Posts Tagged With: France

365/365: National Champagne Day

Today we’re feeling especially bubbly. Pop a cork and offer up a toast: we have successfully completed our yearlong celebration of food holidays in a most fitting manner. December 31 is National Champagne Day!

One year ago, we set out on what seemed like a monumental quest: to celebrate at least one American food holiday every day, for an entire year. The rules were simple: eat or drink the food or beverage of honor anytime within that 24-hour period. We could take a single sip or bite, or devour an entire plate (or pitcher) if we wanted. We were allowed to purchase items from the store, order them from restaurant menus, or create them from scratch. We did all of the above, regardless of circumstances. There were work functions, camping trips, family visits, and vacations out of state – not to mention our wedding. It wasn’t always easy, and at times felt downright tedious, but in the end the sense of accomplishment is enormous. Tara and I are proud to have done this, and have no regrets! We had fun, got to sample a lot of foods we might otherwise never have tried, and learned a lot about the history of the foods we eat, and how many popular dishes came to be named. There really was a Melba, for instance (of toast and peach fame). And an Alfredo (fettuccine). We even had the pleasure of speaking with the latter’s blood relatives, his grandchildren who stumbled upon this blog and gave us some additional insight into their famous grandfather. We were touched and honored; I think that alone made this project worthwhile. The rewards far outweighed the hassle. Yes, sometimes it felt like a chore preparing a labor-intensive dish like Coq au Vin late into the evening after a busy day at work, and the many (too many!) desserts stretched our patience, not to mention our waistlines. Thank goodness for that gym membership, at least!

If you’re thinking of doing a similar challenge, I’ve got some advice for you. The most important thing you can do is plan ahead! Because if you are looking for blueberry popsicles in the grocery store late at night on National Blueberry Popsicle Day, you’re going to be screwed since that flavor does not exist! But if you’re prepared, you’ll have made your own from scratch already. Also, don’t be afraid to take the easy way out. You don’t have to create a fancy dish that revolves around cashews on National Cashew Day, when a few nuts from a can will suffice. At the same time, don’t take too many shortcuts. Pudding cups may be your best friend one day, but try to mix it up and make pudding from scratch (or at least a box) the next time. It’s the best way to fully immerse yourself in the food that you are celebrating. Be careful about cutting corners: maple flavored syrup is NOT maple syrup! Think small when it comes to desserts: instead of baking a whole pie or cake, go for individual slices from the grocery store or corner bakery. This will save you a lot of time, money, and calories. Remember, cupcakes are really just individual cakes! Finally, above all else, prepare for a lot of work…but have fun! Doing this will take up a lot of your time. But when you’re kicking back in a tiki bar on a Tuesday night, sipping a rum punch from a glass with a tiny folding paper umbrella, you can’t help but laugh. It’s probably not even remotely close to how you’d normally spend an evening like that. EMBRACE IT! You’ll look back fondly afterwards. I already am, and this challenge just barely ended.

Here are a few words from Tara, my lovely wife and partner in this challenge. I never could have completed this without her, by the way.

I haven’t contributed as much to this blog as I had hoped to, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience this with Mark.  I remember the weeks leading up to January 1st last year and feeling a sense of dread over how much time and effort this was going to take.  When you look at a website with three hundred and sixty-five foods you’ll be eating, it’s a little daunting!  Huge kudos to Mark for doing the bulk of the planning and writing for this project.  I did lots of cooking and baking, but I know there was a lot more time invested in researching and typing up all those posts.  It took a few weeks to find our groove, but once we did, it was pretty smooth sailing.

This past year has definitely opened my eyes and my palate to new foods, cooking techniques, and recipes.  We’ve consumed foods that we never would’ve tried otherwise…and ended up loving.  Mark hates watermelon, but loved Interurban’s Watermelon Salad with habenero, feta, and cilantro.  Go figure.  We were both surprised that the lima beans didn’t make us gag.  And chocolate covered insects weren’t bad either!  Some of our new favorites include the Chicken Curry Salad Lettuce Wrap, Coq Au Vin, Pepper Pot, and Welsh Rarebit.  I’m especially excited to try even more new recipes next year and really challenge ourselves in terms of local cuisine and healthier eating.

National Champagne DayI would also like to thank some of our supporters, without whose encouragement we could not have completed this challenge. Wendy, Jill, and Heidi – our real-life friends who offered lots of input over the course of the year. John from National Food Holiday Tour, who partook of this same challenge himself two years ago and was a source of inspiration from the start. The Muscleheaded Blog, for sharing so many of our posts with his readers. George B., whose continued presence did not go unnoticed. And everybody else who ever stopped by to read, comment, or even critique. You are all greatly appreciated. And of course, a big thank you to my parents: my mom helped us out several times (she made us a Baked Alaska from scratch, for crying out loud, not to mention roast leg of lamb, Mint Juleps, and others) and who got to share in many of the meals. And my MIL Tracy, who has been the most loyal blog follower of mine EVER…even long before I married her daughter! She also helped out, and lent us the use of her oven for our Cheese Souffle Challenge. Thank you all VERY much!

Normally at this point I would talk about the history of champagne, but I’m going to keep it simple. Champagne is a sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. The wine undergoes a process known as secondary fermentation to create carbonation. Purists argue that champagne must adhere to these strict standards in order to be classified as true champagne, while others use the term more loosely, referring to any sparkling wine as champagne.

This whole thing began with a raised glass and a toast: January 1, early in the morning, we began the challenge with Bloody Marys, clinking our glasses together and wishing each other luck, barely able to comprehend what we were getting ourselves into. Appropriately enough, things ended in a similar manner: with another raised glass and a toast – this time, to a job well done. In that regard, it feels like we came full circle.

We are in Ely, Nevada for New Year’s, and celebrating tonight at the Fireman’s Ball. But we didn’t wait for the clock to strike midnight to sip our champagne and risk elimination on a technicality! We actually brought along a bottle of French champagne, Nicolas Feuillatte, that was recommended to us by David, Tara’s stepfather-of-sorts. He’s a sommelier and knows his way around fermented grapes! And at $27 it was reasonably priced, and still tasted delicious. We toasted earlier in the day.

So, that’s it!!!

But, that’s not “it” for Eat My Words. As previously mentioned, we’re continuing the blog in 2014. Instead of celebrating daily American food holidays, we’ll be focusing on a whole new series of food-related challenges. We’ll take a fun, whimsical look at some popular dishes that don’t have food holidays devoted to them yet, giving you the scoop on their history. We’ll post food-related essays, pictures, cartoons, etc. We’ll even celebrate the occasional food holiday we overlooked this year, in favor of another. And most importantly, we’re on a mission: to have an official holiday created for the often lamented and overlooked king of condiments, ketchup. Follow along as we do whatever it takes, short of storming the White House, to get a resolution passed. So, if  you’re a subscriber, stick with us. There’s plenty more fun ahead!

Happy New Year!

We did it!!

We did it!!

Categories: Alcohol | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

334/365: National Mousse Day

Those fond of hair gel, large antlered deer-like creatures, and foamy desserts all have reason to celebrate. November 30 is National Mousse Day!

OK, in reality, we’re only celebrating one type of mousse, and it’s not the kind that walks on four legs or keeps your hair neatly in place. Food blog, remember? Mousse is a classic dessert that has the distinction of being light yet rich. It is French for “foam” or “froth” and gets its consistency from folding in beaten egg whites or whipped cream. Mousse is usually made with chocolate, though the first mousses to appear were savory creations in 18th century France. Dessert mousses, often made with fruit, became commonplace in the latter half of the 19th century. One of the earliest recipes for chocolate mousse was printed in the Boston Daily Globe in 1892, but this was more of a pudding-like dessert. Foamy, airy “modern” chocolate mousses didn’t appear until the 1930s, when electric mixers were invented.

Mixing the mousse.

Mixing the mousse.

By the way, we already celebrated a National Chocolate Mousse Day earlier in the year, so this holiday is redundant. It doesn’t specifically mention chocolate, though. But when I mentioned this to Tara, she said, “what other kind of mousse is there?” That wife of mine, she’s got a point. And just like she did in early April, she again made a homemade mousse from scratch. This time she tried a recipe other than Julia Childs’. Tara actually liked it much better this time around. I have to admit, this one was lighter than the last. Delicious!

National Mousse Day

Categories: Dairy, Desserts | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

332/365: National French Toast Day

There are many things to be thankful for today; among them, a sweetened breakfast dish made with bread and beaten eggs. November 28 is National French Toast Day!

It’s also Thanksgiving, of course. We’d like to wish a happy holiday to all our readers and their families!

Thanksgiving is probably the most filling day of the year, with so much food served most people feel like they are going to burst at the seams if they take one more bite. We certainly don’t need to celebrate food on this foodiest of food days, but at least it’s a breakfast dish that will take the bite off our hunger while waiting for turkey and all the trimmings later in the day.

First, let’s dispel any myths about the name. French toast was not invented in France. The earliest recipe appears in Apicius, a Roman cookbook dating to the 4th century. It mentions soaking bread in milk (but not egg) and calls the dish aliter dulcia which flows off the tongue nicely, but simply means “another sweet dish.” Hardly an inspiring name. It was first called “French toast” in a 1660 cookbook called The Accomplisht Cook. Written by somebody who was not an accomplisht speller, apparently. It’s called pain perdu in some parts of the world. Anybody who has ever watched Chopped has seen a struggling chef enter the dessert round and cheat his or her way out of it by making French toast and calling it pain perdu, but in France it actually IS considered a dessert, so I suppose we can let it slide. French toast, or whatever you call it, is easy to prepare: soak a couple of slices of bread (it can even be stale) in a mixture of beaten eggs and milk (or cream), fry on both sides until brown and cooked through, and top with maple syrup, confectioner’s sugar, or some other concoction of your choice. Wikipedia’s list of toppings includes Vegemite, ketchup, baked beans, cheese, cold cooked meats, and gravy. I think whoever wrote that was smoking crack.

To celebrate, we whipped up some French toast for breakfast. Because we don’t have enough cooking to do today! At least French toast is simple to make, and took the edge off our hunger.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The syrup spelled out 332 until it all kind of ran together.

The syrup spelled out 332 until it all kind of ran together.

Categories: Breakfast | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

325/365: National Beaujolais Nouveau Day*

If you’ve got grape expectations for today, you won’t be disappointed. The third Thursday in November – this year, that’s the 21st – is National Beaujolais Nouveau Day.

It’s also National Gingerbread Day, so run as fast as you can if you’re in the mood for eating a gingerbread man. But we’ve already done this back in June, so we’re popping our corks instead.

Turns out Beaujolais Nouveau Day is celebrated internationally and is a rather big deal. It’s even got its own website. It occurs on the third Thursday of November and is celebrated in France with fireworks, music, and festivals. Wow, who knew? At one minute past midnight, the newest batch of Beaujolais – a fresh and fruity red wine made from the Gamay grape in the Beaujolais region of France, and fermented for just a few weeks – is released to the public, per French law. Per French law. They take this stuff seriously! The wine was created about a century ago by locals as a “cheap and cheerful” way to celebrate the end of the harvest season. Up until 1951 the wine was only enjoyed locally, but that year a wine merchant named Georges Duboeuf came up with the idea of holding a race to Paris carrying bottles of the newest vintage wine. By the 1970s this had become a national event, and it spread to neighboring countries in Europe during the 80s and to North America and Asia in the 90s. Today the wine is enjoyed around the world, and the latest vintage is eagerly anticipated by many.

I happen to be pretty familiar with this wine, even though I prefer whites. My dad will sometimes have a bottle of Beaujolais on hand, and I don’t mind the flavors. We picked up a bottle from Trader Joe’s over the weekend, and it proved to be the perfect after work drink. Not bad at all for a red – fruity and light!

National Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Categories: Alcohol | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

194/365: National French Fries Day/National Beans ‘n Franks Day

If you’ve ever played “one potato, two potato” as a kid (or an adult – hey, I’m not judging your arrested development!), today’s holiday just might ap-peel to you. July 13 is National French Fries Day! It’s also National Beans ‘n Franks Day, and we decided to do something rare and double dip. That is, celebrate both food holidays. I think we’ve only ever done this once before all year.

Despite the name, french fries aren’t really French. These deep-fried potatoes – known as “chips” in the U.K. and certain countries Down Under (which is kind of cute, but also confusing, because they call chips “crisps” and it’s all one big slippery slope into anarchy from there) – were actually invented in Belgium. The Spanish introduced potatoes to Europe in the 16th century, and before long the Belgians were frying up thin strips of potatoes in place of the small fish they could no longer fry when the rivers froze over during the winter. A French army officer named Antoine-Augustine Parmentier began championing the lowly potato in his country, where it had previously been viewed as unfit for human consumption in the mistaken belief that potatoes caused diseases. No wonder the French have a reputation for being snooty!  He began hosting dinners for famous guests like Benjamin Franklin,  King Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette, during which potatoes would be served in an effort to prove that they were not only edible, but delicious. It wasn’t until a great famine in 1785 that the French realized hey, maybe we can eat these, after all. A decade later fried potatoes – called frites – were all the rage. When they were introduced to America, fast-food chains named them “French fries” in an homage to their European heritage, not realizing that the Belgians had actually been making them for a good hundred years longer. Which is all fine, I suppose. Belgian fries just doesn’t have the same ring to it, you know?

Beans ‘n franks is a quintessentially American dish in which hot dogs are cut up and cooked in the same sauce used to make baked beans. The two had been served together for decades, until one day somebody – whose name is sadly lost to history – decided it was too much work to take a bite of a hot dog and then scoop up a forkful of beans, so what the heck, let’s just mix ’em together and save all this time and trouble. Presumably, of course. There isn’t a lot of history available on the origin of this particular dish, and my motto is: when in doubt, make stuff up!

I kid, I kid.

To celebrate, first we opened a can of Beanee Weenees in the morning. Nothing says breakfast like beans ‘n franks! Later in the afternoon, we were visiting Capitol Hill in downtown Seattle (we’re in the Emerald City this weekend) and we dropped by Dick’s Drive In for an order of fresh-cut fries. Both were wonderful!

Beans 'n franks.

Beans ‘n franks.

National French Fries Day

Categories: Meat, Too Weird to Categorize, Vegetables | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

151/365: National Macaroon Day

Today’s food of honor may not have universally agreed upon ingredients, but the general consensus is that it’s delicious no matter how it’s made. May 31 is National Macaroon Day!

What a fun word to say, by the way. Macaroon. Macaroon. You’d have to be a real buffoon if you didn’t like saying the word macaroon. A macaroon is a light baked confection, either a small cake or soft cookie. In America, macaroons are traditionally made with coconut, but in many countries they are prepared with almonds. Occasionally, other nuts such as pecans, cashews, or hazelnuts are used. Indeed, the first macaroons were created by monks in an Italian monastery during the 9th century, and were essentially almond meringue cookies. The word comes from maccarone, Italian for “paste” – yummy! – and, yes, it’s the same word used to describe macaroni. Macaroons were introduced to France in 1533 by the pastry chefs for Catherine de Medici, the wife of King Henri II. During the French Revolution, a pair of Benedictine nuns, Sisters Marguerite and  Marie-Elisabeth, who were seeking asylum in the town of Nancy paid for their lodging by baking and selling macaroons. They subsequently became known as the “Macaroon Sisters.” As the cookie spread through Europe, people began adding coconut, and in many recipes it completely replaced almonds.

Surprisingly, Tara had never had a macaroon before. I happen to love them, but then again, I’m a big fan of coconut. The cookies were delicious!

Macaroons

Categories: Desserts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

149/365: National Coq Au Vin Day. Again.

May 29 is National Coq au Vin Day! Again.

For some reason, there are a few duplicate food holidays. I don’t get it: with so many great foods left uncelebrated – can you believe there’s no National Ketchup Day, for instance?! – it’s weird that some foods get more than multiple holidays. Especially something so random and specific as National Coq au Vin Day, which is also celebrated on March 22nd. We just encountered this with wine over the weekend, as there is both a National Wine Day and a National Drink Wine Day. It goes without saying that you’re going to drink it, right? What other option do you have, other than inserting an IV tube full of chardonnay into a vein? Which, come to think of it, would save you the trouble of pouring…

Anyway. The only explanation that I can come up with is, one of the Coq au Vin holidays is listed as a “National” day, and the other isn’t. What is especially frustrating is that I busted my ass in March, recreating Julia Childs’ signature dish for the challenge. And equally annoying? March 22nd was also National Water Day, which we chose to skip because, well, how hard is it to pour yourself a glass of water? That was before we realized there was a second National Coq au Vin Day, though.

As delicious as the dish was the first time around – and it was really good, one of our favorite food challenges to date – it was very time-consuming and required a ton of prep work. I just didn’t have it in me to do it again on a weeknight, so I turned to Trader Joe’s for help this time. They’ve got a frozen Coq au Vin that looked decent enough in the picture on the box. And most importantly, required virtually no prep other than preheating the oven and sticking it in there. So, if you want the history of Coq au Vin again, click on my link above.

And the Trader Joe’s version of this classic French dish? It was passable…but barely. After having that delicious homemade Coq au Vin last time, there was no way this could be anything other than a letdown. But, hey…at least it didn’t take a lot of work!

Coq au Vin

Categories: Poultry | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

144/365: National Escargot Day

You’ll have to come out of your shell and display bravery in order to enjoy today’s food holiday. May 24 is National Escargot Day!

Escargot, in case you aren’t aware, is the French word for snails. Land snails, to be exact. They are considered a delicacy in France, and have been a staple of man’s diet for thousands of years. Archaeological digs have uncovered prehistoric caves filled with snail shells, indicating that early man enjoyed dining on the slimy little creatures. Gasp! What Neanderthals! Even when hunting and gathering expanded to include fish, game, and Big Macs, some cultures continued to enjoy snails as part of their cuisine, particularly Greeks and Romans, who considered them not just sustenance, but a delicacy. Kind of like the way we view lobster and caviar today.

There are more than 100 varieties of edible snail worldwide, though two are typically used in the preparation of escargot: Helix Aspersa (or “Petit-Gris”) and Helix Pomatia (“Burgundy snail”). In France, snails are so popular they’ve got their own hunting season. Not all types are edible, though. Some taste unpleasant, while others are poisonous. Snails tend to take on the flavor of whatever they have eaten recently, and can actually become poisonous if they have eaten a poisonous plant, so they are typically “purged” (forced to undergo fasting) for 5-6 days before cooking. They are then removed from their shells, cooked with garlic, butter, and wine, and often placed back into the shells for serving, along with the fragrant cooking sauce and butter.

All of this might turn your stomach, but I have actually tried escargot before. In fact, I consider myself a big fan. During my very first trip to Portland in the early 1990s, I tried escargot at a seafood restaurant, and loved it. Tara, naturally, was less enthusiastic about eating snails. I wanted to make my own, but very few local supermarkets carry snails, it turns out. We tried a bunch of different places, including some European and Asian markets, but came up empty. So we turned to Yelp, and found some suggestions for escargot in Portland. What the heck, it was Friday night – we decided to go ahead and make an evening of it. So we headed to the Hawthorne District to check out Chez Machin, a French creperie that looked promising (and promised escargot). And, they delivered! Now I have to give props to Tara. It is well documented that she is a picky eater, and that has proven to be the case many times during this food challenge. But sometimes she surprises me, and tonight was one of those times. Because she ended up liking the snails. Go figure! (They were pretty tasty, and the garlic butter made a great sauce for dipping that awesome French bread in, too).

Escargot

Categories: Appetizers, Too Weird to Categorize | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

140/365: National Quiche Lorraine Day*

Contrary to popular belief, real men do eat today’s celebrated food. May 20 is National Quiche Lorraine Day!

It’s also National Pick A Strawberry Day. But here in the Pacific Northwest, strawberries won’t ripen for another couple of weeks yet. I suppose we could “pick” some from the grocery store, but that doesn’t really count. (Actually, we did pick some from the grocery store when we went shopping yesterday. For tomorrow’s challenge).

Quiche Lorraine is another in a long line of French dishes that are official American food holidays. Somewhere, a guy named Jacuques must be bribing government officials. He’s probably wearing a beret, too. The bastard. Not that I’m complaining: by and large, the French meals have been c’est magnifique. Named for the Lorraine region of France, and the German word kuchen (“cake”),  later altered to kische, Quiche Lorraine is a staple of France dating back to the 16th century, where it is usually served as either a light lunch or a first course at dinnertime. Recipes for savory custards baked in pastry and filled with meat, fish, and fruit are found in English cookbooks 200 years prior to that. Julia Child describes Quiche Lorraine as “an open pie with a filling consisting of an an egg and cream custard with smoked bacon or lardons.” In American versions, cheese is a popular addition, especially gruyere.

Tara baked us a quiche from scratch this morning. Actually, we ended up with two, since we had a pair of crusts (those were frozen…shh), so I took the second one to work. True to form, her quiche contained bacon, cheddar, and a dash of nutmeg and was a delicious way to start a Monday!

Quiche Lorraine

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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