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Some French remembrances…and mechanized bread? Yes please!

February 4, 2013

One of my fondest memories of my summer in France, spending an all-to-brief month living with a French host family, is sitting over breakfast with my host parents and assorted brothers and sisters, nibbling fresh tartines in our bathrobes.

Tartine

Tartine

The image I have is incredibly clear: the soft-spoken maman, sipping a tisane (herbal tea). The easy-going papa, drinking a café. The kids, straggling in sleepy-eyed, sipping jus d’orange and eating toast. And me. This being my first real experience with home cooking in France, I pretty much ate double-helpings of everything. Which meant a cup (or really, a bowl) of chocolate chaud, and two tartines, each spread with a generous helping of butter and homemade fruit preserves. It should shock no one that despite walking literally everywhere, I gained 10 pounds. 🙂

One of the most awesome features of the specific host family I landed with was an inherent appreciation, through frugality and old-fashioned French values, for home-made everything. I realize how idyllic this sounds, but my host mother made fresh bread several days a week, home-made yogurt (served for dessert, with rhubarb compôte), and she preserved her own fruit spreads. Among many other incredibly delicious things.

I remember the most perfect day with my host sister, picking sour cherries off a neighbor’s tree down the street. I remember the sun on our faces, the rough bark on the tree branches, being terrified of standing on the ladder, and oh yes – being chased by bees. (But not rude American bees who sting you…sweet little French bees who just buzz around trying to eat your fruit. Yeah, right, Lisa, keep dreaming.)

We took bags of those cherries back to the maman, who then spent an instructive afternoon mixing them with sugar on the stove, a pot of fresh apricots boiling on the back of the stove as well, teaching me about stone fruits and how to turn their sweet, summery goodness into delicious preserves to last through the winter. (Have I lost you yet? Because I’m kindof scoffing at myself by this point. I swear this is all completely true.)

Delicious.

Delicious.

Now – despite the fact that my French maman made all her own everything, she was never, ever rushed. She always had time to spare, for a last tisane before bed, a quick instructive chat on my use of the subjonctif, or to take the family to Mass, which she did weekly. I should mention here, as well, that she was the mother of six children, plus me for the brief time I stayed with them, and another American exchange student who arrived near the end of the month.

It seemed my French family was frugal with everything, including their time. Why waste time on something you don’t enjoy? My papa would stick around after a particularly pleasant lunch feast (just, you know, a couple hours on Thursday afternoon), sipping super-strong café and sharing a bar of chocolate with me, discussing the monarchy in France and what La Révolution did. This was the summer the American film Marie Antoinette came out; we spent an instructive 2.5 hours in the theater, and an even MORE instructive hour afterwards, discussing the historical inaccuracies of the film, and how the monarchy wasn’t all that bad.

Anyways, I could surf the waves of nostalgia all afternoon, but the point of this story is: my host mom was incredible at finding ways to save on time. She had a yogurt machine, with individual little pots for making her delicious yogurt. My favorite flavor was called, simply, blanche, or “white.” She also had a breadmaker, to help with the fresh bread problem.

Well, what got me started on this whole nostalgic train of events is that recently we have inherited a breadmaker of our own!

THE BREADMAN PLUS

THE BREADMAN PLUS

Well, the first thing I did when I got our inherited breadmaker was to put it to use making a giant loaf of French bread upon which to spread butter and sour cherry preserves.

Honesty time: the bread, while crusty, is nothing like as delicious as the recipe my maman used. And the cherry preserves were store-bought, not homemade. And I skipped the hot chocolate this morning…(something about “not feeding Baby Q a billion useless calories,” blah blah blah). But, all things considered, it was a lovely way to start my Monday.

I actually “made” the bread yesterday. Which basically means, I loaded a bunch of ingredients into the little metal container that comes with the breadmaker, and slid it (somewhat skeptically) into the plastic housing.

A layer of water, a layer of salt, a layer of flour, and a layer of yeast.

A layer of water, a layer of salt, a layer of flour, and a layer of yeast.

Mixing the ingredients

Mixing the ingredients

It was pretty fascinating to watch, knowing that I wasn’t responsible for kneading a thing…and that I didn’t have to worry about my wonky oven undercooking the insides and overcooking the outsides. The result was a pretty little (well, kindof huge) loaf, crusty and delicious.

Crusty loaf

Crusty loaf

Matt laughed a bit, because it’s SO TALL. You can’t quite get the full effect from the photos, but the loaf is about 6 to 7 inches tall.

I sliced a few (of course, two) pieces of toast this morning, toasted them up, and enjoyed them. The bread recipe is one I probably won’t use again – it was the traditional baguette recipe from Mireille Guillano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, and while it turns out well as baguettes, it’s a little too bland for the full loaf. I think I’ll be restarting my darling sourdough starter (Remember Luc??), to get a little more depth of flavor!

On that note, I’m going back for a cup of hot chocolate – I don’t care what my nutritionist says! At least I’ll make it with real milk, and get some calcium in my day. Baby Q, get used to it! Chocolate for breakfast is a part of your new life! (Kidding. For a while, at least.)

Nom nom nom...

Nom nom nom…

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