Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas...EVE!

(our tree was at least 6ft!)

Gina and I got a Christmas tree a couple weeks ago from one of the Christmas fairs nearby and actually drug the massive net-tied beast by foot in the freezing cold back to our flat about a mile away (think I could tell my children this story when I'm old??). Though it lights up our room with joyous brilliance, it's never given out a scent! Still confused about this...
Regardless, I hope you enjoy the CIA tree topper, I know we do ;-)

Rennes has Santa Clauses climbing up walls throughout the town like you see in the picture below. How funny is that? Doesn't it seem a little cumbersome to hang life-sized Santa Clauses everywhere? Truthfully though, I can't help but enjoy it.

Hope your Christmas is absolutely splendid!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stocking Stuffer

(Jeremy, pretending to peel my head. normal)

These multi-colored, very inexpensive, plastic peelers are the best stocking stuffers ever!

While I was home awhile back I bought a bundle to give to the staff at La Fontaine Aux Perles since they're obsessed with how amazing they are (from using ours). We gave them the gift recently as an early Christmas gift and they were thrilled with them, to say the least.

You can buy one for yourself here at their website...
or if you want to physically go buy one I know for sure Sur La Table sells them in their stores.

Speaking of stocking stuffers, no cook should be without a microplane...find one here and never be distressed about grating cheese or zest the rest of your life! Seriously, it's one of my favorite tools.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Spirit

Christmas spirit has come upon me... has it hit you yet?

Today, excited to be done with the long work week Gina and I hit the town shopping, visiting cafes and experiencing Christmas-time in Rennes. What a long (and the 30's), fun-filled day!
It put me in the most splendid holiday mood ever and I am absolutely relishing in it.

It helps that my friend Gabe gave me a link to download free Christmas music so Gina and I could fill our flat with lovely Christmas tunes. It's only good before December 17th so get it while you can! It's at

Here are a few pictures of Rennes with its best face on.

a man selling roasted chestnuts...oh France

Monday, December 7, 2009

Vin Chaud

I have been excited to share this with someone, anyone, who will find it as wonderful as Gina and I have.
We've found a place for your "2 Buck Chuck," your disappointing leftover bottles from that case of wine you bought on your wine tour and the "not so great" wine someone bought you as a gift. It belongs in a pot with a list of delicious ingredients that will turn into what the French call Vin Chaud (mulled wine).

This sign of ingredients is from the booth Gina and I bought our first delicious cup and it translates into:

-Red Wine
-Whiskey (or if you can't find it, Cognac)
-Maple Syrup
-Orange Juice
-Apple Juice
-Pinch of Cinnamon
-Whole Clove (we added a few even though it wasn't on the sign)

I don't know ratios but I can say the amount of honey and maple syrup depends on how bitter your apple and orange juices (about 1 cup apple juice and juice of one orange with rind) are and the amount of cinnamon sticks depends on how strong they are (we put 2-3 per bottle). We also put in about 1/2-3/4 cup Cognac per bottle. YUM.

We reduced the apple juice a little in a pot and then added everything to it and let it simmer about 10 minutes before tinkering with the sweetness. We also put whole pieces of both apple and orange to imitate a Sangria.
It's best if you let the flavors get warm together for at least 30 minutes.

After buying graham cookies on a whim we discovered they were a nice pairing for such a warm, deliciously spiced wine! Perfect for a holiday party. Oh my, and you could even make fresh, chewy, molasses cookies to enjoy with it...yes, I think I'll do that soon.

We hope you love it as much as we do! Tis the season for Vin Chaud!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

France Fact III


Pronounce it just the way you see it and you'll fit right in over here.

They LOVE to use this expression that means anything from, "oh my goodness" to "I can't believe you just did that" to "you're being annoying." I think it can be substituted for eye rolling pretty easily as well.

I hear it being used by pretty much every person imaginable. This coworker of mine in particular absolutely loves this expression and after discovering I couldn't stand the way it sounded he decided to use it every chance he could in my presence. Thank you Jeremy.

Monday, November 30, 2009


The Eiffel Tower lit up at night is one of the most magical things I've ever seen in my life. When I approached it this last time I visited Paris I stood with my mouth open long enough for Jon to call me a crazy broad for being so enamored with it.
I want to sit underneath and drink champagne with good friends on a big blanket and stare at it all night....

Friday, November 27, 2009

Chef's Out

The other night Chef only made it to the first work shift of the day and peaced out for the second to go to a big footbol (soccer) game in Paris with Joe, the Sous Chef.

It was to be a night remembered. Apparently nights like this one only happen every couple years; ones without any yelling, hardly any customers or cooks and getting out before 11:30. I think getting out early could be my favorite thing ever.

It made for a fun night of silliness and laughter....
At one point a handful of the guys were singing "hi-ho, hi-ho" in French and it was so funny!! They likewise thought our version in English was quite hilarious.
Don't worry, all the food still came out great ;-)

chopping mushrooms with absolutely no elbow room....for fun

Jeremy wearing the BIG chef hat instead of our Burger King ones out of rebellion

Baptiste pretending to be the Pope

Michel kissing a St. Pierre

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Big Night

Gina and I had the pleasure of dining where we work last night in celebration of her mom coming to visit and to experience what it's like to enjoy what we prep/cook all day. It was fabulous and we got the "VIP" treatment from our Chef.
He actually insisted on driving us home after dinner in his new Jeep truck spatting French at us the entire way as we nodded, laughed and tried to catch phrases we could understand and respond to. He is quite the character!
We arrived to dine at 7:45 and ended up enjoying our meal until 11:30!
Check out all the food we ate....

Matt pouring us some Veuve Clicquot to begin the food marathon

Amuse Bouche
left to right: foie gras with red wine sauce, brandade (salted Haddock, potato, cream) with butter sauce, pumpkin soup with truffle, goat cheese mousse/avocado mousse/beet vinaigrette

Second favorite dish of the night: pan fried brie and truffle wrapped in something called a brick (kind of like phyllo dough but less annoying) with salad and, more truffle

St. Pierre flavored with saffron, mango slaw, veal jus, and pork favorite dish of the night!

Pigeon with foie gras, wild mushrooms, tourneed pears in white wine, maxim potato cake, chestnut puree (yum) and duck jus with vanilla bean (this was my least favorite)

Filet of beef with a crepe and "maxim" potato cake with mushrooms, bean sprouts and truffle, celery root puree and a mousse of some tuber I don't know the name of
(Gina and her mom ordered this)

In order of deliciousness:
1. top right- mixed berries with torched sabayon
2. center- chocolate ice cream (tasted like an In-n-Out milkshake)
3. Top left- chocolate lava cake
4. bottom left- vanilla bean creme brulee
5. bottom right- caramelized pineapple with caramel glaze

Mignardines with our cafe: baby madelines, hazelnut chocolates and riz au lait!

Hmm..."RG" again?
How would you feel about your initials being apart of almost every rooms decor in your restaurant?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

France Fact II

They wear coats.
Velvet coats.
I know you may think it's silly for me to tell you this is a "France Fact," but, to me it is. The other day on the metro I saw a man wearing this coat pictured (blurry from Gina's iphone) with a colonial looking white scarf and black rimmed glasses. It was quite a site.
After that spotting I ran into coat after coat made of all sorts of colored velvets on the streets of Rennes. Today at the farmers market there was a woman decked out from head to toe in velvet. Hat, coat and pants.

As a disclaimer, I have nothing personally against velvet in particular...just don't think I'll be purchasing such a coat while here and most certainly won't be going on any dates with French men in long black velvet coats with colonial scarves.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Encouraging Words

Thanks for the picture Gabe!

My Dad spoke at church this past week thanking the congregation for all their prayers and support and giving an update about where he's at with his sickness. It's really moving. He starts speaking a few minutes into the November 8th sermon and this link will take you to the page with audio and video from The Home Church.

I hope it's as encouraging to you as it was me!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Feelin' Queasy

Cool hat right?

I don't know what happened. I went a year and a half at the CIA fabricating all sorts of meats, poultry and seafood without flinching and not until now am I growing a weak stomach. I actually had to push away the peanut M&M's I was snacking on when I started this post. (probably a good thing)

It all started back in Brest when I had to clean an entire case of crabs. I remember them climbing onto my cutting board almost catching my hand as they were snatched up to be tossed into the boiling water. Then cleaning them I was mortified dealing with their eyes and all the hair (yes, hair) and the goop. You'd think I had never seen a crab before in my life.

I thought it would be a phase but since then it hasn't been much easier. Apparently it's that time of year when the crustaceans of the sea are pregnant so most of the lobsters and langostines we're receiving are full of eggs like the lobster pictured here. Even after the arms were cut off its tail was convulsing with all the eggs falling off in chunks. Eww.

It goes beyond crabs and lobsters. I'm cutting off dozens of duck heads and feet and gutting them too. The other day Gina and I were doing it together and she asked if I had felt that "tube thing with the ripples." "You mean it's throat?" I asked. "Ya, you know that's the quacker right?" All I could do was laugh...and then got grossed out.

Pigeons are another favorite at the restaurant and they're what I'm fabricating in this awful picture. Who knew pigeons bled that much? The first time I did this I forgot gloves and the whole time kept picturing myself in a horror film. Then, that night as I went to sleep, I contemplated becoming a vegetarian.

I'm hoping I get over this since it's just no good. There's no reason for my behavior. It's not even that I feel sorry for the creatures, it's just the living and then dying that I have to deal with and all the blood and mess. I want to be like Julia Child and embrace every aspect of I just dreaming? Is it a gene that I lack? I suppose time will tell...


Is this an inappropriate picture?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Today my Dad gets to go home for good from the Valley Medical rehab hospital and sit at the table in the backyard and eat lunch and go out to any delicious restaurant he chooses and then sleep in his own bed!

God is so good.

I wish I could be home to make him a chocolate cake like the one in this picture (from six years ago!), but... for now we'll have to celebrate in different countries.

Good job Dad, you deserve the bravery award for the year...or better yet, make that for life!

Monday, November 2, 2009

France Fact I

Nobody gets between the French and their boots, nobody.
I've never seen so many boots of different kind in my life walking around.
Short, tall, black, white, brown, leather, plaid, scrunchy, smooth, buckles, pointed toe, cowboy-ish....I could go on all day.

I have a new found love for boots. Thank you France.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Saturday Farmers Market

It's huge, wrapping around streets and taking up two large buildings filled with cheese, meat, prepared foods and bread vendors.
The streets have table after table of the freshest produce and the brightest, most beautiful flowers.

After trying dozens of these delicious jams I chose Fraises-Framboises (strawberry-raspberry) Yum!

The only thing that surprised me was how much of the same ingredients I saw over and over. How do the residents of Rennes choose where to buy their eggplant, apples, pumpkins or mache when literally every 100+ vendors sells close to the same thing?
I was overwhelmed with options.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

La Fontaine aux Perles and Chef Gesbert

This place I work, La Fontaine aux Perles, is owned by a man named Rachel Gesbert. He not only is the Executive Chef but as I found out a few days ago he also lives on the site with his girlfriend Sophie. He's obsessed with his restaurant, has built it from the ground up and from what Gina and I heard through the grapevine, the only thing Chef Gesbert wouldn't trade for his restaurant is his mother. After pondering that statement we discovered he would trade his three children, his girlfriend of three years who runs the front of the house and an amazing staff. Our friend in the kitchen, Hugo, who speaks English, told us "Chef is a madman..."
I believe it 100%.

Each shift is the same. We all prep our butts off, eat family meal, begin service and then Chef Gesbert trots in. You can hear his piercing voice coming from the hall before he enters in his designer jeans, pointed brown leather shoes (with small heels), black chef coat and seriousness. He plays the role of expeditor and yells out orders walking up and down the kitchen waving his hands. Most often than not he becomes angry at something within a shift and the kitchen changes from a composed and confident atmosphere to a stressed one. Last night I thought his rage sounded like a 5 year old temper tantrum, in French of course. He flipped his lid at one of the cooks who accidentally put butter beans in with the steamed vegetables while plating. If I didn't know any better I would think someone just lost the Chef thousands and thousands of dollars and he was going to have to close his establishment and choose another career. The funny thing is that in the middle of his tantrum he came up to me and pointed to a saute pan with Sole and kindly said a quick sentence in French telling me what to do as though it were an ordinary hour and ordinary behavior. Maybe I need to be enlightened on what "normal" behavior is for French Chefs.

Check out the restaurant van below..."RS" stands for the one and only Rachel Gesbert. There are also plates within the restaurant that have these same symbol engraved in them.

I should point out that aside from his frequent rages during service he is a really nice man to Gina and I and has bent over backwards to get us in for externship. He also showed genuine concern about my Dad when I came back and wanted to know the status of everything which was very sweet.

I've just learned to completely stay out of his way during service and watch the commotion from a safe just never know what he'll be nit-picky about next!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Charles de Gaulle Airport

I'm back in France. Yes, crazy.

My Dad and I talked it out and now that he's stable (God is good) and is onto a future of recovery and clinical trials at UCSF, Jared and I are back in school/externship and for me that means hitting the ground running again at La Fontaine aux Perles in Rennes, France.

To get back I went SFO to Dallas, Dallas to Charles de Gaulle (Paris), bus to train station (over 1 hr.) and then a 2 hr. train ride to Rennes. Forgetting everything else, I'd like to fill you in on Charles de Gaulle.

The airport is HORRIBLE. I would say avoid it at all costs if you have the choice, especially if you're traveling alone since there won't be anyone to share the misery with. After experiencing the airport a few times now I think of it as a massive concrete structure full of confusing signs, construction, taxis/buses/cars and a number of different languages being spoken at once.
A few months ago my Dad and his work buddy came to France on business and I received this email from him speaking of Charles de Gaulle:

"This airport has been solely designed to make you appreciate everywhere but here. Someone could use it as a case study for mass confusion...Amir is walking as though someone put a bag over his head and spun him around...and that's every 10th step. You can't find the restrooms, let alone the gates...oh, you thought you were in the correct TERMINAL!?...yeah, get on a bus and go to the next city! I asked 2 people who WORK HERE for directions...forget shook his head and the other looked as though she were about to cry."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

The good news is I'm sitting in the apartment right now that Gina found while I was away (what a trooper) safe and sound listening to the rain patter on the roof. Back to the grind....stories from the kitchen soon to come.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Update 101

I am so grateful for family and friends, diligent prayer warriors and the wealth of support my family and I have received since hearing the news about my Dad.
Thank you so much.

Here are some facts of the current situation:

1. My Dad had a successful surgery and now has a scar with tons of staples on the right side of his head and it's shaped like a giant staple. Pretty ironic right?

2. He is still hopeful for getting better, still trusting in the Lord for healing, and still cracking jokes. He is an inspiration.
(He was taking a pain med called "norco" and insisted on calling it a "bronco" so he could tell the nurses he wanted to "ride the bronco into the sunset")

3. He has more friends than I ever thought imaginable and they all care so so so much. What a blessing. I guess he's kind of a big deal at work...
(actually, funny story, last night one of his old co-workers came in and after recognizing one another in the elevator we did a half hug with a side kiss that I didn't know was we ended up brushing lips and basically almost getting to first base. awesome)

4. Purell must be making a fortune these days in the hospital market...shoot, everyday I read the sign outside the door that tells me to "gel in and gel out."

5. We're continuing to pray the swelling in my Dad's brain goes down so they don't have to go in and drain it themselves...and that he'll get into a clinical trial at UCSF

6. I'm officially in the Bay Area for an unknown period of time. France will still be there when all this is over with their quirky habits, weird store hours and cobblestone roads. Until then, here is a picture I took in Rennes a few weeks ago at a flower shop that I the wooden ladder, love the buckets and love the sign.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Rennes, France

I once heard those who built cathedrals in the past made them large so people would feel small and recognize God's power through that. If you've ever been in a huge one you know the feeling I'm talking about.

In times of struggle I think it's necessary to remember that we are small and powerless without the hand of God. He is the only one capable of providing the strength we need.

"In the day when I cried out,
You answered me,
And made me bold with
strength in my soul."

- Psalm 138:13

My family is struggling right now with news my Dad is sick with cancer. Will you pray that God would heal him and that His glory would be revealed through that? I not only believe in the power of prayer but also that every prayer counts.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

the Bib

My Dad and Andrea came to France on vacation and just so happened to be here at the exact time Gina and I needed a car from Brest to Rennes to move all of our stuff. I know, what are the odds right?
We went to a restaurant where everything on the outside was green including the big green sign with the restaurant name I can't recall, over-sized green awnings, and green something else I also can't remember....perhaps it was the deck chairs? We fell upon it after being rejected at "le Wok" the night we got into Rennes and instead of noodle woks and pieces of sushi we had a great meal of seafood, glasses of champagne and white wine, dessert platters of everything delicious and laughter, LOTS of laughter...
I ordered lobster and unbeknown to me it came with being the laughing stock of the table and quite possibly the entire restaurant.

This man brought two live lobsters to our table after I ordered it and insisted I choose one to eat, calling one Herbert and the other some other strange name.
Then right before bringing the cooked beast out of the kitchen he adorned me with this cloth lobster print bib. I tried to have fun with it but I couldn't hold back my mortified expression. I didn't find out later til Gina showed me this picture that he was making that face. After he left I quickly took the ridiculous bib off and shoved it in my lap to use as a second napkin. Little did Mr. Smiley know I had cooked, cracked and cleaned over a half dozen crabs a few days prior....didn't need the bib then and definitely didn't need it now buddy.

He also told us later he's an artist. With his broken French he managed to explain that he only paints radishes. He was wearing a radish tie, had a radish print on his business card and pointed to one of his paintings in the restaurant that had multiple boxes of radishes in different colors. My question is, why radishes?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gem of Fleur de Sel

La Fleur de Sel proved un-educative and not a good fit for me or Gina, BUT....
I walked away with a few good dessert recipes since I had to be on that station for most of the time I was there. My favorite was their soft caramel that blew me away. It's a bit soft but if you keep it in the fridge it's perfect. Here's the beloved recipe...I would venture to say putting some Maldon sea salt on top would make it magnificent.

La Fleur de Sel's Soft Caramel
200 g. glucose
1332 g. sugar
666 g. heavy cream, warmed
1066 g. butter, salted or unsalted...just be sure to add salt if you use unsalted butter

*amount is good for a 9x11 pan size or similar

1. Put glucose and sugar in heavy saucepan and put over medium/high heat. Stir and cook until it turns a dark brown/golden color
2. Put warmed cream slowly into pot and stir vigorously (it will bubble like crazy..just keep stirring)
3. Put back on stove and cook until it reaches about 300 degrees Farenheit (145 Celcius), stirring consistently
4. Take off the heat and add in chunks of the butter while continuing to stir and emulsify
5. Pour into mold and let cool
6. Keep in fridge and bring out when you want to eat it. Great if you cut into squares or diamonds and wrap in waxed paper as little treats!

They're Delicious, beware. Worth the effort and though you'll probably have to buy a candy thermometer, I think it's worth it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Je T'aime BREST....


Alright, I'm going to be real with you on this confession today is this...I haven't been honest with you about where I've been and how I'm doing over here in all. So, here it goes:

Brest is terrible. It is actually known as the "armpit of France." When we told our friends in Paris about where we were going they all gave us strange looks and questioned why we would go to such a place..."really? do know there are NO Americans in Brest and you know, it's the armpit of France...?"
Well, we thought that was just a dramatization by Parisians so we came here not expecting the armpit, rather maybe an elbow or a knee or something.
Turns out the Parisians were right. It IS the armpit. Fully and completely. I would equate it to a Modesto or a Bakersfield...but WORSE (no offense to anyone from those towns). Seriously...there is construction everywhere, people are still depressed from the war (WWII) and there is close to no history since it was all destroyed from the war. Sad but true. So sad actually.

From the beginning I've been "disappointed in humanity." I know that sounds dramatic but it's true. I've been sad about the people here. I feel like superficiality is taking over me and I'm drowning in a pool of it. The people at La Fleur de Sel were pretty challenging and unwilling to accept that women can be key players in the kitchen...and from what we experienced, their attitude towards externs in general didn't get better with time. But enough about that.


You want to know why? Remember my post a few days ago about Rennes? Well, I'm moving there!!!! the beautiful town of Rennes. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am. God is so amazing...He has orchestrated the entire thing. I am so grateful.

Gina and I are starting work a week from today in a Michelin Star restaurant called Le Fontaine aux Perles. We're beginning our entire 18 week externship over but you know what, it's WORTH it, SOOOO worth it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Brest Farmers Market

This little girl is the perfect picture of a French woman in the making; wearing a beret, leaning against the cheese case at the Farmer's Market and staring off into the street of vendors with an inquisitive look. I had to be sneaky about this picture so she didn't think I was a creeper. Isn't she adorable?

Other delights that caught my eye at the Market...

The butter from Brittany (left) is absolutely phenomenal. Gina and I eat it like cheese...big slabs on slices of delicious Bannette bread. This particular butter came from the cheese store at the Market and was the best, saltiest, creamiest butter in the whole world.