Category Archives: Drinking

Speculoos City

Most cafés in Northeast France serve a Belgian Speculoos biscuit with every tea or coffee you order. While you can find Speculoos throughout the country, it’s more at home in Lorraine, which shares a border with Belgium as well as the holiday of Saint Nicolas, when bakeries produce giant Speculoos cookies in the shape of the good saint. Whenever I was served a coffee in another region of France and received a chocolate chip cookie, it was a bitter disappointment.

The cookie is a basic spice cookie, which sounds plain but is completely addictive. I’ll prove it!! The flavor is so popular at the moment that you can buy gazillions of speculoos-flavored treats: cereal, pudding, toasts, spreads, and pastries. The spread is at least as deadly as Nutella. I don’t drink espresso all that often in the States, but some clever friends knew that when I did I would feel sad without that Speculoos on the side, and bought me a cookbook to make them at home, along with a ton of other dishes (speculoos pie crust, speculoos tiramisu with chevre and figs, apple/almond speculoos soufflés!) made with the flavor . Continue reading

Bmore Diaries: Pitango Gelato… AFFOGATO

Bastille Day in Baltimore dawned dark and pouring rain; actually kind of fitting for a girl who is trying to get back to the very rainiest and foggiest part of France. By 10 a.m. the clouds had rolled away, leaving a fresh breeze which lightened up our French-speaking picnic at Fort McHenry. A friend from New Jersey came down to meet me afterward and we made our way along the harbor in search of coffee, beer, or ice cream.

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La Maison Forestière

A nearby forest-bound sculpture garden.

The more idyllic the scenery, the harder it is for me to take pictures. That was the case this week when I visited one of my fellow teachers in Hennezel, France. It’s home to less than 450 people and completely surrounded by woods, but somehow cozy anyway. My host’s husband is a forestier; something like a woodsman or a forest ranger, who spends most of his days walking through the woods choosing the best trees to cut down while allowing the forest to prosper. Their house is a “maison forestière” heated entirely by wood with vegetable patches against the lean-to, and blossoming pear trees and lilac bushes.

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Café Culture

Espresso love in Amsterdam.

When Americans get together after work and on weekends, we join for happy hour, diner brunches and baseball and football games in sports bars. Sure we drink coffee, but Europeans cannot get their heads around the fact that there is no concept of meeting in a café during lunch break (what lunch break?) or after work. Just because we’ve exported mediocre coffee chains all over the planet doesn’t mean we have a café culture.

In France I am in a café at least a few times a week. But this weekend I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Amsterdam and am ready to make the controversial statement that the Netherlands has the clear lead in the gold medal race of bar-and-coffee ambience. I should note that this has absolutely no relation to smoking pot: I had actually expected to avoid coffee shops because of smoke clouds; herbal or otherwise. This would have been tragic, because every bar or café we stopped in (three or four daily) was welcoming and warm, and each had a vibe all its own.

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Alsace’s Route du Vin, and “Grandmas Are Awesome”

This is not the first time I’ve said this, nor is it by any means the last. Despite living in a backwoods Bermuda triangle that seems to hold onto locals, I’ve met a number of amazing older women. Women who have lived in Zaïre. Women who moved to London without housing and spent two months hiding under a friend’s bed at night. Women who have bathed in a hot stream with Bjork (really!) and hiked the Camino de Santiago post-retirement.

And last weekend, women in their 80s who speak four languages and can tell you everything on earth about the history of wine, Alsace, and France.

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Bedouin Mint Tea in the White Desert

Cairo last Tuesday was so smoggy that buildings on the other side of the Nile were blurry by 9 a.m. On Wednesday night the White Desert, nearly 250 miles southwest of the capital, was nothing but cool sand, flowing black sky dotted with stars, and silence.

A popular trip out of Cairo is overnight tours of the white and black deserts, and we definitely needed more nature in our vacation. It was only one night tent-less under the open sky with two guides from nearby Bahariya, but it turned out to be one of the more thrilling parts of 10 days in Egypt. The very best part was not hiking or sandboarding, but wandering around the white desert rocks and chatting and laughing in the night around the palm-fed fire.

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An Eggnog Alternative: Sahlep

I decided a few weeks ago that it would be much easier for me to create an entirely different Christmas this year than to try and replicate a Christmas at home with my parents and sisters. It’s impossible, and would probably have left me feeling sadder than if I just let it go. Instead, I ate seafood and champagne French-style on Christmas Eve (otherwise known as a réveillon), my Christmas tree is a pointsettia, and I even went to midnight mass. Peaceful, and landed me some practice singing Christmas carols in French.

In that line of thinking, I decided against making eggnog this week and trekked up to the Turkish grocery stores on Epinal’s hilltop for some Sahlep. Continue reading

Vin Chaud: Some Like it Hot

Strasbourg Christmas Markets, 2011

Christmas markets are my kryptonite. Going home to cook a healthy, cheap dinner takes superhuman power when downtown Epinal emits a fountain of delicious smells: crêpes, waffles, churros, and most noticeably, spiced wine. Vin chaud smells like the holidays: cinnamon, oranges, and liquor in a cozy package.  I’m not surprised that mulled wine is a regional specialty either, as I can’t imagine the Gauls lived in the bitter north for long before turning to hot alcohol. It’s raining cats and dogs in Lorraine, and I’m chilled to the bone some days.

Luckily, it’s easy and cheap to make vin chaud on your stove. Start with a bottle of cheap, relatively dry red wine such as Bordeaux or pinot noir. Mine was a whopping 2€. Add spices. Strain. Drink. Repeat!

Vin Chaud, à la Alsace (adapted from here)
Serves 4
1 bottle of red wine
1/4 to 1/2 c. of brown sugar. I used less, as I don’t enjoy sweet wine.
Zest of one orange
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
1/8 tsp of ginger
1/8 tsp of nutmeg
Optional: two stars of Anise. Once again, I don’t like anise much so I left it out.

You want to heat the wine and spice mixture in a sturdy pot on a very low heat, bringing it just to a light simmer. Five to 10 minutes should be enough, but as you want to serve the wine hot and fresh, leaving it longer won’t make a huge difference (except more might evaporate!) in the taste. Use a wire mesh strainer to clear the chunks before serving to friends.

Happiness and joy, it seems, are dishes best served hot.

Foodies in Lorraine

Lesson learned: if you are going to a food event, especially a food event in France, don’t skip lunch so you have room to taste. There will be champagne tasting, and wine tasting and beer tasting, and it will be a hazardous walk home!

Last Sunday was the Salon de la Gourmandise (just what it sounds like) up on the mountaintop in Epinal. For 3€, I’d be a damn fool to not go and see if I could find some local specialties and try some new foods. Lorraine is best known for a few different products, and none of them are quiche Lorraine:

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Burning Down the House

I’m back in France, and glad to be home! However, I’ve noticed that I acquired a few new addictions in Spain. I’ve already had two cups of strong coffee (though I now wish I owned a hand-operated milk frother), I bought Special K at the store, and I have a strange desire for a post-lunch augardente.

One of my two hosts in Salamanca is a native of Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain that a lot of people would compare to France’s Bretagne: it’s like a mini Scotland with Spanish flavor, and known for its green landscape, seafood, white wine, and augardente, or “firewater.”

Homemade, unlabeled, and gorgeous.

Galacian augardentes are liqueurs made from the remains of grapes, usually the skins and pulp left after making wine. It is then further distilled into one of several variations all based on Augardente de Orujo, the clear, nearly 50 percent alcohol that will knock you off your feet.

The herbas variation is pale yellow and refreshing, made with flowery herbs. I think it tastes more powerful because of the light flavor, but that means it also went well with most meals. Licor cafe, dark brown and thicker, is made with sugar and coffee and was my favorite after late, long lunches. It would be the one I would buy for guests if I had to choose.

Crema, Herbas, Cafe.

My all-time favorite was probably crema, which is made with milk and tastes like Irish liquer without the sickening sweetness. Great for an after-dinner dessert drink. And crema and licor cafe together…me gusta!

I’m not sure that homemade augardente like these are entirely legal. So not only have I been spoiled with the good stuff, I’m not sure where one can buy the equivalent! Come Christmas I might be purchasing something fromElige Tu Vino, which looks like it has real augardente made in Galicia. Yum!