Weekly DIY

wafersWe are driving up to Boston tomorrow, and in preparation for the 9 hour drive (possibly more, if bébé is extra cranky), I am making vanilla wafers. This is the fifth recipe in my weekly DIY project since being back in the States.

I started this project almost accidentally, after looking for something to take to a Super Bowl party. At the supermarket picking up other groceries, I saw a Better Homes and Gardens DIY recipes magazine with homemade toaster pastries on the cover and the headline “Return to real ingredients”. Since being back, I’ve noticed a big difference in how we eat, though this is partially because of living with my parents, who have different habits than we do. But also, baby food is very different (I’ll probably do a whole post on this, as well as bébé’s adaptation to life here) and I was stressing a little about how much “non-food” he is eating. And there is seriously sugar in everything. I figured having a few more homemade recipes in my collection could help me feel a little less guilty about giving him so many snacks, since at least they’d be homemade snacks.

For the party, I made pretzels, and they were a big hit! The week before I had made a cake for my sister’s birthday using spelt flour since our nephew doesn’t eat gluten. I made cookies for church the next week, and crackers for our NYC trip with a recipe from the magazine the week after. I figured a once a week goal of making something other than regular food would be a good one to have, especially since I didn’t get a chance to do much special baking the last month in France. And hopefully once a week will turn into a few times a week, to help me fight against my American habit of eating things out of boxes and cans, that has returned alarmingly fast (again, probably because I’m at my parents’ house).

The magazine has recipes for things like making your own vanilla extract, ketchup, syrups, crackers, donuts, mozzarella sticks, marshmallows, nut butters, even cheese. There are also a few tips on canning and growing your own produce. All of these recipes and tips can be found elsewhere, but having them all in one place will make it a fun game to check off as many pages as I can throughout the year. And while some things will go quickly, like today’s vanilla wafers, other things like ketchup or nut butter will last a little longer and help balance out the (hopefully) occasional fast food and packaged meals we’re sure to be eating in the coming weeks as we get settled into a new routine.

Crazy week

This week has just kicked everyone’s butts. This three-day weekend could not have been timed better.

It all started last weekend, when a friend came over to do some baking. About a week before bébé was born, I went to a “tupperware party” for Guy Demarle cooking products, and they’ve been sitting in their bag ever since they were delivered a few weeks after he was born. Last Saturday, the friend who invited me to the party (and who recently took the same patisserie classes  as I did last year) came over and I FINALLY used almost everything that I bought. While I’ve made a few things over the past 10 months, I haven’t done any serious baking since before bébé was born. Most weekends we spend cooking and preparing his food, so it was nice to do something for the grown-ups instead!

We were just going to make a pâte à choux to make eclairs and religieuses, but we ended up making escargots au chocolat as well. It was a good thing we did, because it meant easy and quick breakfasts for most of the week, though the eclairs were pretty much gone by Sunday night!

pastry

Saturday night was our date night, so my brother-in-law came over to babysit. But he called us around 9:30 to say bébé had thrown up! He’s never done that before (spitting up is something different), so we rushed home to find a very sad, sick baby. His tooth was finally cutting through the gums, which was hurting him like crazy, plus he was a little regular sick too. BIL did great though, and handled it very calmly, especially considering that at 22, he’s never really been around babies that much besides ours. I do wonder if maybe bébé was also kind of freaked out to wake up in pain and not see his parents, but I think he was just in tons of pain and would have been sick no matter who had been there.

After a night without much sleep, Sunday was pretty miserable for everyone, but we knew that teething is never a fun experience. So unfortunately we started the week without the usual chill weekend to regain a bit of energy, and for me at least, this week at work was always going to be rough with someone on vacation and a new intern to train.

Somehow we struggled through on even less sleep than usual, but bébé still had a runny nose and was pulling his ears more than usual, then my husband started feeling sick too. He ended up being put on sick leave for Thursday and Friday by the doctor, and bébé stayed home from the nanny’s. Ear infection and cold for bébé, pharyngitis for my husband. It’s interesting because bébé seems to get sick every three months, so we’ll see what happens in August  . . .

Of course by now, I’m starting to get a sore throat too, but tomorrow we’re headed up to MIL’s so at least we’ll have some help for the next few days. It’s the annual football fête this weekend in her town, and hopefully we’ll all be able to have a little fun despite not feeling our best. For last year’s fête I was almost 8 months pregnant, so it’ll be nice to be able to walk around normally and fully sample all the different food and drinks this year.

Pinterest win

My husband’s brother and grandmother came over this week for a few hours, and it was awesome to have someone hold the bébé for awhile so I could get some important stuff done. Like make Oreo cheesecake cupcakes, a total Pinterest win!

 

Amazing recipe!

It was a super easy recipe, though in my oven they needed almost an hour to be done. I also didn’t make the ganache, because I didn’t have enough time, but they were still delicious without. So delicious, we ate them all before I got a good picture!

To make them, I finally got to use the KitchenAid mixer my husband surprised me with a few weeks ago. He knows how much I love to bake, and it’s pretty high on the list of things I miss doing right now. My brother-in-law said I should go for a walk while they looked after the bébé, but the weather was nasty, and baking is just as relaxing for me. Having people bring food and using up what I stocked the freezer with are both good things, but there’s nothing like whipping up a fresh batch of cookies or fixing (and eating!) a delicious dinner to chill out after a long day.

I have a feeling that what I really miss right now is control, and with cooking you control (almost) everything. So it’s no wonder just thirty minutes in the kitchen did just as much good as a walk or a bath. And there’s the extra joy of a Pinterest win. Chocolate + ego boost + a break for my arms from rocking the bébé = happy new momma.

Secrets of French restaurants

The French love food, but it reaches a whole different level when someone you know works in food. My husband’s cousin went to a “lycée hôtelerie” which is a specialized high school to go into the hospitality industry. He studied cooking, and the whole family looks forward to his menus every year for Christmas eve, and we take every opportunity to ask him our food and wine questions. Recently, during a birthday party, he was telling us some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of French restaurants (and maybe restaurants around the world, but he’s only ever worked here).

For example, a lot of places get “potato pulp” delivered, which is just potatoes already peeled and mashed a bit. People were a bit scandalized, but he said it’s still a fresh product, and the chef still has to flavor it and present it correctly. It’s just this way, the restaurant doesn’t have to hire one person to sit there peeling potatoes all day.

Since we were eating cake, he told us that a lot of pâtisseries order the genoise and other parts of the cake and put it together themselves. So this was probably why my MIL had trouble getting the cake she wanted before noon. If it’s a cake they make entirely by themselves (a lot of the things with cream), it takes longer. This revelation caused even more scandal, because things like genoise and ladyfingers are so easy to make yourself, why don’t they? But again, it’s a question of time and manpower. If you want to be able to offer people twenty different kinds of cake on a daily basis, either you don’t sleep, or you do some culinary cut and paste.

However, it’s not like they buy their potato pulp or genoise from the local grocery store. There are specialized companies that make things that you can’t buy unless you’re a restaurant. So the quality is still there, even if the process has been mechanized.

My MIL gave me gift certificates for cooking classes at the cafe run by one of this cousin’s old teachers. This weekend I did a macaron class. And there were even more secrets revealed!

I already knew that Ladurée is all machine made, but I didn’t know that most macarons you get almost anywhere have probably been frozen. In part due to the same time/manpower issue, but also because unless you like really crunchy macarons, freezing and letting them come back up to room temperature makes them softer.

I found it interesting to hear that egg whites are sold to professionals in a more ready-to-use form. This has the advantage of making them more sanitary, and keeping the quality regular, since you can get exactly 100g of egg whites each time. Though I’ve never noticed a big difference in baking with large versus extra large eggs, on a professional scale, being able to control things like that makes sure everything comes out the same way for everyone.

For me, knowing all of this does not making anything less delicious. But some people were quite upset to learn that things aren’t made 100% from scratch. Does any of this surprise you? Will you be asking if your next gâteau is “fait maison”? (I’m not even sure they legally have to tell you, and if they put it together themselves, technically they still “made” it.)

Almond Flour Carrot Cake Recipe

I’ll write a longer post soon about eating paleo in France (and while pregnant) but for now, I just wanted to share a recipe for carrot cake I’ve adapted from Fast Paleo based on what I did and didn’t have in my kitchen last night.

Almond flour carrot cake

Almond flour carrot cake

Whisk together 200g shredded carrots and 3 eggs until nice and frothy.

Mix in 30g of melted butter and 4TBS honey (I just used a big spoon to measure).

Add 150g almond flour (“amandes en poudre” or “poudre d’amande” in France), 1tbs each of salt and cinnamon (a small spoon works for this) and 1/2tbs nutmeg. Stir until well combined.

Pour into a greased cake pan (I did mine with coconut oil, but butter is fine) and bake at 160° C (325° F) for 50 minutes until a knife comes out clean.

Notes

This is probably way better with raisins and walnuts, but I had neither, and my husband doesn’t like carrot cake with raisins anyway.

The dates would definitely have made this sweeter, but I found the carrots and honey were sweet enough on their own. Also I didn’t have any dates. Pretty much all I had on hand were carrots and almond flour. Still, it makes a good breakfast cake this way; I personally don’t like starting my day with a crazy amount of sweetness.

Like a lot of paleo recipes, it’s a bit eggy, though not as much as things made with coconut flour. So keep it in the refrigerator if you don’t eat it all right away.

I am not very good at taking food pictures.

Galette des Rois

The start of the holiday season varies, by country, by family, by individual.

In France, for me, I tend to wait until the town Christmas lights are lit before getting any gifts. It certainly feels more festive to go shopping when the streets are all dressed up. This year, in our new apartment, there were even lights on my street, which made everything seem extra Christmassy.

If I keep saying Christmas, it’s because that’s what it is here, don’t even bother mentioning that other holidays exist during December, all you’ll get is blank stares. Not that I particularly mind, since I do celebrate Christmas. But I’m always torn between how extra festive it seems here, without the constant debate about what word to use or whether the displays are offensive, and my ingrained American political correctness that cringes every time someone wishes me a “Joyeux Noël.” The more general “Bonnes fêtes” is like saying happy holidays, but it’s more to include New Year’s rather than avoid insulting anyone.

The end of the holiday season is a little clearer I think, with Epiphany on January 6th. In my parents’ house, this was always the day we took down the tree and packed up the decorations. This is also what I wanted to do yesterday, but I’ve been dragging my heels, enjoying how pretty our living room looks.

One thing my family never did, but that I would occasionally do in my French immersion school, is the Galette des Rois, or King Cake. It’s a cake with a little trinket in the middle, and whoever discovers it in their slice is the King and gets to wear a paper crown for the rest of the afternoon. (The internet can tell you more about what it means and why we do it; I am too grumpy because I did not get the crown this year.)

While very common all over France, I’m not sure it’s always the same type of cake. In my area of France, they look something like this:

Galette des rois

If that looks a little homemade, that’s because it is! For first time in the six years I’ve experienced this tradition, I made my own galette des rois, entirely from scratch. The filling is leaking out a bit and it’s not quite as golden as the nice bakery ones, but I was pretty pleased with myself. Especially for the puff pastry, which was not especially hard, but took a bit of time and involved a technique I’ve never used before. I had to roll out the dough, put butter in the middle, fold it all up, roll it out, refrigerate it, then roll it again, then more refrigerating and rolling.

I enjoy baking a lot, and it’s something that I am known for doing, particularly in my husband’s family, so I put a lot of pressure on myself when making French desserts. I could make the world’s worst cheesecake and none would be the wiser, but mess up madeleines and they will remember it for years.

Happily, I got all around favorable responses from the in-laws Sunday night, so maybe this will become a new family tradition, to have me bake the cake when we wind down the holiday season. It’s nice to think I’m adding to traditions here, not just experiencing them as an outsider/foreigner.

Now that the season is officially over, there’s nothing but a few bleak months of winter ahead. However, all the work on the pastry yielded enough for a few more tarts, so that’ll be something at least to look forward to!