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Tag Archives: French food

CHEESE roasting on an open fire? Raclette rocks!

The heart and hearth at Nemoz Auberge, click on hearth to visit their website.

Forget about chestnuts roasting over an open fire, it’s all about the cheese! If you’re like me, you’d never even heard of raclette. When someone tried to explain to me what it was, I was far from thrilled to say the least. I was familiar with fondue, but that was only for special occasions and was very expensive for just, well, cheese. Raclette isn’t fondue where the cheese, white wine and garlic are melted in a heated bowl and your bread is dipped into the pool of cheesy yummy-ness. Actually, I have just finished my research on raclette just now, by having it for lunch. See what pain staking research I do for my readers? ;0). In all seriousness, raclette rocks! What is it? So glad you asked!

It is, well, cheese. Not just any cheese mind you, but a cheese that you melt in front of an open fire. There are mini ovens that do this too, but you can’t beat the real thing. I could imagine the people in the snow-covered mountains after a hard day of farming, would get their bellies and souls fed with this one. When the raclette is melted in the traditional way with the fire, you get the smoky, buttery, nutty flavor that permiates the cheese, begging to be put on a potato and enjoyed with a dry white wine of your choice. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that raclette cheese when heated is very much like the smell of dirty socks. But, if you can get past the initial smell (and you will) it is well worth it. I can’t really explain the feeling I get when I eat raclette other than, it just makes me happy. It is simple fare, but delicious.

How raclette is served

‘Racler’ is a verb in French, meaning to ‘scrape’, describes exactly how the process works. The cheese is melted in front of an open fire until it begins to melt. Then, the melted cheese is scraped off and served with boiled potatoes, cured meats and pickles. The process continues until you can hold, as my dad would say, “nary another bite.”

Raclette originally hails from the French part of Switzerland, hence the French roots. But is very much a part of France’s mountain culture as well, particularly in the regions of Auvergne, Savoie, Franche-Comté and Bretagne where the cow’s milk cheese is produced. Although it is certain that this dish is still enjoyed by its traditional set (farmers) now, we all have the joy of experiencing this dish. The only difference is that we would have it after a long day of hiking or skiing talking about how much fun we had versus how long and hard our day was just to survive.

How lucky are we? We owe so much to our ancestors, more than we can ever know. Maybe that is why raclette makes me happy. Maybe part of me is connected to them (our ancestry) in some way, as I enjoy the raclette. In any case, I appreciate their sacrifices, whether in the form of raclette, civil rights, immigration rights or other untold freedoms we now take for granted. Bon appétit, y’all.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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Ex-pattycakes: building bridges, one banana bread at a time

For the recipe, just click on the banana bread! (also, I add 1/2tsp. cinnamon, but you do what works best for you.) ~Image courtesy of Google

What a wonderful surprise I received last week, homemade ‘bugnes’ (pronounced: “bewnye”, a beignet-style french donut)! Our downstairs neighbor rang (who owns the village grocery store) and brought one of my favorite things, that’s right, the bugnes. I don’t think I’ve met a Southerner yet who didn’t have an overactive sugar gland. My mother told me that when she was pregnant with me, she always craved donuts and sent my dad out on several sleepy-eyed mornings to curtail her cravings for the deep-fried dandies, so naturally, I blame her for nurturing my sugar addiction (mom, if your reading, you know I still love you).

You may be thinking, what do banana bread and bugnes have in common besides both being desserts? Nothing, except the story I’m about to tell you. If you’re from the US, you already know that banana bread is an American classic, but in my parents’ household, it boarders on iconic status! My dad would say, “Momma, I wish I had a dollar for every banana bread you’ve made and I’ve eaten.” Every time my mom asked my dad what he wanted for dessert, he would always say, yep, you’ve guessed it–banana bread. Truth is, I wasn’t much of a cook until just a few years ago, because when you grow up with a great Southern cook in the family, ‘you’ve got a hard row to hoe’ (‘Southern-ese’ for big shoes to fill). So instead, I became a stellar sous chef and dishwasher–voilà. I hear your wheels turning, do you know where this is heading? With so much change hitting you from all sides trying to adjust as an expat, we often default to our comfort zones. In my case, my default mechanism was the one thing that didn’t need translation, food.

If someone makes you something, they like and appreciate you or they wouldn’t have done it. The gift of food says it all. So I wondered, what can I do to show my appreciation for helping me feel welcome, tolerating my abuse of their language and meeting every question with a preemptive head nod and two second delay before responding in my best pigeon French? I know, I’ll bake them a banana bread! Curious how what makes us feel comfortable, becomes something you then want to share with others. In my case, when I was at my most vulnerable, I wanted to share a happy memory from my childhood in the form of banana bread.

So, never having made a banana bread in my life and after a few failed attempts (with tweaking the recipe from American measure to metric), I was finally ready to make deliveries! And with a big American smile and a good dollop of nervousness, off I went rounding the village like some ‘half-baked’ St. Nicolas! I gave everyone between La Poste (post office) and the boulanger (baker), a banana bread. And without having to say much, let them know I genuinely appreciated their help at a time when I needed it most. I told them that it was a special dessert from the US, particularly in my family. They were all so shocked and excited, that it was touching. I found myself having to say, “De rien” (you’re welcome) very quickly and scoot out before the unexpected welling of emotion became obvious. Believe it or not, I’m not a crier, but the expat experience will pull emotions that are buried inside you, by awakening your joys but also your hidden pains. I guess that day, the emotion of being away from home, family and all things familiar (even though I’m 43 years old), hearkens back to our childhoods to that place of comfort we could all run to, whether it was our parents (if you’re the lucky ones), our favorite stuffed animal or imaginary friend. We all need to feel comforted when facing the vast unknown, just as we did as children and that never changes no matter how old or wise, we think we’ve become.

In making each delivery, it felt great to see their eyes light up as some asked, “Pourquoi (why)?” I just simply responded, “pour votre patience avec moi (for your patience with me) and skirted away before the water works began. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, in receiving baked goods from my neighbor, I now know that on some level, they like and accept me, no matter how awkward I feel. Even though I am still very different from people in my village, France and Europe as a whole, in the end, what a comfort it is to know that some things are still universal. Food is a tie that binds us all and making something from the heart and sharing it, is the universal language of caring. Bon appétit, ya’ll.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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