Thursday, January 29, 2009

eating for pleasure

"French women don't get fat, but they do eat bread and pastry, drink wine, and regularly enjoy three-course meals." And so begins the synopsis for Mireille Guiliano's wonderful story and guide, French Women Don't Get Fat, of which I have read, loved, and practiced for quite some time now. The "French paradox," enjoying food and life while staying slim and healthy was enough to get me to the bookstore but it's the reasonable approach to non-dieting and appreciation of gastronomy and wine that kept me interested. Having visited my best friend in the whole-wide world, Marie-Gabrielle, twice before I knew how very true it was. 

On both my 3-week visit and 1-week visit I ate, I drank, I savored, and walked, and walked, and walked. During the longer visit I actually lost some weight because of it. The combination of small portions of satisfying foods, most of the time healthy (fresh seasonal produce) and sometimes not so much (la galette des rois, my favorite French dessert of all time) paired with practicing ancient methods of transportation (walking, biking, climbing stairs) and responsible glasses of heart-healthy wine directly results in a healthy weight and happy disposition. Who knew?!

I've found that the same lifestyle traditions are true in Alsace :). Two nights ago was just about the perfect example of French dietary and culinary traditions (simple ingredients and methods = fantastic dishes). My host-mom, -sister, and I began our meal with a carrot soup spiced with a pinch of s&p, coriander, cinnamon, and parsley. It was delicious and with the ever slight trace of cream in my small serving, I couldn't have enjoyed it more.
Next came a tomato half bursting with a cold couscous salad that had previously been tossed with olive oil, parsley, and bell peppers. Yes, the couscous was left-overs, but my gosh, if you've got to get rid of food somehow is not recreate it into another tasty dish to make the whole idea of it that less miserable? This had "yum" written all over it!
Following those two crowd-pleasers came the main dish of fish balls in a cream sauce with a side of garlic spinach. I've only had fish balls once before, at Marie's grandparents house, but I still wasn't sure of what they were. That night, I found out exactly what I was eating, basically so I could then come back and explain it to you :). Fish balls are made using the flesh of white fish, in this case haddock, added to a mixture of milk, flour and seasoning, made into balls, and cooked into a homemade (usually creamy) sauce. I loved this plate, if not for the fish balls, then just for the fact that there was spinach. I adore spinach.
I was nearing the end of my appetite but obviously could not stop there... next up was the cheese plate! Of the three I was all over the brie, (hehe, that rhymes,) and relished the delectable cheese with a small piece of the multigrain baguette that my sister had picked up on her way back from class that evening.
And last, but certainly not least, was dessert. I know I've claimed that the French really relish their decadent desserts, and trust me, they do, they also understand that special treats are exactly that, treats saved for special occasions, or to fulfill a random need for a surprise or satisfy a craving. Tuesday did not call for a treat and so we had fruit cups, a mashed mix of apples, mangos, and passion fruit. It satisfied our sweet tooths, ended the meal nicely, and was reasonably healthy. Beat that chocolate mousse ;).
So there you have it folks, the way the French eat. Customs that, in my opinion, make for so much of a better lifestyle. Furthermore, using multiple plates, cloth napkins, and sitting down to make meal a family event literally brings a lot more to the table. Eating becomes a pleasurable part of the day, for relaxing and catching up with loved ones. I found similar styles of eating in Chile as well... I suppose the beauty of it all is mostly just lost on America then, huh? How much does that suck? Be the change you wish to see in the world :) whatever that change may be.
By the way, that was Wednesday's breakfast, lol, I guess I got carried away with the narrative O:). Moving on, my hump day was especially fabulous this week! My International Communications class (including Ryan and David, above) was held at the Council of Europe. Our professor is fabulous and fabulously connected so we were able to sit in on a Parliamentary Assembly featuring, as a guest, the Foreign Minister of Spain.

It was a magnificent experience, I felt so lucky to have even been there... and I promise there were more people sitting below it's just that by the time I realized that I should take a picture, most had left to eat lunch. I was on cloud 9. We were able to sit in the press box, then see the press room, get a tour of the TV and radio studios and meet a few important people. Speaking of, I was starving the entire time, but I suppose that's a lesson in planning.

Following our class trip, my friends and I walked briskly to a local favorite for a lunchtime sammy. I had smoked salmon on a baguette with olive oil, lettuce, and tomato. I basically devoured it... aside from the top piece of bread. I suppose it is possible to have too much bread sometimes, and when I have it available to me at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I usually like to keep it to a reasonable amount :).

I was looking forward to my café au lait anyway. Can I just say that this was some stupendous cup of coffee? Splurging on coffee every now and again is such a nice treat for me. You should see how excited I get :). I like having my caffeine fix, especially when it's not habitual, and therefore extra creamilicios and delicious when I do!
Last night, our table salad brought me back to my days in Santiago, Chile. I really did love it there and had such a wonderful time... I can definitely see myself having the worst case of nostalgia for the entire span of my senior year back at my home university! In the mean time I guess I'll just continue to be abroad :). This lightly steamed zucchini with dried onions and sesame seeds was an exquisite dish and I piled my plate high, next to the homemade pizza that my host-sister had requested and apparently, I took and deleted the picture of (oops!).

Afterwards I had my first taste of authentic Munster cheese! I was thrilled, I don't even think I've ever even tried an imitation one before. And I think I may have found my third favorite cheese (following Brie and Camembert). The smooth and creamy cheese is surprisingly pretty tame in comparison to it's strong aroma. It was glorious, if possible I'm considering day trip to nearby Ville de Munster, where it originated.

Dessert was honeydew melon, probably the one fruit that I dislike, so I opted out. A little while later though, as I was working through my academic read, Knock, a French drama, so that I could make it to my reading for pleasure book, The Other Boleyn Girl, I needed some chocolate. Yes, needed chocolate ;) do you ever get that? So I took some French cocoa powder, hot water, and milk and made myself some homemade hot cocoa.

Gotta run! I'm off to Barcelona. Hope you have a glorious weekend, my friends!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

le tour d'alsace

The Alsace region of France is located between the French Vosges Mountains, Germany, and Switzerland. With rich cultural traditions and eventful history, the region is a unique combination of it's French and German influences. It is famous for it's architecture, gastronomy, and Christmas markets... and last Sunday I got to see two of the three.
Our day began with a tour of one of the many châteaux of the region.

I seriously considered moving in ;).

But decided it would be more practical to go have lunch with the group.

We had a lovely salad and country bread to start.

Plus a bottle of Pinot Gris.


liked it,

as did I.

As for the main dish, most people had Wild Boar.

I tried it, it was alright, so... I had the Vegetarian option instead.

L'omelette aux Champignons with green beans, carrots, and fries

My favorite part was certainly dessert: Alsatian Apple Tart (distinct from other French desserts with the egg-cream filling)

Our incredibly satisfying lunch was followed by walking tours.

Nancy, France

Colmar, France

A Statue of Liberty replica

Dégustation de vins blancs

In only 8 hours I think I was able to get a pretty good taste (no pun intended) on what Alsace is all about :). Not to mention that living in Strasbourg, the center of the region, and seat of the European Parliament and Counsel of Europe, is probably the perfect place to experience it daily. Happy Humpday darlings, be back soon.