30 Days of Happiness: The Best Omelette You’ll Ever Taste

I came home from a workout earlier in the week and decided that eating everything in the fridge was a good idea. Behold, my mammoth tortilla omelette, inspired by the delicious Spanish tortillas I ate in Italy.

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You’ll note that there’s no tortilla bread in the photo. A traditional Spanish tortilla is not, in fact, the magical flat bread you use to hold your burritos together. Rather, it is a cake of fried potatoes piled high and held together with egg in a firm cornbread-like shape.

I started by frying two thinly sliced potatoes and some onion in a swimming pool’s worth of oil. After they were fully cooked and evenly spaced in the pan, I poured in two beaten eggs, added a handful of spring lettuce (this negates any unhealthiness in the rest of the dish), and piled on the emmental cheese for a bit of French flavor. I prefer my eggs runny, so I only cooked it on one side and ate it open-faced, allowing the top to remain deliciously wiggly.

And voila: a francophile’s take on the classic Spanish picnic food. This omelette was its own full meal, thanks to the potatoes. The crispy potato skins and slightly burnt onion bits added some texture to an otherwise basic breakfast. Seriously, I noshed down the whole thing in about five minutes and was painfully full but oh so very satisfied. Try it out and tell me what you add to make this dish your own. Buen provecho! 

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Bon Appétit: The End Of The Meal

We have finally reached Day Five: the final day of our Bon Appétit series here on Kaycee En Route.

If you’ve made it this far with me, I congratulate and thank you! Seriously, it means a lot that so many of you have come back day after day to read and comment on this project.

This week, we’ve seen that the French live up to their stereotype of taking long, luxurious breaks for multi-course meals, even in school cafeterias. Old-fashioned dishes are still far more common than quick sandwiches and the like in the country of haute cuisine. Even though fast food has officially invaded France and obesity is slowly increasing across the country, the French still manage to be some of the healthiest people on the planet by staying loyal to their tradition of taking the time to enjoy real food.

Children learn that spending time with friends in communion is a vital part of every day. Students sit down to small round tables and face their classmates. They pick up real silverware at the front of the lunch line and serve each other from pitchers of water, the only beverage offered to the kids (teachers get wine and coffee, too). The setting and presentation of the meal is nearly as important as the food itself. All of these details add up to a more familial experience, teaching young Frenchies that les petits bonheurs of life really do matter.

As far as the content of the actual plates is concerned, your grandmother was right to say “In all things, moderation”. The majority of the dishes you’ve seen this week have been fresh, locally sourced vegetables and grains, but they were usually swimming in a fair amount of butter. (Keep in mind, everyone else’s plate had some form of meat, as well.) All but the strictest of dieters take a dessert every day. The French enjoy their meals-they don’t feel guilty about eating delicious food or taking the time out of their workday to do so. By allowing themselves that break, they will be happier and the rest of their day will be more productive. They take just as much time to walk around town with friends, spend time with family, and profit from all of the best of life, thereby maintaining a more positive state of mind and overall health. The perfect adjective for the meals and lifestyles that are promoted in France is equilibré: balanced. 

Here, it seems like you really can have your cake and eat it, too.

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Entrée: clementines
Plat Principal: mixed vegetables in soy sauce and multicolored rice
Fromage: brie and an apple
Dessert: coconut cake

In honor of the Chinese New Year, today was Vaguely Asian Day in the cantine. Yes, it looks as though the school must have gotten a great deal on carrots this week, but I really don’t mind. The rice was a wonderfully flavorful departure from my usual pasta, and the soy sauce was enough to stave off my Japanese-food-detox shakes for a few more weeks. More important than the food, though, was that I took the advice from the French and savored every moment. I spent a full hour sitting in the cafeteria, listening to my colleagues gossip about students and stacking each finished plate onto another with that satisfying little *tac*. After I pushed my chair back and wished the group an enjoyable fin de repas, I joined my fellow English teachers in the staffroom to sip on our usual tea like the geeky Anglophiles that we are. In the end, it’s less about the dishes served and more about the enjoyment of the most mundane of things: a meal among friends.

Again, thanks for taking the time out of your day to read this series. I hope you enjoyed it, and t’hesite pas to send me any suggestions or questions in the comments! And of course, don’t forget to take a moment to do as the French do and enjoy a bite with loved ones today; whether you include the camembert is up to you.

Bon Appétit: No Meat, Please

Merry Mercredi, everyone!

Being a vegetarian in France is usually no big deal. Once I go through the typical script of “No meat. Yes, fish is meat. Yes, other seafood is meat. Yes, bacon is meat. Yes, chicken is also meat. Meat means animal. If it is an animal, I don’t eat it unless it’s a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience. Yes, really.” people usually understand and I do just fine with pasta, veggies, and all sorts of other delicious dishes. At the school cantine, it took several days of saying “Je ne prends que des legumes, s’il vous plait” before the servers caught on to my diet. Now, when the chefs see me coming, the call echoes down the line. “La petite végétarienne arrive!”

As you’ve seen from the past two days, I have no trouble finding enough food at lunchtime and generally am more than satisfied with the many options before me.

The exception to the rule is Wednesdays.

Every Wednesday across this fair country, all elementary schools are closed and high schools have half days. Because most kids are running for home by 11:55 AM, the cafeteria offers a limited menu to the remaining boarding students and teachers, usually made up of leftovers from the previous day. For the few vegetarians and vegans around here, that means plain grains and less-than-filling meals that frequently lack a protein. In fact, I tend to skip the cantine lunch on Wednesdays, but I wanted my dear readers to see the difference.

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Entrée: cucumber salad
Plat Principal: macaroni noodles in tomato sauce; green beans
Fromage: camembert
Dessert: caramel cake with whipped cream

It’s easy to see the origins of today’s meal: green beans from yesterday’s side and macaroni that was first bought for Monday’s lunch. It might be less than beautifully presented, but these dishes were still surprisingly yummy and relatively filling, though my rumbling belly would have probably been content with sawdust this afternoon. The green beans reminded me of home, even though they weren’t quite as salty as my family would have liked. (That’s probably a good thing.) Having had camembert cheese three times in as many days, I’m starting to hope for a nice chevre or even emmental for tomorrow. The one thing our cafeteria always gets right is the dessert; the gooey chewy melty caramel cake was perfection on a fork.

Do you have any dietary concerns that some people just don’t understand? Gluten-free or vegan people would have a very hard time here in the land of bread and cheese.

Bon Appétit: A 5-Day Series

I’ve written about how much I love French food, and (let’s be honest) food in general quite a bit over the past few years, and you’ve seen more than a few pictures of my most memorable meals.

This week, the blog will feature a series of food posts, and I’ll be showing you exactly what I get to eat every day at my school’s cantine, or cafeteria. We’ll look at several cafeteria food-related subjects and discuss more of the French school system in general. I hope you’re excited to see more of this gourmande’s daily nosh fest.

Be sure to come back here every day this week for another update! Bon Appétit!

Day One: An Introduction To The French Lunch

Day Two: My American Lunch Experience

Day Three: No Meat, Please

Day Four: Paying For It

Day Five: The End Of The Meal

What I’m Thankful For

Happy [day after] Thanksgiving!

As cheesy as it sounds, the best part of Thanksgiving really is being with loved ones. For many people, including myself, Thanksgiving is the only occasion I have to see most of my extended family during the year. Though it can occasionally be a little awkward to make conversation with the third cousins whose names I absolutely never remember, it’s still great. Plus, I love having an excuse to doze on the couch and watch a Law And Order: SVU marathon with my brother, pretending to help my parents in the kitchen, and taking the time to listen to my grandparents’ amazing stories.

So of course, I knew it would be difficult to be away from my family for the holiday. Luckily, I’ve formed a pretty wonderful family of friends in Normandy, and we managed to have a perfectly fantastic Thanksgiving all by ourselves. Two Americans, three Brits, and one Spaniard came to my apartment for an all-afternoon feast, and it was far more successful than I could ever have imagined.

Taking a page from my dad’s book, who has always taken great care to slice my toast diagonally before transferring it to the final plate, I went for decoration as the key to the meal’s presentation. I spent the whole morning spiffing up my apartment with my meager supplies and making the eensy kitchen suitable for a dinner party.

Each person had their own hand-drawn place setting.

Each person was greeted with their own hand-drawn place setting.

As previous posts have detailed, I’m no cook and have certainly never prepared a Thanksgiving meal, but the other two Americans and I took on the chief roles of organizing the menu for our almost-not-quite-traditional dinner. Confronted with the task of creating classic American flavors with French ingredients for a mostly vegetarian group, I’d say we did pretty well. We stuffed our faces with a meal for the record books: the aptly named stuffing, sweet potatoes with goat cheese gratin, melt in your mouth brussels sprouts, green bean casserole with mushroom sauce, fluffy mashed potatoes, caramelized sweet onion pastries…the list goes on.

The closest thing to fitting it all in one picture

The closest thing to fitting it all in one picture

It was nearly impossible to save room for dessert, but we managed to suffer through it. We spent several hours laughing around the table, telling past Thanksgiving stories and sharing jokes between sips of mulled wine. As everyone waddled to the door with their belts loosened and pants buttons popping, we decided that a reunion Thanksgiving dinner would have to happen in the future, no matter where we all may be living at the time.

Pumpkin, chocolate, and apple pies being cut simultaneously by professionals

Pumpkin, chocolate, and apple pies being cut simultaneously by true professionals

As I fell into bed shortly after midnight, having named my food baby (Patata) and planned her entire future (pastry chef and freelance caterer to the stars, married at 28 to a veterinarian with 3 cats), I couldn’t help but smile. The days of preparation were completely worth seeing the non-Americans taste their first bite of pumpkin pie. This year, even though I can’t be with my blood family, I’m thankful to have found a group of people with whom I can share some of the best things in life: food and friendship.

The best part: the Black Friday leftover sandwich

The finale: the Black Friday leftover sandwich, featuring French baguette

Reasons Why Veganism Is Impossible In France

This is becoming a food blog, and I refuse to apologize for it.

An easy meal I’ve made multiple times recently is roasted zucchini (or other types of winter squash) and mushrooms. Can we take a moment to laud the gloriousness that is mushrooms? Wrought from dirt and damp, the humble mushroom grows into a meaty, creamy wonder that fills the stomach with warmth and happiness. They’re my new favorite food.

zucchini and a bit of olive oil, ready to go into the oven

zucchini and a bit of olive oil, ready to go into the oven

I lined up an entire sliced zucchini on an olive oil-drizzled pan and popped it into the oven, then got started on my mushrooms. After they’d been cooking on high in a pat of butter for five minutes or so, I turned down the heat, doused them in crème fraiche, and let them cook down even further. Hey, we’re in Normandy, people. Butter and cream are a major part of the local agriculture. I’m helping the economy. After the cream had turned a beautiful gravy color and the mushrooms looked more like Krispy Kreme original glazed than vegetables, I sprinkled some parmesan on my roasting zucchini, and turned the broiler on. Two minutes later and my meal was ready!

The final plate: mushrooms in cream sauce and parmesan-roasted zucchini

The final plate: mushrooms in cream sauce and parmesan-roasted zucchini

I’m counting this as a halfway healthy meal and a vegetarian success. The cooking journey continues!

Forget Diamonds; Carbs Are This Girl’s Best Friend

My most recent culinary experiment turned out rather delicious, I must say. Pasta isn’t exactly difficult to make, but I was proud that I made my very own, completely homemade sauce!

My first course was the final cup of lentil-veggie broth that I made last week by boiling up all my vegetable scraps.

For the vegetarian pasta sauce, I began by browning half of a small onion in a tablespoon-ish of oil. I added three tomatoes and let it cook down for almost an hour. A roughly chopped handful of mushrooms was added to the mix, and that was it! Salt and pepper to taste, of course. I cooked up some farfalle pasta and reached for my handy baguette, and dinner was ready.

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Beyond basic, almost healthy, and delicious. If I can do it, anyone can.