France: Days and Nights in Carnac, Brittany

While in France, Monsieur P and I took off to Brittany for a few days. We stayed in the family’s Carnac beach house and rolled crepes for breakfast. “This is how you do it,” he helpfully instructed. Apparently I didn’t know how to correctly apply salted butter to the crepes. “Little even dabs,” Monsieur P noted as he looked over and frowned at my method of eagerly slicing hefty butter chunks onto the crepe, heheh.

It was also important to fold the crepe correctly. It’s first folded into quarters (a very large crepe to begin with!) and then butter is applied straight down the middle. Next you fold the right side to the middle, and do the same with the left. Once you have a thin, long triangle, you roll it all the way lengthwise from the right side to make what’s essentially a crepe-stick. Monsieur P preferred his with butter alone while I was most happy with an even combination of butter and salted caramel. He made the espresso and I poured the orange juice.

Or other mornings we had baguettes with more butter (even I was impressed by how much butter we went though during our stay here!) and a fantastic fresh apricot jam by Monsieur P’s mother.

And sometimes we’d even venture out for breakfast (though it was so cold I preferred to stay in with a cozy sweater during the mornings). A plain ham galette for me…

…and an egg and cheese for him.

For lunch we’d walk to a local restaurant, always partaking in deep bowls of Moule Frites and Oysters, a beer on the side.

We visited in the off-season, so only a few places were opened for business. It was quiet and wonderfully peaceful.

Afternoon walks on the beach? Check! A visit to the Carnac Stones? Check! And then ice cream too! That’s Mint Chocolate Chip on top, but the focus here is Salted Carmel, which as you may expect, was insanely wicked and borderline too salty. But it hovered on the side of just right, with the full-bodied, smokey, slow dripping salted caramel oozing over the top. Look how it shines. Seriously!

Monsieur P’s brother was thoughtful enough to stock the beach house kitchen with jars of salted caramel, and I smothered the sweet affair on top of everything I could get my hands on…

…cookies, crepes, palet bretons (buttery cakes, cornbread-esque affairs), and baguettes. Or even better, a finger dipped straight into the jar.

Monsieur P had fond memories Chez Marie, the oldest creperie in town and one his family frequented during the summer when he was a child. “We must go!” he declared. Three hours later, we drove out to Chez Marie and indulged in no less than two crepes a person. We learned that management changed since Monsieur P’s last visit over a decade ago. And post-dinner the two brothers concluded that the food simply wasn’t as good as they recalled. Or perhaps what’s stored in childhood memory will always be more delicious than reality? Who knows. It was still good enough for us to have a wonderful night.

This was my favourite combination from dinner – eggs, ham, cheese, and anchovies! I noticed that many of the other tables had this same combination but with mushrooms in place of anchovies.

For dessert, Monsieur P kept it simple with a butter and sugar crepe…

…while his brother had a crepe of sliced bananas, oodles of salted caramel and fresh whipped cream. My goodness!

I went the Banana Flambé route, done table-style…

…with a personal tower of whipped cream on the side. Heheh, indulgence yes, but the atmosphere begged for it! A cold evening, wooden tables, a stone building, and many mugs of hot cider.

Today, it’s a windy 35F in Manhattan, a Sunday afternoon, and there’s not one decent creperie to be found! France literally feels like another world away. Alas, I’ll make do with a latte and croissant from Ceci-Cela. In two weeks I’ll be in warm Hawai’i to visit home and family, and then back again in Manhattan for Christmas and New Years. Am looking forward to trying all the new Honolulu restaurants that have cropped up since my last visit!

France: In Brittany, Lunch at the Farm

We were in France for all of two short weeks, starting and ending our holiday in Paris. And in the middle, we went to Brittany for a few nights along the beach in Carnac, and took a day trip to see Monsieur P’s grandmother who resides in a town so small it doesn’t have an official name.

His grandmother prepared a fantastic feast when we arrived precisely at noon. She swung open the front doors to the country home before we even turned off the car engine, ushering us in with glasses of port, and buttery biscuit cookies. She lives on a farm, where she has resided her entire life, raising cows for milk and chickens for eggs. And of course, there was the dog, loyal and sternly watching our every move.

We spent the entire day eating, with a meal that spanned five hours, starting with individual servings of Coquilles St. Jacques, a dish of scallops baked in cream with shallots and white wine. The ramekins were topped in breadcrumbs before a quick broil in the oven. The only utensil required? Baguettes! Can you just imagine how fantastic that was? Soaking up the sauce, picking up the fresh scallops with in every bite? The fact that it was quite chilly out that day made this meal all the more perfect. I dunked the bread in with abandon and then realized that his grandmother had a much better method of first slathering the baguette with salted butter and then dipping it into the cream. Butter, then cream, got it?

Post-port, we switched over to red wine, and out came a roasted chicken which I oohed over until…I saw the potatoes. Now these potatoes, they are famous. Monsieur P has talked nonstop about them since we planned the holiday. He only had one word to describe them: BUTTERY. I took his word for granted…they’re not just buttery, they’re saturated in butter. The potatoes are cubed and literally boiled in butter. A pot full of butter. Then, removed and pan-fried in butter till the surfaces are all crisp and golden. Butter-boiled, and butter-fried. If you gently tap your fork on the potato, the tines will stick, that’s how buttery they are. A little salt goes a long way and that was all we needed to elevate this to pure bliss. The photo above is from what must have been my fourth helping of these butter potatoes. I only stopped because Monsieur P gave me the slightest nudge, looked at my belly and then looked at my eyes….there’s a lot of butter in those potatoes.

But oh! That’s not the best part. Heheh. Grandmother poured off the chicken drippings, fat and everything, into a cup. She served us the potatoes on a plate and then proceeded to douse the butter potatoes with glossy fat drippings. And only then could we eat!

His grandmother can’t speak English and I have yet to learn French (soon!), but conversation was not nearly as awkward as I feared. I think she liked me just because I ate everything, heh. She had an intense amount of energy, enthusiasm and an equally hearty appetite – Monsieur P and I were exhausted just trying to keep up with her!

A brief break after the last potato was devoured and then out came a salad, simple greens, a mustard vinaigrette. Then a plateful of cheese (did you expect anything else? ;). Monsieur P pounced on a soft round of goat milk cheese, cutting a generous wedge and smearing it over his baguette, “I haven’t had this once since I was a kid!” And of course, it turned out that grandmother got it just got the occasion. Too sweet for words :) There was tea and coffee to finish, an apple tart from the market…
…and then a tour (led by the dog!) through the farm…
…this cow is only a few weeks old!

Just before 4pm, we were called back for goûter, an afternoon snack…
…On the agenda? Far Breton we bought at the Sunday market in Carnac earlier that morning. Think of it as a custard tart, minus the shell (with a texture not too far off from clafoutis) and studded with dried prunes. Have you ever had the Bagel Pudding from Russ & Daughters in NYC? That coincidentally enough, comes very close to the flavor of far Breton.

We polished off the far Breton rather quick while a round of Kouign Amann, (purchased from the same Sunday market) warmed up in the oven…here it comes!!!
Now will you look at that! First check it out from the side…
…and the back. Golden! Caramelized sugar and quantities of salted butter that was almost excessive, an exterior well-browned and crusty. I started off with a fork, then decided to use my fingers as it made for a much more satisfying bite, breaking throw the flaky exterior, and down the many buttery sweet layers. Like the most intense croissant you’ve imagined, turned into a cake with sugar caramelized between each and every layer. Surely the most wonderful product of caramelization. One wedge, and then two wedges…it was a shame I didn’t have room for a third.

More tea concluded our visit, then big hugs and kisses, “au revoir!” We made the two-hour drive back to Carnac with happy butter-padded bellies. There was a walk along the beach near sunset, and a late, “light” dinner of fresh seafood…mussels, shrimp, crab, and snails, at a local restaurant. A fairytale day? You bet!

Just back from Paris!

Time just doesn’t wait for anyone, does it? Our vacation photo set.

1. First meal back in NYC. Home-cooked with a Hawai’i state of mind. A forever staple: spam, eggs and rice. I used to have this for breakfast multiple times a week. And to think now it’s only on such rare occasions!

2. It doesn’t feel like we’re officially back until we’ve Otto‘ed. Delivery the first evening and then a midnight dinner at the following night. Two seats at the bar. Prosecco, yes. Heirloom Caprese salad, the ever lush Sformato di Parmigiano, and Taccozette con Stracotto to share.

Paris and Brittany posts to come soon! Just need to catch up on this jet-lag, and somehow re-register back into reality ;) Hope everyone had a great weekend!

We Are Going To…

France! Huzzah! Monsieur P and I just booked tickets for a two-week trip in the fall. Hooray, hooray! It’s been 15 years since my last trip to Europe.

We’ll be in Paris for the bulk of the trip, but plan to visit other parts of France, including Alsace and Brittany. Our schedule isn’t set in stone…still fiddling around with ideas. Belle Ile is awfully tempting as is Quiberon…perhaps we could squeeze in Bordeaux too! Though we don’t want to rush for this is supposed to be a relaxing vacation :) So many options, good thing we have time to plan.

I’m excited about the fact that I’m going with Monsieur P, a native Frenchman. Ohlala, I honestly cannot get enough of his charming accent ;) My only “job” is to figure out where to eat…have been poking around blogs and books, but there is more to do. Any suggestions or recommendations on places that stood out for you? I’ve been on a fromage spree lately, and have amassed a list of cheeses I would love to taste. Plan to fill our bellies with beurre from different regions, and of course foie gras. As for sweets? No worries, I’ve got that down ;)