And it usually works like that: let's fill up on as much food as I possibly can!
As you probably read here, I did have a lot of amazing food, more than you could dream of in a single weekend. And yes, there also was a gigantic dish of paella at le retour du mariage (the day after the wedding when we all meet again and wish the new couple a happy honeymoon).
But after a frantic food weekend, the question is: how much more can I possibly bring back home with me? (I should probably mention that Ireland is really 'home' for me now)
Well, I just filled the suitcase with as many things as I could. Well... as long as it was not too heavy (people living in Ireland will know what I mean here when I say that some flying companies around here will really annoy you for every gram above the limit). Plus, I am lucky to have someone who helps me carry my portable 'food pantry'.
So far, having lived in Australia and Ireland, I always have adapted my cooking to what I can find. You don't actually need to have proper French ingredients around to make a French dish.
But bringing back food is always something I do. I usually only bring back things I cannot find here, things that mean something to me, and things that even though I can find it here easily, it always feels like it tastes different because I brought it back myself from the actual country (Tayto crisps, Barry's Tea, Vegemite, TimTams, etc. lovers can probably understand what I mean by that).
So what did I bring back in my big suitcase?
Above, in the photo, you can see Fleur de sel de Guérande (salt flower). It can be added to a caramel butter sauce, to tiny baby potatoes after they are cooked, to a salad. It is not usually added during the cooking process, because it is such a delicate salt.
There is a great variety of chocolat à cuisiner (cooking chocolate) in France. I tend to stick to the very dark chocolate for cakes and gânaches. Once in a while though, I try to bring back some praline cooking chocolate, it's delicious and I usually end up eating it on its own (don't worry, I do slap my hand in the process).
This time, I found a beautiful fairtrade organic dark chocolate spread. It will be a big change from the usual famous hazelnut one that I have not bought in ages (because once again, I tend to only eat it on its own - insert blushing cheeks here).
In the suitcase, I also added two boxes of financiers. They are the Bonne Maman ones with almonds, and the second box was chocolate and orange. I can really cook this kind of things by myself, but E. adores les financiers Bonne Maman ('bon moman' as he says) so we bring some back every time (he carries the suitcase, fair deal!).
The other biscuits I brought back this time are les Chamonix. They are a spongy biscuit with an orange jam inside, covered in a sugary orange glaze. I don't really know why but I developed an obsession with those while in Australia and could not get my hands on a single one (sending them would have been bad, they would have been completely crushed). Now, I finally have them after more than 4 years!
Now, what you can see below is le Petit Beurre LU from Nantes. It is a plain butter biscuit. It is very addictive. The idea is to eat all the corners delicately (and I love it as they are cooked a bit more on the edges), and then take a big bite. Sometimes, I think they would do incredible s'mores! You can find a huge amount of recipes that use le Petit Beurre.
In the photo below, you can see les graines de moutarde (mustard seeds). I have never used them in this dry version and I really wanted to give it a try. So far, I have used them crushed as a rub with other ingredients for a roast chicken (yes, I only came back late last weekend so yes too, we had a Tuesday chicken roast, let's make things a bit different around here!). They are wonderful and give such a beautiful aroma.
I also picked up tins of sardines à l'huile (sardines with oil). And those in particular are Millesime, just like for a fancy wine. I don't how people treat sardines here but in France, some people are very particular about their tins. They buy it, hide them somewhere in their pantry and will keep them for a few years (and they don't forget to turn the tin on its other side every few months). I think this is purely for sardines collectors (oh yes! There is such a thing!). Mine will probably be eaten soon as I don't have this kind of patience with food (wine yes, but not food!).
They are slices of filet mignon de porc fumé (smoked pork filet mignon). It is so exquisite! In a 'melt in your mouth' kind of way. The texture is very similar to the one of smoked salmon. But then, obviously, you get an amazing flavour of smoked pork. Whenever you go to France, you really have to try that! At first, my mother was only getting it from the market, but she realised that some supermarkets are also starting to sell it.
On the top left, they are slices of magret de canard fumé (smoked duck magret). Duck is my favourite meat. And I am quite lucky because the town where I am from in France is very famous for its duck (the Challans duck is even served at La Tour d'Argent and Le Jules Verne in Paris). When I go back there, I can practically find duck in every possible way (even duck lardons).
The magret slices are so lovely, you can eat them cold obviously but it is also really great to heat them up in a frying pan (with no added fat at all) and add them to a salad (a simple one with oak leaf lettuce, a few walnuts and a delicate vinaigrette).
Beside it, on the top, is my favourite cheese of all times: le Saint Nectaire!
It comes from the region Auvergne in the centre of France (where the volcanic area is, you can also go skiing there, it's a great place for that!).
I just cannot explain how good this cheese is, you need to taste it to see for yourself. It has a slight hazelnut flavour in it. I love it's creaminess too, so much so that I prefer eating it on its own (no baguette, no crackers involved here).
I was very lucky to be able to find it when I lived in Melbourne (it's a pasteurised cheese so it helps). It can smell quite strong, and it came in very handy to keep our nieces at bay there when we wanted some quiet movie time between adults (we would just put a slice on a plate on top of the stairs, they just refused to go pass it).
Now, just below it is more cheese: Comté and Bleu d'Auvergne (blue cheese from the same region as the Saint Nectaire). The idea of the photo here is to show you the way I bring the cheese back from France. Because French cheese stinks, it is a reality (no reason to lie about it). There is no way you are going to bring that back in your carry-on luggage.
So the clever thing to do is to buy your cheese in a supermarket (nothing bad about that, some French supermarkets have an incredible display of fresh produce). Then, hopefully, you will always find a lovely staff at a cheese counter who will agree to vacuum pack your cheeses. And don't forget to give them your biggest smile!
Also, I am aware of the position of some of you regarding foie gras but we have an expression in France that says 'Les goûts et les couleurs, cela ne se discute pas' (literally 'tastes and colours are not to be discussed').
French expats do need that little bit of food indulgence once in a year while they think about their families celebrating together far away from them.
I hope you get to bring back some of those things in your suitcase the next time you go to La Belle France.