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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

HOMEMADE FOOD GIFTS

NICK'S QUICK BRIOCHE   

Christmas is the best time to share food gifts with friends and family.  They are personal in a way a store bought gift will never be. You don't have to admit to being naughty or nice to receive one of my gifts.  You need only live close enough to receive it in person.  That, of course, is the part I like best.

Now for a spoiler alert.  I give the same foods year after year with few exceptions.  The mini-brioches and jars of cranberry jam  I prepare have become a holiday ritual in my kitchen.  I look forward to it.   This combo became our family's Christmas morning breakfast treat as we opened presents around the tree.  I've tried new recipes on occasion that was clipped from a magazine or newspaper.  One year it was a healthy dried soup mix and a toasted granola mix.  Another year, cranberries became the star ingredient in a jam and biscotti recipes.  

Once you've experienced the pleasure of giving a homemade gift, their preparation doesn't feel labor intensive.   Just put on some Christmas music, enter into a state of 'flow' as you work, and don't answer the phone.  I've tried to make recipes for the foods I enjoy as accessible as possible.  Hopefully they will save you time by being clear and easy to follow.  Keep in minde, each batch will produce enough treats for several gifts.  

There's no time to lose.  Here are photos and links to my favorite holiday gifts.         

                                                                                                                        CRANBERRY GINGER HOLIDAY BISCOTTI 

      

LENTIL SOUP MIX 

            

  RISE AND SHINE GRANOLA                  

 

      CRANBERRY GINGER JAM                                LA BAL SCONES                                        CRANBERRY KIWI JAM                                                                         

                                                                  



  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

"Touchez! Sentez! Goûtez!" Learning How to Taste

 

Ten-year-old Katie smelled the bread sample, thought for a moment, and wrote a number on the printed sheet. She could have been in science lab, except for the fact that her teacher Mme. Clivaz was speaking French. “Sentez! Touchez! Goutez!,“ These students were using their senses to test the quality of the French baguette.

Earlier that week the fifth graders at Avery Coonley School in suburban Downers Grove had watched a YouTube video interview with Djibril Bodian, the Montmartre baker who has won The Best Baguette in Paris competition twice in the last decade (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7N.)  They watched as he handled each loaf and listened as he described how attention to detail, patience and sheer repetition made his baguette better than more than 100 others. How can there be that much variety in bread that consists simply of flour, water, salt and yeast?

 

 

 

To prepare for a baguette tasting the students learned the French terms for their five senses as well as key words to describe each sense. By the time I arrived they were ready to judge four examples Mme. Clivaz and I had purchased. Together they observed the bread crusts for color and thickness (thin is better than thick). They listened for a cracking sound when the bread was broken. They all sniffed their samples for aroma, prodded, squeezed and tasted for texture and flavor. One loaf of each sample was halved lengthwise so they could examine its trous, the complex web of holes that indicates a perfectly risen loaf.

 

 

The students’ favorite baguette was one from Labrea Bakery (sold at Jewel/Osco) followed by La Fournette (1547 N. Wells, Chicago), Whole Foods and the Jewel bakery brand. Spoiler alert: The Labrea and La Fournette baguettes were made with a starter which gave them a flavor edge over those with dried yeast. The La Fournette baguette had a discernable tang which was less appealing to the young palates, although it had won a Best Baguette of Chicago competition at Hotel Sofitel in 2017.  Taste aside, the crusts and interiors of the Whole Foods and Jewel’s loaves did not measure up in quality to the other two.

 

 

 

With their mission completed, the class relaxed and watched as classmate, Genvieve, demonstrated a dessert of colored grapes and dried fruits strung on a skewer (brochette de fruits). They quickly assembled colorful batons and carried the remaining baguette samples to lunch with them. Mme. Clivaz and I swept up the crumbs.

The Back Story: This novel experiment for fifth graders in suburban Chicaog is modeled on an annual event in France called La Semaine du Goût.. During a specified week in October, food and health professionals visit elementary classrooms to demonstrate their skills and speak of their passion for their calling. In this way the French reinforce their cultural values at a time when more industrial food products are available to tempt busy parents to take shortcuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

THE TALE OF TWO DINERS (IN PARIS)

It’s a familiar story.  An American comes to Paris, falls in love with the city and looks for a way to stay permanently.  What are the job opportunities?  Teach water skiing on the Seine?  Open a miniature golf course in the Bois de Boulogne?   While it’s true that American and French cultures mix about as well as oil and water, on one subject they are in total agreement: they both love to eat.

Craig Carlson was caught in just such a dilemma when he finish a television directing job in Paris a couple of decades ago.  He had spent a year in Paris as a student before becoming a Hollywood screenwriter, and he wasn't ready to return to the States.   Craig had his epiphany when he was served a plate of bacon, eggs and pancakes back in LA. He realized that a big American breakfast was the one thing he had missed when he was living in Paris.  He vowed to open a diner in Paris that served his favorite meal.

 Craig then began a process of searching for investors,negotiating with French contractors and sourcing the key ingredients that would make his diner credible: real New York Bagels, rasher bacon and Vermont Maple Syrup.  He describes the torturous process of creating Breakfast in America in his bestselling book Pancakes for Breakfast.   BIA opened in 2003, and there is now a second location across the river in Marais neighborhood.  

I met Craig and his French partner when they visited Chicago’s Read It And Eat bookstore on a promotional book tour in the Spring and made a note to stop by the diner when I was in Paris in September.  To my great surprise, the  studio apartment I rented in the Latin Quarter facing the rue des Ecoles was directly across the street from the original BIA.  I'm not  making this up!

 Both Breakfast in America locations have the look and feel of a 1950’s road diner with red leatherette seating upholstery, formica tabletops, black and white tile floors and weak coffee served in a  mug with a spoon in it.  (Excellent espresso is also available.) The waitstaff of young bilingual Americans is midwestern friendly.  The food is what you would be served at a rural diner.  The eggs I ordered were runny in the center, the bacon slices were crisp and the pancakes were fluffy.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that BIA is just a breakfast place or a refuge for homesick Americans.  Both locations are open all day long.  I remember seeing the lights on across the rue des Ecoles after 10pm. The menu includes every dish you’ve ever ordered in a diner, and then some.

At both BIAs there appeared to be a close to even mix of Americans and French. How could I tell the difference at a distance?  The Americans picked up their burgers in their hands to eat while the French carefully cut theirs with knife and fork.  In other words, everyone ate as if they were at home.