Brittany, France and New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

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 …

{Delicious home-cooking by our family in Brittany. Clockwise from top-left: roast leg of lamb for Christmas lunch; Marble Cake; Turkey & Fois Gras Terrine; Laughing Cow Cheese (obviously not home-made but a regular with apéritifs); Baked Custard; Salad of carrots, beetroots, asparagus and boiled eggs; Vol-au-vents filled with creamy chicken sauce; Fish Terrine}

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.

{Ready-prepared meals, the French way}
{Fresh fruit from the market stalls in Trégor}

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).

{The harbour at Tréguier}
{The harbour at Tréguier}
{Sentier des Douaniers}

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.

{Galette complète aux champignons}

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.

{Kitchenware store in Paimpol. I would have bought so much but for the fact that I was too scared to touch anything!}

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.

{A Malakoff, a traditional celebration dessert in my family}

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.

{Making a chocolate cake the old-fashioned way. Notice the cake decorations which are used every year. The red axe makes me laugh every time I see it!}

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!

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  1. Hannah de Bevy de La Faverge 2 January 2012

    Creme,! I know that very crockery shop in Paimpol ! We had a holiday there last Spring and I ventured inside (leaving hubby with the children outside for obvious reasons!). Gorgeous things! Love Brittany, the scenery and the food. vWe spent many a happy time trying severeal Kouign Amann from different Patisseries in the region and oh the salted caramels are to die for. Loved the market at Paimpol too with the huge selection of spider crabs! Just needed more time to try these things!

    • eat, little bird 2 January 2012

      Oh I’m so happy to hear that you have also visited this store! Isn’t it amazing?!! I have been studying the photos and daydreaming about which pattern I might like … next time, I hope we can visit Brittany by car so that I can take back as much fragile crockery as I like 🙂

      I also think Brittany is a beautiful region, so rich in culture and history. I’m so proud that you got to sample so many Kouign Amann! I look forward to more exploring when we return in 2012, hopefully in summer when the weather will be a bit better for sight-seeing. Interestingly enough, my in-laws were surprised that their region was “famous” for salted caramels, despite the fact that the local pâtisseries and tourist shops were pouring with the sweet bonbons. I was nevertheless happy to arm myself with a few bags as a souvenir 🙂

  2. Caroline 2 January 2012

    Oh Thanh, your travel photography and writing are the best! I love reading it, oggling over it, salivating with greed, envious of your talent and the opportunities you have! I cannot make any rational comment as I have read the post with such earnest impatience, that my eyes can barely make sense of the sentence that went before! Will be coming back to this post and have a right good nosy and read, and probably a lot of comments!

    Glad to have you back! All the very best for you, your blog and your resolutions! 😀

    • eat, little bird 3 January 2012

      Oh thanks, Carrie! Am happy to be back at home and anxious to get the ball rolling in the kitchen again. I have so many recipes I want to try that I don’t know where to start! Many thanks for your good wishes 🙂 I also wish you continued success for your blog!

  3. Dorothée 2 January 2012

    Thank you very much ..great article, so true about Brittany!

    Next time, don’t hesitate to ask me to visit my kitchen, you’ll have a look at my cookbooks and kitchen utensils 😉

    This year, I made a bavaroise à l’ananas from an old recipe, this is quite refreshing after all the chocolate at this time of the year.

    You didn’t mean the town Treguier (Trégor is the area)…Paimpol is a lovely town, with a great litlle salon de thé hidden in a small street..and I know the wonderful kitchenware store 😉

    • eat, little bird 3 January 2012

      Salut Dorothée! Invitation accepted 🙂 We will hopefully be back in spring/summer so I look forward to seeing you then. The bavaroise à l’ananas sounds delicious … my mother-in-law made a lovely pineapple cake that was enjoyed by us all.

      You are probably right about Treguier … I will double-check. Maybe you’d like to show me this salon de thé when we are next in Brittany?? 🙂

  4. Sam-I-Am 3 January 2012

    Creme, you are a travel writer, aren’t you?! A female version of Rick Stein, and I LOVE him! Every word, every photo, every idea was a delight, and I think no one wanted your post to end! Thank you for the whirlwind, and I am humbled to see I made your 2012 resolutions! LOL! Hope the cake lives up to its reputation in your eyes! Anyway, glad you had a marvelous Xmas, enjoyed the family dynamics, made it all so true and real….. and wishing you and your hsband a wonderful 2012! S x

    • eat, little bird 3 January 2012

      Hello Sam! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. I still have a few more hundred photos to sift through from our recent trip so I might update this post with more photos shortly.

      I am dying to try your chocolate cake and think there will be a good occasion to make it … very, very soon!!

      I wish you and your family all the best for 2012! Looking much forward to your culinary delights this year, too 🙂

  5. Amber 3 January 2012

    Looks like you had a great holiday! I wish I had an aunt who could cook anything. I’m the only one in my family who cooks so I never get a break!

    And that shop – my husband will develop a tiny bit of hate towards you for introducing me to that place. I WILL go there this summer. Just out of curiousity, do they offer any options to ship dishes for you? I’ve been to some places that will arrange shipment for a fee.

    • eat, little bird 3 January 2012

      LOL! If you love crockery, you will love this store! I’m not sure if they ship as it looks to be a relatively small business, but you could always ask. It’s always a good option when you are travelling and you want to limit your luggage.

      I think my husband would have some sympathy for yours 😉 He patiently followed me around in the store before gently persuading me that it would be impossible to bring anything back home. But I have the brilliant idea of driving there next time … 😉

  6. Julia Levy 3 January 2012

    That’s it, that’s what you should do, your vocation and path is totally as a travel food writer. These particular blogs are so compelling and wonderful, they totally draw the reader in. You simply take the best food photos I’ve seen, seriously they put some of the ones in books in the shade as if taken by a kid with a happy snap.

    The first selection of eight photos, the food you’ve been eating, any chance of some annotations, I’d love to know what some of the dishes are, especially the top right.

    Now I have a lot of the cook books you’re going to be cooking from. Some I’ve used, others not so I’m very looking forward to seeing the recipes you choose and trying them also. Might I heartily recommended the red pepper soup (with olives, rosemary, lemon and yogurt) from Falling Cloudberries as a starting point. Truly wonderful and much loved by my parents, and you know how impressive that is!!!

    Welcome back wholeheartedly, i’ve missed your wonderful blogs.

    • eat, little bird 3 January 2012

      Oh Julia, you are too kind 🙂 *blush* I still feel like I have some way to go with the writing and the photography but if anyone is looking for a travel writer, I would be there in an instant!

      Thanks for asking me to provide more details on the food photos – I have just updated the photo with some descriptions. I would have taken more photos but for the fact that the lighting wasn’t always great, not to mention that I had to refrain from preventing my family from eating as soon as the food was ready 😉

      I’m so happy to receive a recipe suggestion from Falling Cloudberries! If your recipe recommendations are anything to go by to date, I’ve no doubt that this soup must be delicious. I will bookmark that recipe now.

      Thank you again for your wonderful support! It makes me really happy to know that there are people like you who appreciate my efforts 🙂 Thanhxx

  7. Dorothée 3 January 2012

    🙂 Ok

    And a link to a special little film for you :

    • eat, little bird 5 January 2012

      Oh I love this video!! All that butter and sugar doesn’t look so bad when it’s in black and white 😉 Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Tyler Ngo 4 January 2012

    Hi, found your blog via David Lebovitz’s blog. I like it! :-D. I am drooling over your Christmas Dinner! J’ai été aussi à Bretagne. C’est trop jolie!

  9. 6 January 2012

    So lovely and dreamy! Beautiful celebration 🙂

  10. Caroline 8 January 2012

    As promised, I have re-read your post again and it has lost none of its charm. In fact, its grown. I am boggled by how you MIL has the time to produce a six course meal, even if some of them are store bought. And then again, the quality of food available ready made! Puts most of the UK to shame.
    I love the look of the turkey and foie gras terrine and its looks like it would feel luxurious to eat. Same with the Kouign Amann, pure decadence! I had to laugh when I say La Vache Qui Rit on that spread! It was by far, one of my most favourite treats as a child. In fact, I think I might just buy a pack for nostalgia’s sake 🙂
    That store, what a goldmine! I am a clutz of extraordinary merit, and I would be petrified of standing in there but oh how I love the look of the place! Hope you get to have a good, break-less rummage the next time you are over Thanh. Load that car boot!
    Your husband’s expression of horror had me grinning. Poor man, poor you! It was lovely of your family to have a Vietnamese meal laid out, particularly for you. Such a warming, lovely gesture.
    Really, travel and food photography is definitely one of your strengths. You capture the place, the feeling and the cuisine so well. I do miss your presence on here and FB when you travel but if this is the kind of thing you produce on your arrival, it makes the wait enjoyable!

    • eat, little bird 10 January 2012

      That’s so lovely of you to come back for a few more words 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed this post, particularly since it was mostly a foray into my family which I was worried could bore a few people 😉

      I know a 6 course meal sounds absurd, but we are not really eating too much at each course. But adding up all of the calories can be a bit worrying!

      I also ate La vache qui rit as a child and have very fond memories of this slightly bouncy cheese. It might be the only cheese that the Vietnamese eat and silly me even grew up thinking that it was a Vietnamese product! So it was a nice surprise when I found my in-laws regularly serving them with drinks, though, in France, they also sell them in the tiny cube-sized portions which are perfect for apéros (as shown in the photo), except you run the risk of eating quite many!

      I’m so happy to receive such a positive response to my travel pieces and look forward to sharing more travel stories soon 🙂 Thank you again for all of your support 🙂

  11. The Food Sage 15 January 2012

    Oh – wonderful food and travel photography. My family is originally from Brittany – though we’ve lost touch with our French roots, unfortunately. I’ve been wanting to take my father there for years, and your post has just spurred me on…

    • eat, little bird 16 January 2012

      Brittany is a region well worth visiting, so I do hope you and your father will get there one day. We often only go in winter when it’s not so much fun to venture outside, but I’m glad we did so this time so I could see more of the place. We are likely to go back again in summer this year so I’m looking forward to that, maybe even go the beach and do something about this pale, white skin!

      Anthony Bourdain did an episode on Brittany which was really interesting to watch and provides some good ideas on what to see and do. You will quickly realise that Brittany is quite different to the rest of France. Of course, Brittany is such a large region that you really need a decent amount of time to see everything and sample the local specialties. But just visiting the place where your family is from will be very memorable, I’m sure 🙂

  12. Emma 31 January 2012

    Wow! Beautiful pics. That crockery shop with me in it would be G’s worst nightmare!! xx

    • eat, little bird 2 February 2012

      I think any foodie would understand the feeling of awe when standing in that shop. I think my companions were not so inspired and, yes, it’s not the place for anyone who is a klutz! Interestingly, there were no signs saying “You break, you buy”!

  13. Meredith 25 April 2012

    Oh, I hope you don’t keep your last resolution! Your food photos are wonderful; all are wonderful, in fact, and so well illustrate all of the things you enjoy. It is clear that you’ve gleaned from your food magazines the intent and effect of well-shot and -placed photos – I say: let them roll your eyes, and keep shooting away!!

    P.S. I absolutely love your style of writing, and shall try to read more of your blog. It’s well past January, but I’m making my own resolutions!

    • eat, little bird 25 April 2012

      Oh thank you, Meredith! It makes me really happy when I read that someone enjoys what I have posted here on this blog. Makes all that time worthwhile!

      I’m trying to improve my photography and, at the same time, spend less time behind the camera so that I can free up more time for cooking, writing … So far, I have succeeded in taking less photos of the same meal by spending more time on the composition and making sure that the lighting is right. At other times, inspiration is nowhere to be found and I can be snapping away for hours! But I do love my food magazines and get lots of ideas from there, especially since I don’t think I am very artistic by nature!

      I hope you will enjoy continuing to visit this blog and trying some of the recipes when you can. And good luck with your resolutions! Half the fun is deciding what they will be 🙂

  14. Laurence 8 May 2012

    I regularly used to go to Paimpol, but never seen the shop you’re talking about. Would you mind giving me the address so can have another excuse to go back….with Dave of course….. Lol!!!!

    • eat, little bird 8 May 2012

      Hi Laurence,

      I thought I took a business card from the store but I can’t seem to locate it (or perhaps I am imagining it!). The store is located in one of the little side streets not far from the harbour. We will be going back this summer so I will find out the details for you.