29 November 2010

November in Paris and Thanksgiving Cheer

Big happy plate of Thanksgiving leftovers.

I have long thought that France had more federal holidays than the US. It seems the French are always having days off, especially in the spring. In May it feels like every week there's a bank holiday. (Actually, this is not just an impression, there are French federal holidays on May 1, May 8, and this year May 13 and May 24.) However, contrary to what I thought, France only has one more holiday per year than the US. The major difference is that half the French holidays are Catholic ones (and you can bring that up next time one of your French friends mentions the proliferation of the phrase "God bless America" and how secular France is). In case you're curious (I know I was), the bank holidays in France are:

New Year's Day, Easter Monday, Labor Day (not the same day as the US, but the same idea), V Day (aka "the allies beat the Nazis day"), Ascension Thursday, Pentecost, Bastille Day, Assumption Day (yes, the day the Virgin Mary rose into heaven), All Saints Day, Armistice, and Christmas

For you non-Americans, US National holidays are:

New Year's, Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day (aka July 4), Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The epitome of Paris in November.

Besides the religious quality of French national holidays, the other main difference is the time of year. France has the most holidays in the spring, which is nice because it's starting to warm up and everyone wants to play hooky anyway and lie around in the sun. The US has the most holidays in the fall and winter, which is even nicer, perhaps, because it's a time of year when it gets dark early and everything is black and white and gray, and everyone needs a little cheer.

That is what I love about Thanksgiving. Less pressure than Christmas because there are no presents to buy, Thanksgiving is just about sharing a good meal with family and/or friends. When the sky is low and drab as it has been for weeks here in Paris, that is exactly what I need! This year, we had Thanksgiving with Nick and Camille and a friend of theirs. It was a no stress, low key event (we all had to work thurs. and fri.) but like all meals with foodies, it was very yummy!
A ray of sun, quick, take a picture!

I made a version of this blue cheese potatoes au gratin that included the celeriac I got in my CSA and a chocolate pecan pie (basically my original recipe, but with less corn syrup and chopped chocolate added). We combined our CSA spinach into creamed spinach. Camille made her signature wild mushroom bread pudding, sweet potato/yam purée and delicious gravy, and Nick made turkey roast. We topped it all off with some good wine for a perfect November-blues-beating evening!

12 November 2010

Homemade Chai for Autumn

Two weeks ago my youngest sister came to visit me during her fall break from college and we cooked up a storm. She's always been an amazing baker, but now she's gotten more and more into cooking and is even one of the head cooks at her co-op (proud sister moment).

It's funny when siblings grow up. Like one minute they're stealing your toys, monopolizing your mom and pulling your hair and the next they're awesome people who you'd actually be friends with even if you didn't have to see them every Christmas.

You know, the kind of people you could walk through the Jardins de Luxembourg with in late autumn chatting about life, living abroad, college, pigeons, whatever and then go warm up with a cup of chai. Most especially my sister in the kind of person you can spend hours in a bookstore with. And that's often what we did. Our bookstore highlights:

1) In Shakespeare & Co, hearing a woman ask the salesperson to recommend her "something like The Little Prince or Moby Dick." (I was terribly curious and asked the salesperson later what he gave her. Answer: Of Mice and Men.)

2) Chatting in a second hand English book store with the owner, older than Methuselah, who had never heard of the Twilight series (hey, good for her) and whose recommendation to a woman who wanted "a romance with adventure, you know, an escapist book" was Gone With the Wind.

So next time you sit down with a good book like The Little Prince or Moby Dick (although personally I would not call that a good book) or Gone With the Wind, or something to your taste, make up some homemade chai to go with it. It's much better than store bought and making it has quickly become a relaxing afternoon ritual at my house. Sometimes I even serve it in the wedding china, which my three crazy and wonderful sisters gave to me and D.

Chai Masala

3 cups water
5 pods of cardamom
1 stick cinnamon
4 cloves
1 small piece of star anis
5 black peppercorns
1 sliver of fresh ginger, peeled
4 tsp tea (I use Margaret'Hope darjeeling from Bonthés et Accessoires)
1 cup whole milk
sweetener to taste (about 2 Tbsp sugar, for example)

Put the spices in a pot and mash a little to bruise them (crack the cardamom pods, etc). Add 3 cups of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and let simmer 15 minutes. Add the tea and the milk and stir another 5mn on medium heat. Add the sweetener and stir until dissolved.

Strain and serve.