Thanksgiving in France

This post is a bit delayed, but I wanted to post anyway, just because it was such a memorable evening. Sifting through photos this week reminded me and made me laugh. (Click photos to enlarge)

No, Thanksgiving is not a French holiday (obviously), but I did celebrate this historical American holiday in November with my French family and friends. I invited my French guests for a true American Thanksgiving feast. They loved it. First, my very French brother-in-law showed up wearing a red, white and blue striped American flag button-shirt. His daughter had found a flag skirt somewhere, which she coupled with black sequined ballet shoes. Her school friend wore a flag T-shirt. American Flag Shirt Then the rest of the guests arrived–some good friends. The ladies were wearing matching red cowboy hats decorated with red glitter stars. Everyone was ready for the American dinner party. ThanksgivingHats Just for fun, I had decorated the table and dining room in all of the flag paraphernalia I own, including some things I had picked up at the dollar store during my last visit to the States, just for such an occasion. On the menu: baked turkey breast (I couldn’t find a whole turkey), butternut squash soup, greenbean casserole, rice and cornbread dressing (made with chicken and it’s stock), cranberry-orange relish, sweet potato casserole, cinnamon applesauce, spiced fruit bread and chocolate covered gingerbread. The favorite was definitely the sweet potato casserole (Paul Dean recipe. I didn’t bother trying to explain Paula Dean). This was quite a surprise to me, because the French don’t usually eat what they call sugar-salty. Sugar is NEVER eaten before the meal and the cheese. By the way, I did not serve cheese after the meal… and no one complained! Several guests asked for the sweet potato casserole recipe and someone even asked for the dressing recipe. Oh my! I have arrived! I’ve never been asked for a recipe in the three years I’ve lived here. I even played classic Christmas music in the background–rather boring compared to the live guitars and Spanish and French music we usually enjoy on our dinner occasions. It was a nice evening, and for the first time since I’ve lived in France, it felt like Thanksgiving. Even if it was a bit bizarre. ThanksgivingTable  

Salmon Tiramisu

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Salmon Tiramasu, an entre at the Piazza des Thermes, a restaurant built in the ancient ruins of the Baths of Constantine in Arles.

Salmon Tiramisu, an entre at the Piazza des Thermes, a restaurant built in the ancient ruins of the Baths of Constantine in Arles.

When I posted a photo of Salmon Tiramisu, or tiramisu au saumon, to Facebook, I received some interesting comments from my American friends. They simply could not imagine eating this as an entre with salmon.

First of all, salmon tiramisu is heavenly. And there’s nothing sweet and sugary about it. The French don’t eat sugar before a meal (as in never; it’s a sacrilege). They eat something salty, and salmon tiramisu satisfies that taste.

The Italian dessert tiramisu is made with mascarpone cheese, egg yolks and sugar. The cake-like ladyfingers layer are dipped coffee.

Salmon tiramisu is also made with mascarpone cheese and egg yolks, but rather than adding sugar, salt is added.

Tiramisu literally means “pick me up” in Italian and has the idea of something that makes you happy. There are several legends floating around about the origin of the Italian dessert. One refers to Venetian women who ate the dessert to give them energy for a long night of lovemaking.

Salmon tiramisu definitely makes me happy. It’s my new favorite entre.

Recipe for Salmon Tiramisu:
250g mascarpone cheese
3 eggs
4 slices smoked salmon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped chives
4 sprigs chives
salt
pepper
lemon
almonds, slivered

Chop salmon into small pieces, about 1/2 inch thin. Lightly saute in olive oil. Add salt and pepper, and let it cool. Separate the yolks from the egg whites. Beat the egg yolks and add to mascarpone with a little salt and pepper and chives. Beat and fold in the egg whites. Place cooled salmon pieces in the bottom of a glass dessert dish. Drizzle a little lemon juice. Top with mascarpone mixture. Garnish with slivered almonds and a few sprigs of chives. Refrigerate for 12 hours. Serve cold.

Alternatively, you could use the same recipe with blinis. Toast blinis and spread mascarpone mixture on top. Garnish with smoked salmon and chives. Makes a great appetizer.

Food in France

Some random facts about food in the South of France, or at least here in Provence:

Framage (cheese) comes at the end of every meal. And there is an abundance and variety of cheese in France.

There is also a variety of grapes, and so I have no idea what type of grape jelly I am eating on my peanut butter sandwiches.

They have peanut butter here, but it’s hard to find. I’ve found only Skippy (chunky) in a small jar.

The order of the meal is very important.

An aperitif comes first; and an aperitif does not only refer to the beverage. It refers to what we Americans call an appetizer. Usually some kind of pork and bread. Always salty, not sweet.

The entree is next. And this is not the main meal as we refer to it in the States. It’s usually a salad or vegetable.

Next, The Plate (here’s what we call the entree).

Duck and other wild game and sea food, fresh, is plentiful here. Duck is as common as beef.

We eat Sea Salt (from the Mediterranean, I assume), and naturally, it is manufactured (or processed) locally.

Dessert is after The Plate; and cheese comes last, AFTER dessert.

They eat way to much bread here and drink way too much wine. I don’t know how they stay thin. I think I’m going to gain 20 pounds and stay drunk all day.

New Culture, New Food, New Everything

jol poissons

Jol Poissons

I’ve been in France for one week and two days. Not long enough for a holiday; certainly not long enough to fully experience the country through the eyes of the native French.

But, I’ve come with the mindset of a resident, not a visitor, and the experience is already completely different from previous visits to this lovely country. Yes, I’ve tasted (literally and figuratively) many new things that would be equally accessible to the holiday voyager. I spent a Sunday afternoon on the beach at the Mediterranean wading barefoot in the sea and collecting coquillages (seashells). I ate Jol poissons–little fish that come from the sea–fried with eyes and tails intact. I had to close my eyes to pop them in my mouth, but they were surprisingly delicious. I watched flamingos on the marshes, fed bread to the Camarguese horses, and finally saw two foals of these chevaux unique to the Camargue region.

My first week in the country brought some unexpected challenges, which may seem obvious to others, but having visited many times, took me quite by surprise.

First there was the language challenge. My French is primitive, at best. And while my clumsy attempts to speak in the past brought me great satisfaction when someone could actually understand the idea I was trying to impart, they now made me self-conscious of my illiteracy. And the mental strain of translation began to wear on me after less than a week.

I was also surprised by my fatigue in general. At first I chalked it up to the six-hour adjustment in time; but that had never incapacitated me on previous visits. This time I nearly slept away an entire week. I came to the conclusion that the language challenge and trying to adjust to new foods, routine, environment, was wearing me out.

It’s different when you are visiting a place for a week or two. The new adventures are exciting. And while I still find this new life exciting, it’s more like moving to a new city and starting a new job in the States, with new friends, a new home, new co-workers, a new schedule; they all lose their romance for a while. Adapting becomes the body’s primary goal, rather than enjoyment.

For example, a trip to the supermarket (3 trips in the past week, so I can, with some expertise, comment on shopping in a foreign-speaking land) took me three times longer than it should have. Where do you find the garlic powder in a French grocery? The oregano wasn’t too difficult because it’s green, flaky and written origan feuilles in French. Curry is curry. Basil, basilic. But garlic translates ali, and my little Frenchman didn’t know garlic. And how much fat content is in this yogurt? Fortunately, I read French better than I speak it, and a few brands are the same, like the Greek yogurt I usually buy at WalMart. They actually had it here. But they didn’t have cream of mushroom soup for my potato soup recipe. I’ll have to improvise on that one. Many of these packaged foods and vegetables are unfamiliar to me. (We won’t even talk about the meats.) Even the images on the boxes are foreign to my U.S. born-and-bred eyes.

And so I’ve been surprised by the fatigue, the challenges, and at times the frustration, of trying to adapt to a new life in a new country. But then it’s only been a little over a week…

…and the sun streaming in through these open, enormous arch-shaped, old-world windows in my little French villa; hundreds of birds in this bird habitat singing their little French songs in the trees just on the other side of the balcony; the absolute tranquility of this morning as I drink a cup of French coffee and reminisce about the last week and listen to my Frenchman puttering around outside… this moment reminds me why I am here.

I’ll adapt.