14 French Recipes to Welcome Spring

There’s a certain hum of excitement as spring approaches. Because of our long, snowy winters here in Colorado, the arrival of spring is always a little delayed, but over the past few weeks I’ve noticed that the quiet of winter has been replaced by the sounds of life. It starts before dawn as I rise early to make the coffee. I can hear the birds through the closed and locked windows singing to each other in the darkness and beckoning me to slide the glass open and see what all the fuss is about. Out in the potager, the chives are always the first to emerge, blooming in brilliant purple plumes that are covered in bees of all shapes and sizes. Soon the sugar peas will bloom on the garden fence. The chickens are laying again – with each egg, the noisy fanfare of celebration. Farmer’s markets are finally opening up again here, with the first asparagus, tiny strawberries, baby lettuces, radishes and turnips. I think it’s safe to say that spring is finally here.

This spring feels like butterflies of anticipation leading up to an imminent party. Tiny flowers, like traces of confetti, signaling a grand celebration. For the occasion, I wanted to revisit some of my favourite spring recipes. These are the dishes I look forward to making when the days get long and warm and the earth awakens from her quiet hibernation. After a dark winter, these bright, fresh recipes are more welcome than ever.

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A Valentine’s Day Prelude

I’ve been in a Valentine’s mood for the last few weeks. Ever since hearts and cupids started showing up in the stores right after New Years, Valentine’s Day has been playing like a love song in the back of my mind. I even impulsively bought a Valentine’s day mask and heart shaped pendant the other day and I have Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” on repeat in the kitchen. It’s funny because Valentine’s Day was never my favourite holiday. I looked at it as just another excuse for the kids to eat way too much candy. Maybe it’s the Covid quarantines, on and off lockdowns, and the fact that, through forced confinement, our family has grown even closer this past year, but this February I’m all about the hearts, roses, sweet treats, LOVE and yes, even the candy. Really, I can’t wait for a reason to celebrate. Are you feeling the same?

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Galette des Rois aux Pommes

I meant to make this Galette des Rois on Wednesday for Epiphany but we were so glued to the news of the unrest in Washington DC that I completely forgot. Yesterday morning I woke up in a bit of a panic at my blunder and made one right away.

Galette des Rois is a lovely French tradition that brings the holidays to a sweet close. The cake is served on the 12th day of Christmas (Epiphany) to represent the visit of the three wise men to baby Jesus. Yesterday may have been the 13th day of Christmas (better late than never!), but I quickly whipped together this one using store-bought puff pastry and, for the fève, a (very clean) coin which I wrapped in aluminum foil. The tradition, which goes back to Roman times, dictates that a fève – a little trinket or small, porcelain nativity figurine – is hidden in the filling of the cake before baking. Whoever finds it is crowned King or Queen for the day. As the name suggests, a dry fava bean was originally used; however, last year I baked a real bean into the cake and it was never found. (!!) I’m always on the hunt for antique porcelain fèves but so far haven’t had any luck finding them in the US. Last night, Eva was the lucky fève finder. Her first order of business as Queen was to play a board game with me. 

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Pear Clafoutis with Whipped Mascarpone

At the market last week there were these huge bins of pears. They were all so beautiful in jewel tones of ruby, emerald and topaz, I couldn’t resist buying way more than we needed. Where some have a weakness for jewelry or an addiction to well-made handbags, I have a thing for pears. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the craftsmanship of an Hermès Kelly bag, or that I would turn down a diamond if offered, but there is something so aesthetically satisfying in a bowl overflowing with pears. Like a Baroque era still life, I love to have big bowls of seasonal fruit sitting in the centre of the table and on the counter tops. It’s part of the ever-changing landscape of our kitchen. The thing about pears, though, is, like avocados, they ripen and then turn in the blink of an eye. When I saw that they were getting a little soft, I whipped together a quick batter of eggs, flour and cream, and made this pear clafoutis. It’s a delicious way to keep them from going to waste if you happened to have overindulged a bit at the market.

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Calvados Baked Apples with Cinnamon Ice Cream

It’s been very quiet here on the blog for the last month, so I thought I should give you an update. The kids started school several weeks ago: one in-person and the other via distance learning. The distance learner has now transitioned to a part-time hybrid schedule and since each kid is on a different schedule and the school is in the city, I’m spending a large part of my days in the car driving to and fro. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the need to be flexible and to roll with the punches.

I won’t bore you with the details of my children’s various educational models because the big, and far more exciting news of the month is this: we adopted another Belgian Malinois, our third!

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Birthday Brownies

Yesterday was Connor’s birthday. Fourteen years old! I can’t believe it. I remember when my children were younger. I would often get together with other moms and let the kids play. Frequent topics of conversation included comparing our experiences of the ages and stages our kids seemed to be flying through. “This age is my favorite!” someone would remark. “No, last year when he still let me rock him to sleep – that stage was my favorite,” someone else might interject. I have to say, truthfully, I love every single age and every stage – from birth to teenage-hood, there hasn’t been one I would wish away! Each year is exciting, full of growth and surprises. Like turning the pages in an enthralling novel, I’m looking forward to the future as much and I treasure the memories of the past. Being a mom is the single most fulfilling job on this planet.

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Lemon-Vanilla Gelato

Happy Summer! I love making different varieties of gelato, ice cream and sorbet at home during these hot, dry months. When I was a kid, we had one of those hand crank ice cream makers. Every Fourth of July my parents would drag it out from the closet beneath our stairs, dust it off and fill it with ice and rock salt. It was my brother’s and my job to crank it, taking turns until our arms felt like jelly and it became impossible to turn. Then my father would take over and finish it off. It was such a special treat, but such an ordeal to make that we only got to enjoy homemade ice cream once or twice a year. Thank goodness for modern ice cream makers! Mine is, by far, one of my favourite small appliances – no joke!

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Pain Perdu (French Toast)

Our typical weekend breakfast rotation used to go a little like this: pancakes, waffles, French toast, eggs and bacon, on repeat.  Recently, however, it looks more like this: French toast with berries, French toast with whipped cream, French toast with maple syrup, French toast with apples, etc. It seems like the kids ask for French toast almost every day. I don’t blame them – if there was a definitive list of the most heart-warming “Comfort Foods,” this would certainly be near the top.

There’s no shortage of recipes and variations on French Toast out there.  It’s one of the most searched-for recipes on Google. Most of us have grown up eating some form of this treat, whether for breakfast or for dessert. French toast’s appeal comes from its ability to blur the lines between these two meals. In France, French toast, or pain perdu, is almost always served as a dessert. The name literally means “lost bread” because it was a way to salvage stale bread that would otherwise have gone to waste. But is French toast really? Mais non! Almost every country and culture has a method for reinvigorating stale bread with a mixture of eggs and milk.  With most things that are falsely attributed to France (French fries, French doors or le French kiss) the adjective only serves to make this dish all the more appealing. Continue reading “Pain Perdu (French Toast)”

Capezzoli di Venere Truffles

I haven’t written about Italy during this health crisis, though it hasn’t been far from my mind.  The heartache of what was happening both there and here in the US was almost too great to bear and I focused my energy on those nearest to me.  Everyone’s experience through this has been so vastly different and unique. I have so many friends who’ve lost their jobs, their businesses.  I often ask myself, “How can I write about recipes and food when there are still so many people struggling to buy groceries?” I’ve remained largely quiet on the blog for that reason, and many others.  Now, with the protests and unrest occurring nightly throughout the US and across the world, I wonder, “Will there ever be a right time to share this recipe?”  The post has been written for weeks, and I contemplated waiting until next year to share the recipe, but who knows where we’ll all be then.  Really, the right time is now, while it’s still technically spring – the season of fertility, rebirth and renewal. Please don’t see my decision to share this recipe and the story behind it today as indifference to the current events. My heart is broken for all that has occurred during the past weeks and months. Continue reading “Capezzoli di Venere Truffles”

Coconut Meringue Cookies

My husband and I have never really been into the sappy Hallmark holidays.  Mushy cards and sloppy romances were never my thing.  On Valentine’s Day we play a little game, trying to out-do each other with the most inappropriate and ridiculously raunchy cards we can find, then we’ll watch a James Bond.  Instead of flowers, or in addition to, he’ll often buy me a new record to add to our vinyl collection – The Beatles or Pink Floyd or something else he knows I love – and pick up some oysters on the way home.  I’ll cook a big meal while he puts on the record.  It starts with the oysters, followed by maybe steak with béarnaise sauce (he likes his meat just barely kissed by the flame), sautéed potatoes, butternut squash bisque, with a sweet little treat at the end.

My love language is music and his is food, so it works . Continue reading “Coconut Meringue Cookies”