We were super excited about spending lots of time in France, because, well, it's France. From Paris to the beautiful chateaus in the Loire valley to the southern coast to the rolling countryside filled with farms and vineyards to the lavender fields and sunflower fields in the Luberon to the majestic Alps, there are few places within the country that are not simply breathtaking in very unique ways. And then there's the food...
If you have never experienced the culinary delight of buying a fresh baked baguette from the neighborhood boulangerie and breaking off the end to munch while you walk home with it tucked under your arm, then. well, I'm truly sorry. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!
We didn't just get to experience French cuisine this summer. We enjoyed a very wide variety in all the places we visited.
We introduced Anabelle to pain au chocolate- a scrumptious French pastry with strips of dark chocolate down the middle.
(she was a fan!)
Personally, my favorite boulangerie treat (aside from the fresh baked baguettes) is the almond croissant. Simply divine- a buttery croissant willed with some sort of almond creamy stuffing and topped with powder sugar. There's also a chocolate almond croissant. To. die. for.
Speaking of pastries, for Maddie's 13th birthday, in lieu of a cake, we all picked out pastries from the bakery- yummy!
I think the lemon tart was the favorite, although Anabelle did quite enjoy the "chocolate hotdog" otherwise known as an eclair.
I said we experienced French cuisine, and I should probably clarify that our family of 6 experienced the low budget side (if that's possible) of French cuisine, which equals crepes, crepes and more crepes... Totally fine by us!
Naomi and Anabelle loved their jelly crepes!
And of course we had the classic Nutella and butter, lemon and sugar crepes while wandering the streets of Paris, but I can't seem to find those pictures...
We enjoyed salty crepes as well. The girls loved the ham and cheese, and Jason and I got a bit more adventurous. He tried smoked salmon and cream and the one below is spinach and cream with mushrooms and onions and a fried egg to top it off. So yummy!
As part of our low budget dining experience, we frequented boulangeries for fresh baguette sandwiches or pizzas or mini quiches. It was hard to convince Anabelle that she couldn't have "chocolate hot dogs" for every meal...
It's all just so tempting....
Below is probably Jason's favorite baguette sandwich. Pan fried camembert cheese (otherwise known as stinky cheese to the sane members of our family- more on his cheese obsession later) on a baguette with lettuce, tomato and dijon.
We had several on the road picnics that involved baguettes, cheese and ham. What else is there after all?
With the many North Africans living in France, we were also able to have some scrumptious Moroccan couscous.
There's a bowl of couscous, a big plate of meat and a huge dish of vegetable sauce- all to go on top of the couscous.
I cannot begin to remember what these things were called- some sort of fried won ton type thing on steroids stuffed with shrimp, egg and a creamy cheese.
Our travels to Spain introduced us to some yummy foods as well. Some familiar, some not so much. The girls were thrilled that our first meal out was tex-mex. I know, I know, not Spanish cuisine but it was yummy! And this little hole in the wall restaurant in Madrid was too cute. Anabelle was thrilled with the pink chairs and pink walls...
Somehow I managed not to get a picture of the churros- basically fried dough that you dip in a hot pudding-like chocolate. What's not to like, right?!
In Barcelona, some friends took us out for tapas, and I am not going to remember what any of these were called but they were amazingly yummy. Let's just say that it's a good thing Jason and I were carb/sugar free for 6 weeks before this trip because we definitely made up for it, almost in one sitting!
First they brought out huge pieces of "grilled bread" along with tomatoes and whole garlic cloves.
The idea was that you take the whole tomatoes, slice them along with sliced garlic cloves and just rub it all into the bread. Maddie was in heaven!
Then there were more massive pieces of bread with melted cheese and country style ham hidden underneath.
Also, these little pieces of deep fried goodness. I'm pretty sure they said it was mashed potatoes, mixed with bits of ham and cheese. Carb load anyone?
And just to make us all feel better we had grilled veggies too...
And then there was this. A cone. Filled with ham. Country ham. Nothing more needs to be said...
And back to France we went. We took a few days vacation and had our own kitchen to cook in. Maddie was going through withdrawal at that point having not been able to bake all summer.
Some folks at our hotel directed us to a local farm for fresh produce. We followed the signs quite literally into the barn...
...and stocked up on fresh produce.
Jason and I were THRILLED to find yellow squash- something we can't get here.
Naomi and Maddie layered it up with tomatoes, onions and cheese and it was the perfect dinner.
We also used our morning baguettes to make bread pudding and made fresh peach sauce to go along.
Our next stop was in a mountain refuge just outside of Albertville in the Alps. The food was described as "simple and basic" by our hosts, but we loved it.
This was some sort of concoction with day old country bread, ham, mushrooms, raclette cheese and a fried egg. Yes please!
For dessert, we had a choice of fresh raspberry and blueberry tart....
(which is what the sane ones among us chose...)
Or a plate of cheese. Very. Stinky. Cheese.
He was very happy!
The next morning, breakfast was a bit more "simple". Chocolate cereal (brown bowl) and hot chocolate (white bowl). Who knew you were supposed to drink your hot morning beverage in a bowl? Live and learn!
Maybe it's so you can gulp it down faster because you are frigid from taking an ice cold shower when it's 45 degrees outside. When we asked whether or not there was hot water, our hosts shrugged and said, "Non, c'est la montagne" (No, it's the mountains). To which we wanted to say, "that's exactly why you need hot water!".
Back in Paris, we discovered Chipotle! Yes, yes we did. We were in Paris and we ate at an American chain.
And we did it twice...
Our next stop took us to Belgium where we discovered all sorts of amazing food. Apparently, we discovered that we are way out of the loop to not know what Speculoos is- basically cookie paste made of these yummy Belgian cookies. It seems it's most recently hit the American radar due to Trader Joes, but we went to this little cookie shop in Brussels that has been around since the early 1800s where these cookies originated.
Here's a picture of some of the original cookie molds.
Anabelle's long eyelashes got us all a free cookie. To me, the cookies are yummy- I don't honestly get all the hype about the cookie paste....
We were informed by our hosts that fries (NOT French fries apparently), originated in Belgium. News to me! The girls were thrilled to hear we would be having fries for lunch. Yep, just fries.
We're told what makes them so good is they are first parboiled and then double fried.
With this yummy spicy sauce they served with the fries. Think thousand island with a kick. Jason got a little crazy and got his topped with onions and two kinds of sauce.
Next on our culinary journey was Belgian waffles. Because of course. Thankfully we walked about 4 miles between the fries for lunch and the waffles for afternoon snack...
These waffles were completely not what I expected. Very thick and cake-like with huge chunks of crystallized sugar baked in. Top it with chocolate and/or cream and you're set!
Our last bit of Belgian cuisine involved chocolate of course. Our friends took us to a chocolate outlet, where you can literally taste as much of absolutely anything as you would like.
I'm pretty sure there will be a Belgian chocolate outlet in heaven.
In Amsterdam, we enjoyed these little mini pancake yummies - profitjes. Overflowing with powdered sugar and butter. What's not to love?!
The next morning we went out for Dutch pancakes. Abbey and Maddie shared a sweet and a savory. Their sweet (below) was topped with cherries and cream and their savory was bacon and apple.
Naomi had strawberries and cream.
Anabelle was more interested in the merry-go-round built into the middle of the restaurant...
The last leg of our trip brought us to England where we enjoyed cream tea.
And, of course, cream tea is not just the tea but the scones and clotted cream and jam that go along with it...
While the food was amazing, even better was the conversation around the food and the relationships that were started and built upon as we traveled and enjoyed some of what each country had to offer.
Now that we're home and back to real life, it's looking like there's going to be a lot less carbs and sugar and a lot more green smoothies...
"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun."