Best of December

Christmas Tree

How are your holidays coming along? Any fun plans for New Year’s Eve? Be sure to check my post on French Holiday Meals, and my 12 Best Food Gifts!

We had such a lovely, quiet Christmas celebration this year. Now that my children are respectively 4 1/2 and almost 2, we are really getting into the magic of it.

In addition to the big-boy bike for Milan (training wheels? who needs them!) and the adorable crochet vegetables and mini dining set for Mika, Maxence and I had a blast hunting for vintage toys from our own childhoods, such as “real” Lego blocks (not the hyper-specialized, imagination-thwarting crap they put out now) and Smurf figurines (I mean Schtroumpfs) with an actual! mushroom! house!.

A Family of Shoes

Currently loving

  1. As part of my Monthly Museum Challenge, I went to the Grand Palais to see the Hergé exhibition all about the creator of Tintin, joining a private guided tour led by the amazing Catherine Rosane of Fred & Kate. I loved the exhibition and Catherine’s insightful take on it, and doodled along gleefully (see below). I am now engrossed in Benoît Peeters’ biography of Hergé, Hergé fils de Tintin.
  2. How to Throw a Dinner Party Like a Parisian, with some of my thoughts thrown in.
  3. In addition to my Monthly Museum Challenge, I’m enriching my life further with a Monthly Poem Challenge: I’ll be choosing a new poem to memorize each month. For years and years I’ve known just two (Mon Rêve familier and Le Dormeur du val), and I’ve just memorized this new one, which jumped up at me in a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal lying around at Aloha Café. I love the idea that by the end of 2017, if all goes well, I’ll know twelve more. Are you in?
  4. Meals at La Mascotte, a wonderful Belle Époque brasserie in Montmartre where the food is excellent and the waiters are genuinely nice.
  5. Our new hand-crafted clay mugs in moss green and yellow, which I found at Amami in Paris. I plan to spend all winter with my hands wrapped around their smooth, soft sides.
My sketch of Hergé's 2CV

My sketch of Hergé’s 2CV

Find my top Paris spots on this map of favorites, and follow me on Instagram to see many more food shots and Paris recommendations throughout the month!

French Holiday Recipes

Gorgeous stove photo courtesy of La Cornue.

Gorgeous stove photo courtesy of La Cornue.

Christmas is just a few days away (not to stress you out or anything) and I was shocked to realize that, in thirteen years of Chocolate & Zucchini, I have never offered an actual post outlining how to host a French holiday meal.

So whether you’re seeking to add a little Frenchness to your holiday celebrations, attending your first bona fide French holiday meal this year, or even hosting one (gah!), let me break things down for you, and suggest some winning French holiday recipes.

Christmas and the New Year

French families get together for a Christmas Eve dinner (le réveillon de Noël), and often there’s a second meal for Christmas Day lunch (not breakfast or brunch), either with the same cast or with a different part of the family.

Christmas is largely celebrated in the home; most restaurants are closed that night for staff members to celebrate with their own family. It is considered an intimate occasion reserved for family members and close family friends, so if you are a guest from outside the family, it’s a big deal. Presents are opened either after dinner on Christmas Eve, or in the morning on Christmas Day.

The French New Year’s Eve (le réveillon du Nouvel An) is often celebrated with friends rather than with family, and it is more of a grown-up occasion. If there are small children, they will be tucked into bed early or allowed to collapse on some couch, but the party is not about them. (Sorry kids.)

Some people go out to dinner on New Year’s Eve, but I don’t know who they are and I wouldn’t want to go with them. In my circle, we are more likely to have a special dinner at someone’s house, and possibly go out later, or just push the furniture and party at home*.

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Stuffed Lumaconi with Butternut Squash and Chestnuts

Stuffed Lumaconi with Butternut and Chestnuts

I will own up to it right then and there: I am an inveterate collector of pasta. Guilty as charged.

In fine food shops and Italian markets, I love to study the different shapes and imagine which will lend themselves to smooth sauces or chunky ones. I love their names (rooster’s crests, radiators, little ears, thimbles), the traditional packaging, and the fact that, for just a few euros, I can treat myself to a package of something novel — not to mention the promise of an easy meal.

Before I had children, I had to rein in my purchases, as my kitchen cabinets overflowed faster that Maxence and I actually ate pasta. But with two young boys who would eat it at every meal if I let them — their dream breakfast is cold leftover pasta, a recessive trait for sure — I am free to buy whatever I please, knowing I will easily find a use for it.

And I recently fell hard for a package of lumaconi, those large snail-shaped pasta sold in big bulging packages that scream “Buy me, I’m special!”

Stuffed Lumaconi with Butternut and Chestnuts - Ingredients

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Swedish Chocolate Balls (Chokladbollar) No-Bake, Vegan

Swedish Chocolate Balls (Chokladbollar)

I discovered chokladbollar, or Swedish chocolate balls, during my blissful trip to Stockholm last month.

The city is peppered with cosy coffee shops that sell coffee, yes, but also pretty little sandwiches, and the kind of wholesome home-style sweets that go so well with a steaming cup of something.

And though each place had a selection all its own, I soon identified a few classics you could count on finding pretty much everywhere: kardemummabullar, the Swedish cardamom rolls (also available in a cinnamon version, and sometimes chocolate or blueberry!), and chokladbollar, ping-pong-sized chocolate balls coated in grated coconut.

What makes chokladbollar especially seductive, beyond the simple presence of, you know, chocolate and coconut, is that they’re made with ground oats. This gives them a lightly nubby texture, and infinitely pleasing nutiness.

Swedish Chocolate Balls (Chokladbollar)

It was love at first bite in a herregud* kind of way. I ate my fill while in Stockholm, and couldn’t get them out of my head once home in Paris. I researched the recipes available out there, created a comparison spreadsheet (yes, I am that kind of person), and found that most of them called for impressive amounts of sugar and butter.

And so, I set out to create a version of my own using coconut oil more moderately instead (nothing against butter, you can use that instead if not vegan), and just the right dose of sugar to round out the other flavors.

Hey, want to see a video?

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Best Books for Francophiles

Best books for Francophiles

So you’ve had a look at my best gifts for French-loving cooks and got some nice ideas from that. But what if a book is the kind of gift you’re after? Here’s a selection of ten books that will delight the francophile on your list, books that transport the reader straight to Paris and around France, in exploration and celebration of French culture.

There’s going to be relatable stories, colorful characters, insightful comments, i-want-to-steal-this prose, laugh-out-loud moments, and of course, excellent food. Are you ready for this?

This is one in a series of themed gift guides I am publishing this week; here’s the complete list of my best gift guides.

The Food and Wine of France: Eating and Drinking from Champagne to Provence
By Edward Behr

The Food and Wine of France

For the past few years it has seemed fashionable to diss French cuisine, to call it dead or (worse! so much worse!) irrelevant. While I think it gave a certain sphere of our gastronomic scene a much-needed kick in the pants, the truth is French cuisine is inventive and exciting as ever. Edward Behr has written this book to make this very argument. From the founding editor of the top-notch independent magazine The Art of Eating, this is both an investigation and a travel journal, full of relatable stories and characters that teach and inspire.

When In French: Love in a Second Language
By Lauren Collins

When in French

Lauren Collins is the Paris correspondent for the New Yorker (I’ll let that sink in for a minute). She has lived in a few different countries, English-speaking and not, and is married to a Frenchman, Olivier. Her book is an exploration of the many ways in which language defines us in love and in life, individually and as a culture. It is supremely well written, with lots of off-beat turns of phrase that take make you laugh out in delight, and I was tickled by the material and observations she presents.

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs
By Elaine Sciolino

The Only Street in Paris

Newly released in paperback, Elaine Sciolino’s book takes the reader on an enchanting walk down one of the most charming, and steepest, streets in Paris: rue des Martyrs. As a local — this is my hood! — I recognized all of its quirks, and learned some fascinating facts though her lively, engaging prose. A must-read for anyone who dreams of adopting a Paris street as their home. Now available in French as well, under the title: La Dernière Rue de Paris.

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