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.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Jon left yesterday morning at 5:15 after his close to two week stay. Felt more like a blink of an eye if you ask me.

When I think of his visit here I will picture this and remember he and Gina throughout the night fumbling for covers, readjusting and waking up with sore hips, shoulders and backs.

I will also remember him begging us to make huevos rancheros since he had been craving it. He saw the picture of the one we had made before.
That got me thinking I should probably start posting more food related posts on my blog since "culinary" is in the, I will try and for now start with this.

It's a small, easy snack we made while Jon was here
We grilled halved figs, quartered them, stuffed them with blue cheese and drizzled them with balsamic reduction and seasoned with just salt and pepper. The balsamic reduction is balsamic vinegar and sugar reduced to a light syrup. We served the small morsels with crostini and it turned out to be quite delectable.
It helps if the figs and cheese are fresh, preferably from a French Farmers Market ;-) since they're the star and if you don't have a grill you can quickly sear them on the stove top to get a crispy outside.

I should also mention Jon almost burned our flat down one day while we were at work. There were apparently foot high flames and he thought about what he was going to bring down the stairs if everything actually caught on fire. Whoa. Here is a picture of he and the burnt coffee maker. When asked what started the fire he said "50 Hz," which is the voltage here coming out of the electrical plugs. He spent two hours cleaning up the black film that had covered our entire kitchenette. We still find traces of it when we're cooking.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Yesterday I went to Rennes....again.

Just for the day, Gina, Jon and I headed out in the morning after scrambling our things together and running, literally running, to the train station to catch it before it left. (France prides themselves on their amazing train system..they're ALWAYS on time)

I can't actually say what we did there EXACTLY since...I'd have to kill you, but I will reveal it sometime soon when all is settled.

A few things we did do: road around in Carlos' royal blue mini coup, squished beyond belief in the backseat feeling like we were in The Italian Job, saw Rennes in a new light being as we "brought the stormy weather from Brest," puddled through Carlos' old stomping grounds where he first lived and ate one of the best almond croissants of my life...and became perplexed at the croissant he consumed across from me filled with chocolate AND almond filling (over the top?), and lastly, learned that my brain can only handle so much and that I need to give myself time to breathe and time to be alone and time to pray.

The rest of the details will be spilled later...and no, I did not meet my husband.

These two were invaluable yesterday...without them Gina and I would be lost beyond belief. Thanks to Carlos for learning French the 10 months he's been here and thanks to Jon's mother, Linda Brandt, for forcing 13 years of French lessons on the young lad.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spectacular Rennes

I headed out to a town called Rennes this past weekend with Gina and Jon and seriously had my life changed.
I thought we were just going on a humble trip to watch their friend play in a small soccer game and it turns out we were in the presence of a real celebrity throughout our entire stay, not to mention in the cutest town ever. Gina and I are in love with the place. I didn't think Carlos was that well known until we went to the crepe restaurant in town and saw "Le Carlos" on the menu. We went there to eat and three our of the four of us ordered it...props to Carlos, it was a delicious combination of ingredients.

Our picnic lunch on the train, which, unfortunately, was cut short when two old ladies came over and booted us out of our seats claiming them as their own. Who knew people were such sticklers here about assigned seating?

Gina and I got pretty into this soccer game-- Saint-Etienne vs. Stade Rennais (we rooted for these guys)
The crowd was CRAZY.. People actually got out flares!

posing with the cool cat on the empty field

This is the view from the room Gina and I stayed in at Carlos' beautiful!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Big Fall

"Ya'll better watch out when you start work at La Fleur de Sel, the stairs that go down to the dry storage/everything room are so steep and small, I fell down them, split my head open and had to be rushed to the hospital one of the first days I worked there." This is what Nathan told us before we began work and though I took his story seriously, I knew I would be cautious, and I'm no 19 year old boy who takes risks leaping down stairs...I was sure Gina and I would be fine.

First week of work, day four I believe, Gina came up to me during service with a serious face and told me she had just fallen down the stairs. "Are you okay?" "Ya, I only fell down the last third of the way so I'm fine but I pulled the right side of my body from grabbing the bar with my arm. It all started with me trying to grab that white wire thing on my way down...don't grab it, it doesn't hold you up." Cool, some more advice from another victim, I won't grab the white thing and I'll watch my head. Done.

Two days later at the end of service Nicoli, one of the cooks, threw a carton of eight eggs in my arms and told me to bring them down to the fridge, "pleees!"
I grabbed them and with just a tiny bit of sarcasm said, "Gladly!!"
I opened the white door to the dungeon, stepped once with my left foot, went to step two with my right foot and caught my slippery arch and lost it. Totally lost it all the way down, on my butt, elbows to the rails, eggs in the air and for the finale at the bottom I knocked over two cases of Evian glass water bottles. All I could do was laugh and make sure I was still in tact before I heard Gina's voice from upstairs yelling down to make sure I was okay. "Ya, I'm fine" I said laughing and gasping for breathe, "I just wish you had my camera to get a picture of this!" My final position after falling was straddling the bottom handle bar. There were eggs in every direction broken on the ground and Evian bottles all over the floor. I think I took the cake for loudest fall.
Gina told me later that they heard the whole fall from the kitchen and everyone looked up at one another with horror at what could have happened.

I have images of the fall and get little butterflies in my stomach right before I go down those stairs the sixty times a day that I do but I'm oober careful now....oober oober oober careful.

It was two days ago and I'm pretty sore at this point with a big bruise on my left elbow that if touched doesn't stop shooting pain for a good couple minutes and a less intense bruise on my right elbow with a fatty bump. I'm healing though and according to Gina I played the tough card at work so that's a relief. Number one rule, don't let them know your weakness....ever.

the back of my feet are touching the stair...this is really how far they hang off...and no, my feet aren't giant.

The pole I straddled

Aint she a beauty?

Monday, September 7, 2009


Gina: "Vanessa you gotta try this! You just take them off the rock and eat them right out of the shell! I just ate one. They're called Branic."

Me: "Ummm...ya, but Gina, you love oysters and stuff and I don't really so...maybe I wouldn't like it."

Gina: "No you will, you HAVE to try it! Come on! You're supposed to be a chef."

Felippe: "What are you a city girl Vanessa?"

Me: "Fine, give it to me."

(try your best to ignore my double chin through this sequence)

You can see what came of it.
After this scene I found out Gina had spit hers out too and failed to mention it to me when forcing it down my throat. What a friend!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bird House or Black Market Pet Store?

I'll let you decide on what it is....

This is the door I see everyday I leave my flat to walk the three flights of stairs down to the street, where I'm greeted with a "brest tattoo" parlor and vacant stripper store. Never mind all the smells.

My wonder of this door began when we started hearing bird was pretty off and on at first so we thought nothing of it but when we heard a distinct chirp while walking down the stairs one day we knew it was for real. I automatically assumed someone was using the room as a bird house and found out later Gina thought the window inside the room was open and birds flew in and out making their own natural bird house. Either way it's super weird and borderline creepy.

Oh yes, and it's incredibly annoying...I think the annoying factor heightens everyday we're here. Yep, their chirpin' right now and I would bet money when I go to sleep tonight I'll hear them question is what the heck are they doing and will they leave my life in the near future?

Yesterday Gina and I noticed the bottom of the stairway not smelling as terrible and had hopes of the smell lasting all the way up to our flat. Nope, right when we got to the bird door it was nothin' but pet store and pee...all day long. Nothing can hide that smell and I'm not kidding when I say it slaps you in the face every time you pass it. It's that gross.

Gina actually had the audacity to ask me to put my nose up to the door and smell it. Excuse me? Not in a million years after seeing her face after she did it. Apparently she had to know if the smell was really coming from that door. I've never had a doubt in my mind.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Windy Brittany

Windy Lannilis, if you want to get specific.
Yesterday Gina and I spent the day with a French couple from St. Helena Gina met before our trip in their hometown of Lannilis, Brittany. Felippe, the husband, picked us up at 10:30 am from our flat in Brest and drove us the twenty five minutes over to the most charming town I've seen in France. He did an excellent job of filling our day with Brittany-worthy activities.

Their little house on the looks small but it had four bedrooms

View from their living room!

Heading down into the German bunker right outside their house

Check out these OLD hinges...Can you believe people lived in these things?

You may not be able to tell, but I could wring my hair out it was so soaked

"No, you won't need medicine for sea sickness, it's calm today!" -Felippe (above)
"Ya right, says the Brittany native! Girls, take the pills." -Pierrette

We sat and had cafe with Brittany's famous pastry, saw the store where Felippe was born, went crabbing in Felippe's fathers old boat on the WINDY and CHOPPY ocean (Gina and I got drenched, to say the least), had a crab feast with Pierrette's (wife) families sparkling wine from Burgundy, took naps on the fluffy grass of their front yard with blankets and coats and received a walking tour around their property from Felippe, showing us the landscape of this historic place. Their home is on a German bunker that connects to other bunkers around the area through tunnels. So fascinating! From their house you can see the tallest lighthouse in Europe, which looks more like a monument it's so large. It was absolutely amazing.

I wish they were vacationing for the next few months we'll be here but they're actually leaving Saturday to go back home to sunny, English speaking Napa Valley. Not sure if they realized how much they brightened our day.