Obesity and the Birth of France: Louis the Fat and Centralization of Power

Nothing is new under the sun, including the problems of obesity. Is obesity ever a good thing? What if someone told you that obesity, in essence, led to what we now know as the nation of France? It throws French food into a whole new light, actually. If you believe the comments of Abbot Suger…

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The Cookbooks on Their Shelves: The First English-Language French Cookbooks in the United States, or, Who was Sulpice Barué?

Much has been made of Thomas Jefferson's influence on the “Frenchification” of cuisine in the young United States and in American diplomatic circles. Just take a look at "The French Touch," a chapter in Even Jones's American Food: The Gastronomic Story (1990) or Karen Hess's "Thomas Jefferson's Table: Evidence and Influences," in Dining at Monticello…

The Fish of France: Weever (Trachinus draco Linnaeus )

A bouillabaisse fish, the weever is. Mentioned in William Verral's A Complete System of Cookery (1759) as "weaver," the weever fish's spines emit poison. According to Clifford Wright, a restaurateur in Marseille likely invented bouillabaisse, an expensive version of fish stew and not really the traditional fisherman's fish boil.  So much for romantic nostalgia and visions of…

Panis gravis, or Bread, Endless Nurturer

A whole world dwells within each tiny  seed. Of porridge,  of bread, of love it whispers – in all these lies the promise of wheat. With it all comes both the caress of crumbs and the sour stink of brown bread and garlic, the pain of brokenness ... and the bitter bread of exile. But…

Vitis, Vin: Gift of Life

Reach out a hand and take the ruby fruit, gift grown of sun and rain. Vitis. Grapes. Gift too of earth, of chalky soil, sloping and stone-filled, redolent with vistas and vast horizons. Hard toil, yes --- certainly this truth the hands of peasants knew. Cutting and pruning, trimming back. Thus, from that harsh care,…

Thomas Jefferson: The Francophile Who Became the First U.S. “Foodie”

Thomas Jefferson. President. Scientist. Writer. Man of many passions, some hidden, some not. In his writings and in his actions, food clearly revealed itself as one of those passions. Above all, Jefferson was a Francophile. From the design of his dining room in his house, Monticello, to the gardens surrounding him in the foothills of the…

To India, via Paris’s Le Passage Brady

In spite of French presence in India for a couple of centuries, trying to find Indian curry in France tends to be a bit of a chore. The first Indian restaurant didn't open in Paris until 1975. Those in the know (mostly British expatriates pining for curry in London) lament the lack of good Indian food,…

East is East and West is West: Pondicherry and French Curry

In Pondicherry, Pondichéry, or Puducherry as it is now called again (since 2006), you still see streets sparkling with old colonial buildings, dating back to a time when passersby heard French spoken daily. Yet, those buildings, policemen's hats, and a fully functioning French lycée or school, are among the few overt signs that you'll notice…

Culinary Diffusion? Yes, in Alain Ducasse’s Kitchens

In a way, it's the French version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." World-famous French chef, Alain Ducasse, chose fifteen women from Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris housing mostly poor immigrants mainly from France's former North African colonies. An article in The New York Times tells the whole story, almost a Cinderella saga: 15…

The Things They Carried*: Brief Glimpses of French Food in Vietnam

In the film, "Indochine," you sense the rampant orientalism that made Edward Said one of the most quoted scholars on the subject of colonialism and the creation of the "Other." The heat, the fans, the sweat, the passions, the exoticism and erotocism, all these visual cues recreate the mental picture many of us have regarding…

And a Cake Fit for Three Kings: Galette/Gateau des Rois

Bonne Année! Happy New Year! I  first ate Galette des Rois in Paris, on a cold, rainy January day. The smell of the almond-paste filling seemed to reach right out through the door of the nameless little patisserie near the Rue Monge and grab me by the lapels of my  too-thin coat. I couldn't wait to…

Thinking of Others as You Bite into that Bûche de Noël

David Lebovitz --- a whiz of a pastry chef, cookbook author, and food blogger --- got me thinking this morning about the meaning of all the glitz and glitter out there, if only I could just get out of my icy driveway. David is giving away a set of Le Creuset cookware, a gift to…

Oreillettes, A Part of Provence’s Thirteen Desserts

Fried dough, a universal love. Grease, sugar, what more could you dream of? In the south of France,  when you want fried dough, you'll get oreillettes. As with any traditional holiday dish, each cook has his or her version. The signature taste with these oreillettes is the orange flower water. In New Orleans, oreillettes come…

The Provençal Thirteen: Fennel- and Cumin-Scented Sablés

In France, you'll find sablés,  buttery cookies that originated in Normandy. (You know they had all that butter to get rid of there.) Most sablés are sweet. But in Provence, for the famous Thirteen Desserts of Christmas Eve, cooks prefer savory little disks perfumed with fennel and cumin. Cumin? How did cumin get into mix?…

Nougat Noir, or Black Nougat, Another of the Thirteen Desserts

A Provençal gros souper (Christmas Eve dinner) would not be correct without some nougat noir to challenge the skill of your dentist and possibly lay waste to your dental work. In other words, nougat noir can be a bête [bite!] noire*, if you're not careful. For nougat noir is a hard candy, not the pillowy stuff…

Les Quatre Mendiants au Chocolat, A Candy Offshoot of Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts

Gorgeous, huh? Yummy? You bet! And the best part is that, with a quick flick of a switch and your wrist, you too can make these beauties, part of the Thirteen Desserts of a Provençal Christmas. Mendiants au Chocolat Noir ou Blanc Makes about 75 - 100 candies, depending on size of circles 1 pound…

Begging the Question: Les Quatre Mendiants and Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts

The truth is, the dishes associated with Provence's Thirteen Desserts abound with religious symbolism. Take the Four Beggars, or Les Quatre Mendiants, which symbolize something that we in the secular West have basically lost, a sense of awe and fear about the natural world and all that is in it. The Thirteen Desserts likely represented…

Panis focacius, la Gibacié, and la Pompe à l’huîle, Kin Under the Crust, One of the Thirteen

Christmas cakes were baking, the famous pompou and fougasse, as they were called, dear to the hearts of the children of old Provence. ~~ Christmas in Legend and Story A Book for Boys and Girls I've always loved the "Jacob's Ladder" look of fougasse. The lacy leaf-like lattice reminds me of the connection between bread and…

No Partridges, Just Thirteen Desserts: French Christmas Culinary Traditions

I love culinary traditions ... and usually I don't mind cooking all the foods associated with upholding those traditions.  Like Thanksgiving dinner, for example. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole (from scratch, mind you), pumpkin pie with whipped cream (crust handmade just prior to baking), and sweet potato casserole (no marshmallows).…

Another Last Word on French Cuisine and UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage” Program

The recent inscribing of  "intangible cultural heritage" status  to "the French gastronomic meal" by UNESCO brought both cheers and jeers to the table. As I wash my hands and get out my Le Creuset terrine baker for the paté de campagne en croûte for Thanksgiving appetizers, I'd like to share a quote with all of you…

French Cuisine, an Exposition on Medieval Food Not to be Missed

Click on the image to "attend" a gorgeous exposition of the history of medieval French cuisine: Be sure to click on the images in order to start the slide shows, chock full of paintings depicting culinary life during the Middle Ages.

The French Gastronomic Meal, UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

French Gastronomic Meal The Committee 1. Takes note that France has nominated the gastronomic meal of the French for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, described as follows: The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such…