of crockery, stacked in such a precarious manner that make moving about in the store a dangerous activity. But I was instantly besotted with the shop, its rows and rows of gorgeous old-fashioned crockery beckoning me at every angle. Hubby joked that our own kitchen looked like this store, and the sad truth is that it looks to be heading in that direction! I wish I could have left the store with a soup tureen or four, but worried about how I would have transported them back to Zurich on the TGV, I reluctantly left the store with just an antique teatowel, and a longing to come back again soon.
My husband’s family have many good cooks, particularly my mother-in-law who regularly turns out delicious but simple (6 course) meals for the family. And his great-aunt is one avid baker, frequently churning out wonderful baked goods from sablés and longue de chat to eat at afternoon tea to fancy charlottes for dessert. Such is her enthusiasm that she often puts a cake or two in the post, tightly wrapped in foil to be delivered as an edible surprise to her grateful recipients. Indeed, her reputation for being the “baker” in the family is such that no one else dares to encroach on her territory by attempting similar recipes, or even just bake anything for that matter when in her presence. On more than one occasion, I have suggested baking something for the family, only to catch my husband’s horrified reaction, to which I would quickly retreat.
In recent years, dessert at Christmas was a Malakoff, made from biscuit à la cuillère and a sweet creamy interior, similar to a Charlotte pudding.
In an attempt to persuade her to make something different this year, my sister-in-law and I made suggestions for something more traditional, something which we both associated with Christmas. My husband reminded his great-aunt of her Bûche de Noël (Yule Log) which she had frequently made in the past at Christmas, but she quickly shrugged off the suggestion with a wave of her hand, indicating that she had better ideas. In the end, a simple chocolate cake made to look like a Bûche de Noël sounded good to everyone, and upon arriving at that consensus, my husband’s great-aunt immediately took to the kitchen.
So after much feasting the past week or so, 2012 will probably start off with some culinary restraint. Though, having had a few days to relax and unwind with a few cookbooks gratefully received at Christmas, I’m not sure how long the restraint can last, if I can help it But hubby has requested more vegetable soups this year, and more vegetables generally, so be prepared to see more greens here on this blog!
In fact, as a hint of what’s to come on eat, little bird in 2012, I have bravely decided to publish my culinary resolutions for the New Year:
1. Use at least one recipe per month from each cooking magazine to which I subscribe. As much as I love opening my mailbox to see the next edition of Donna Hay, Gourmet Traveller or Saveur, and as much as I love curling up onto the sofa to read every article and detail on each page, not to mention ogling over the food photography, I rarely find myself cooking from them. Hopefully 2012 will see a change to this, otherwise I fear the subscriptions may have to be cancelled …
2. Use at least one recipe from the following cookbooks which have been thoroughly read, but have nevertheless been neglected:
*Warm Bread and Honey Cake by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra
*Thai Food by David Thompson
*The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater
*Indian Food Made Easy by Anjum Anand
*Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
*Rôtis by Stéphane Reynaud
*The Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal
*Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
3. Buy less cookbooks … unless the previous resolution can be carried over from year to year. And unless hubby agrees to buy another bookshelf (I promise to give you at least one shelf :-))
4. Buy less Tupperware. It is incredible how I manage to keep my Tupperware lady in business, and equally incredible how my pantry can continue to keep taking on extra modular mates. But this resolution will only start in a few weeks. You see, hubby has approved of a cheese keeper which I intend to buy as soon as possible before he changes his mind …
5. Find the perfect yoghurt recipe. Despite the many litres of milk (fresh, UHT, soy, skim) which I have consumed this past year, I am still experimenting with different yoghurt recipes and am still yet to find “the one”.
6. Make my own bircher muesli instead of buying it daily from Sprüngli. I would even do a stage at Sprüngli just so I could get my hands on their recipe for their addictive strawberry bircher muesli.
7. Make SamIAm’s Epic chocolate cake. There must be an event this year worthy of this cake!
8. Cook more vegetarian food. This is more hubby’s New Year’s resolution but which, by default, also becomes one of mine. That said, I look forward to becoming better acquainted with Ottolenghi this year.
9. Cook more with yeast. My aversion to cooking with yeast has more to do with general laziness than fear of this live culture. All of those hours of proving and nervous tension over whether the dough will actually rise makes it a stressful journey for me, one which I would like to change.
10. Take less food photos. That is, at the dining table. My husband jokes that while most people pause to say Grace before eating their meal, we pause so that I can take a few photos, or 50. This year, my plan is to limit the snaps to no more than a few clicks, not only so that the meal can be enjoyed while still warm, but also to limit the eye-rolls which I admit to deserving.
Here’s to a wonderful, prosperous and adventurous 2012 for everyone!