A lot o’ gelato.

I am back from a glorious trip through Italy, well rested and sun kissed. And probably also about 10 pounds heavier, which I will shamelessly attribute to le bébé. Honestly. I swear it had nothing at all to do with this:

or this:

or this:

That last one there was technically sorbet (melon and lemon), which is nothing more than a light afternoon refreshment. A palate cleanser. Practically health food if you ask me.

I will admit that the cone I accidentally topped with two scoops of gelato mousse (which is apparently not gelato, but pure whipped cream) wasn’t the healthiest approach. But I didn’t even finish that one! I ate Husband’s stracciatella instead.

And although I did fall deeply, madly in love with a dark chocolate fondant and caramel combination from Giolitti in Rome, I can say with authority that red grapefruit sorbet is really where it’s at. And isn’t grapefruit part of any healthful, nutritious diet?

Yep. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Especially when I step on the scale at the doctor’s office today.

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Crabs, French style.

I am from Maryland. Which inherently means I can take down a dozen or so blue crabs without batting an eye. I love the ritual: sitting for hours on some hot, sticky back porch, a perfect pile of crustaceans steaming on the newsprint in front of you and a cold beer handy for when the Old Bay spices get the best of you. I relish in the exquisite torture of pulling apart a crab piece by piece, meticulously picking and prying to retrieve the tiniest morsel of sweet meat.

Husaband, on the other hand, is from Maine. He’s used to finding the mother lode with one crack of a tail. His delicate hands can’t handle the fresh sting of red pepper and salt in all the nicks where the crab claw put up a fight. He often mistakenly eats the mustardy guts out of sheer hungry desperation. When he eats crustaceans, he’s looking for a bigger, faster payoff.

So when a friend recommended a little place up the street from us called Le Crabe Marteau (the crab hammer), we were intrigued. They promised newspaper covered tables and plenty of mallets to smash the living daylights out of your food (in Paris of all places!). But the crabs on tap were of a heartier stock than those delicate specimens from the Chesapeake: le torteau, which pretty much looks like a blue crab on steroids, and l’arraignee de mer, which is your basic spider crab. Plus they offered fresh oysters and langoustines (like crawfish) from Bretagne.

(All served, I might add, by a tanned French waiter with dreamy blue eyes, tousled blonde curls, a rustic, seafaring stubble and adorable striped shirt. Who happily obliged when I asked more than once to show me again how to crack the crabs open.)

Which means I could have my epic, messy crab picking experience (with a side of hot waiter) and Husband could get more crab meat. And a bib. That’s a win-win situation, wouldn’t you say?

Breakfast of champions.

It’s no secret that I love butter. Mostly in pastry form, but it’s also divine added to freshly popped pop corn or a plain old crusty end of baguette. I’ve been known to throw a few extra tablespoons into my chocolate chip cookie dough, just for good luck. A small pat smooshed with minced garlic does wonders for a simple slab of steak. I’ll admit that I’ve strongly considered eating it by the spoonful.

And here the butter is just quite simply otherworldly. Even the lowliest of supermarket brands somehow seems richer, more decadent than anything back home. Probably because it’s often sprinkled with chunks of sea salt or produced from a lone herd of cows somewhere on one specific mountainside eating a certain type of clover.

But while whatever they’re doing over here to their dairy products is magical, I also feel it’s a bit worrisome for my arteries. And my ass. So when opening a package du beurre yesterday I felt very reassured to find the following message on the back:

“BREAD AND BUTTER make up part of a recommended breakfast”

Well hot damn! The nutritionists themselves want me to eat butter every day. I can even throw in some fruit and another dairy product if I want to. And here I’ve been wasting valuable breakfast time on GoLean Crunch and oatmeal! From here on out it’s gonna be toast slathered with salty butter and strawberry jam.

Vocab Friday: Frites

So yesterday I told you about our Indonesian-Dutch waiter handing over with much glee his top two places to get fries in Amsterdam. Today I’m going to tell you about the ensuing quest for perfect frites.

But first things first: let’s talk about what exactly you consider a perfect french fry: Thick and hand cut? Thin and crisp? Perhaps the waffled version offered by Chick-fil-A? I myself like my fries fresh – none of this frozen, food coloring yellow crap. I want them to taste like potatoes, and maybe even have bits of skin left on. Then they should be fried to golden perfection, creating crisp edges that yield to delicate fluffy potato inside. They’ve got to be sturdy enough to hold a pile of ketchup or even a dousing of vinegar, but not so crunchy that they scrape the roof of your mouth and not so fat that they’re like swallowing a mouthful of boxed mashed potato mix. And they need to be salty.

Here in Paris, I’ve been disappointed by some pretty terrible specimens– sad, frostbitten yellow twigs that clearly came from Picard. Six years ago. And don’t get me started on the elusive duck fat french fries, which better be coming back this summer or I will personally start sending hate mail to chef Daniel Rose.

So I was pumped to get to Amsterdam and get some real, undeniably good fries. Which brings us back to the quest for frites and our waiter friend, who assured us that he personally taste tested french fry establishments on a regular basis, in addition to keeping up with the latest french fry blogs. Thus we knew we were in good (if not chubby) hands.

His first recommendation?  Vlaams FritesHuis, tucked away at Voetboogstraat 31, off of Heiligeweg (which apparently means “heavenly way”).

Heavenly indeed. The draw of the FritesHuis was supposedly the excellent potato flavor and extensive array of sauces on tap– everything from plain old ketchup to soy sauce mixed with mayo to satay peanut sauce. We opted for plain old ketchup:

The verdict? Pretty delicious, but not salty enough. And I was suspicious of the bright yellow coloring.

But don’t get me wrong– we forked that whole cone down in no time, and proceeded on our way to the next friteshuis. Well, first we actually walked around for a while to digest, then checked out of our hotel, then inexplicably stopped for lunch. Finally on our way to the train station we made it to Damrak 41, location of Manneken Pis, purveyor of purportedly awesome, crispier-style fries.

These were definitely crisper, crunchier, and much saltier. And no crazy sauce options to confuse you. Pretty damn good for what looked like a boardwalk chain. The verdict? I felt like my stomach was going to explode, but still wanted to cram these into my craw. That should tell you something (something like, I’m disgusting, I have a problem, I need to do more salad taste tests…)

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les frites

Pronunciation: ley freet

Definition: French fries! Duh. As in,

“Please baby jesus in velvet pants, give me the chance to savor those glorious duck fat frites at Spring!”

The real Cosi.

Today I want to share the experience of walking through the Saint Germain neighborhood on a crisp spring-ish day, only to find an odd sign for a sandwich shop called “Cosi.” That’s funny, you think to yourself. Just like the chain back home.

Then you hear opera music wafting over the tousled heads of the students waiting in line, and catch an intoxicating whiff of something baking in a brick oven. So you decide to step in line and see what this Cosi impostor is all about.

And that’s when you see it: a golden rectangle of crispy, slightly salty flat focaccia bread, ready to be stuffed with the sandwich fixings of your choice. The bread! you shout to yourself. It’s the same bread! What is going on here?

You’re busy pondering the legal implications of such blatant copy-catism when your pesto-mozzarella-arugula masterpiece arrives, still warm, and suddenly you don’t care if the French Cosi is guilty of stealing an American idea. Because they’re doing it so much better.

So much better in fact that you’ll only be mildly surprised to learn why: Cosi is actually French. It all started here in Paris. It wasn’t until two Hamilton College grads on a semester abroad fell in love with the place and asked the owner if they could use the name. And the vague concept. And definitely the bread recipe.

I really wish I could share a bite with you. Or at the very least a nice photo. But I ate it all and forgot to take a picture so you’ll just have to come to Paris and taste the real Cosi for yourself.

Happy birthday Husband.

Husband turns thirty-something today. I say thirty-something because he’s feeling old (older than me!) and not spelling out the exact state of his aged-ness might soften the blow a bit. But just in case, I prepared him a chocolate peanut butter pie in which to drown all of his old-person sorrows.

And since his sorrows did indeed need drowning, and I can currently consume twice my body weight in food, we cut into that puppy last night. Sweet jesus in velvet pantalones. I think if I wasn’t married to my best friend in the whole wide world, I would have tried to elope with that peanut butter mousse. I mean, it’s made with with real Reeses peanut butter chips and about 4 gallons of fresh cream for cripes sake. At this stage in my life I’m not sure I need anything else.

But in the end I came to my senses. Because even though he clips his toenails in bed, Husband does wear plenty of funny outfits to make me laugh. He brings me pain au raisins when I need them most. And he doesn’t get mad when I ask to watch another episode of Law and Order. Husband makes me sane when things are crazy, happy when things are sad, and all lovey-dovey when he wears those tight French suit pants. So in my little slice of life, he’s pretty much the Master Bite.

 

Vocab Friday: Un rêve

Since I’ve been spending such a good deal of time lately complaining about the grocery stores here, I thought I’d take a minute and share my idea of the perfect food shopping experience, complements of the riverside Sunday market in Bordeaux:

1. Garlic shrimp grilled to oder. To fortify you before shopping.

2. Plenty of cheese and other farm fresh products.

3. A French Elvis impersonator, to keep you energized. Bonus if he can do the splits.

4. Post-checkout wine and raw oyster bar. Truly a thing of beauty.

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un rêve

Pronunciation: uh rehv

Definition: A dream. As in,

“It’s mon rêve to someday find a beautiful outdoor market that also sells toilet paper.”