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Gaufres de Chez Meert

22 Apr

Meert, une institution rue Esquermoise

As the cold weather begins to envelop Melbourne this week, I’ve been thinking about Lille. For me, visiting Max’s hometown means a great many things. It means cold weather, sometimes snow. It means comfort food and hot drinks and long, indulgent meals en famille. It also means eating the gaufres de Chez Meert.

It’s no secret that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. From delicate macarons to thick slices of brioche studded with sugar crystals and spread with nutella, visiting Lille is a little bit like a trip to your grandparents house, where all the things that are off limits in normal life are allowed.

When max first told me about the waffles on offer at Chez Meert, I was unenthusiastic. As a child in Australia, waffles came frozen in boxes, and on rare occasions we were allowed to pop one in the toaster and eat it drenched in maple syrup with a scoop of Peter’s vanilla ice cream. Delicious, yes, but not in comparison to all the other finely crafted sweet treats France has to offer. I had also tasted a waffle in Belgium a few months earlier, and whilst I enjoyed the nutella-smeared, whipped cream-adorned concoction, I wouldn’t have returned in a hurry. Max simply shook his head at my reticence and said ‘Tu verra’.

And see, I did.

Gaufres de Chez Meert2

These ‘waffles’ could not be further from those of my childhood, or the one I’d eaten in Brussels. These were long, delicate, pliable tongue-shaped wafers, sandwiched together by an intoxicating vanilla bean paste. They were as moist as other waffles are dry, and require no accompaniments whatsoever, except perhaps a strong espresso to cut through the sweetness.

In the interest of research, I tasted not only their classic flavour, but their speculoos one too. And though we all know how much I love speculoos, I think the classic just wins out in the flavour race.

Getting to eat a gaufres from Chez Meert has long been a treat exclusively reserved for trips to Lille, and the only way to enjoy them back home in Paris’ 9th arrondissement was to buy up big on our last day in Lille and practise extreme self-control on the car ride home.  But, with the 2012 opening of a Meert café in Paris, this is no longer the case.

So be sure to check them out next time you are in Paris, or Lille. You’ll never think of waffles the same way again.

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Chez Meert image courtesy of fred_v on Flickr.
Waffle image courtexy of
bionicgrrrl on Flickr.

Eating Our Way Through February

18 Feb

Champagne

February has been a busy month.

On the 9th we attended the wedding of good friends in Sydney, where we ate, drank and danced the night away. On the 12th we celebrated my 24th birthday with cocktails, sangria and tapas. On the 14th we enjoyed a lovely home cooked meal (even though Max doesn’t believe in Valentines Day) of French champagne and duck confit. On the 16th we parted ways for our respective hens and bucks weekends (both of which involved a great deal of eating and drinking), and on the 23rd, we will be married in a restaurant.

We celebrate the only way we know how – with good food and good wine.

All of this celebrating is well and good, but eating pork belly twice in one week, churros and cupcakes in the same night, and countless glasses of champagne do not a skinny bride make.

Cupcake

Now, truth be told, I am not really concerned with losing x amount of kilos before the big day. I bought a dress that fitted me at my usual, average size. It is a dress that will forgive a kilo or two either side. It is a dress that understands that my love of good food will always trump my desire to look like Miranda Kerr in a bikini.

Many of my already-married friends keep assuring me that with all the last minute stress in the lead up, I’ll drop a few kilos without even noticing.

To this statement I take great exception. I am just not someone who gets busy and forgets to eat. In fact, I don’t think I have ever, in the history of my existence, forgotten to eat. I may have missed a meal somewhere along the line, but I can assure you it wasn’t because it slipped my mind.

Nutella

I get stressed, and busy, and head directly for the Nutella jar, spoon in hand. Or I decide that a packet of neon orange Twisties from the work vending machine are a good choice. Stress does not make me lose weight. And that’s okay.

I fully intend to eat a decent breakfast, morning tea and lunch prior to our afternoon wedding. And at said wedding, I will be sure to enjoy every last bite of canapés, entrée, main, dessert and cake.

It is my ‘big’ day after all!

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Champagne image courtesy of chrischapman on Flickr.
Cupcake image courtesy of shimelle on Flickr.
Nutella jar courtesy of p3nnylan3 on Flickr.

Australia Day

28 Jan

Australian Flag

This weekend we celebrated Australia Day. My morning started off very patriotically, with a cup of lipton tea and a piece of vegemite toast (not that Dick Smith would agree).

Then, I set off for a morning run (okay jog… okay it was a walk…) around Albert Park Lake in an attempt to help offset the eating fest that was to ensue later in the day. I heard faint music travelling across the lake but it wasn’t until I drew closer that I realised what it was. A bagpiper. In a kilt. On Australia Day. How very odd! As I continued with my lap I ran into a group of people dressed up as Australian Surf Lifesavers (complete with thick white zinc) waving flags and shouting ‘Happy Australia Day!’ to everyone who passed.

Bagpiper

My culturally confused national day continued as we set off to our Scottish friends’ house for an Australia Day bbq. My French fiancé wore his Australian flag board shorts and Australian havianas. We sipped beer (Mexican), wine (Italian) and vodka (Russian) as we alternately watched the Australian Open women’s tennis final, and hilarious reruns of a British dating show. We finished our meal with some delightful chocolates (German), before rushing outside to catch a glimpse of the fireworks – a very Australian tradition.

Fireworks

It was a fantastic day, and for my money, thoroughly Australian.

Three years ago, I recall being in Paris on Australia Day. Homesick and keen to introduce Max to some of my own culture, I sought out the only Australian (sort of) restaurant in the city, Kiwi Corner* in the 5th arrondissement. The cute restaurant served a mix of New Zealand, Australian and Pacific flavours, with regional wines to match. On a cold January night, miles from home, it was exactly what I needed.

How did you celebrate Australia Day?

*In writing this post I was sad to learn that Kiwi Corner closed its restaurant doors in December 2011.
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Australian flag image courtesy of thelightinlife on Flickr.
Bagpiper image courtesy of koalie on Flickr.
Fireworks image courtesy of gundy on Flickr.

People Who Own Cake Stands

21 Jan

Baked goods

Lately I’ve developed an infatuation with cake stands. Or to be more precise, the idea of owning a cake stand. Allow me to explain.

I love what cake stands, and by extension, their owners, represent. The elusive and somewhat mystical cake stand owner is a curious creature who is:
a) a regular and talented baker and
b) has enough self-control to exist in close proximity to a large portion of delicious baked goods and not eat it all in one go.

I often fantasize about what my life would be like as one such cake stand owner. I’d wear a lot of frilly aprons, of course (but I’d wear them ironically, not in a repressed housewife kind of way), and I’d bake a tantalising array of gourmet delights. Perhaps I’d prepare an understated fig and almond tart on Tuesday, or an elaborate multi-layer chocolate cake on Sunday.

Apron

I wouldn’t bake out of necessity (though I would believe that baking imperatives exist), or with a particular occasion in mind. I’d bake simply for the joy of it.

Of course, implicit in the cake stand scenario is the notion that I’d also be the kind of person who welcomes a steady stream of friends and family into my home for a cup of tea and something sweet at any given time. And of course, the natural extension of cake stand owning is that I’d be quickly approached by Vogue Living wanting to do a feature on my home.

Fantasy firmly established in my mind, I was about to make the purchase when it occurred to me. I’m a terrible baker (there’s just something about precision of measurement that doesn’t sit well with me). And I’m also awful at resisting temptation in the form of baked goods. And the fact that I live in a security-coded building in a different state to my family tends to put a bit of a dampener on those unexpected ‘drop-ins’. Reluctantly, I set the item of my desire down and left the store.

Besides, I reasoned, if Vogue did call, I’d still have plenty of time to rush out and buy one.

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Delicious baked goods img courtesy of Kiwifraiz on Flickr.
Apron img courtesy of louisemakesstuff on Flickr.

Galette des Rois

7 Jan

In France, Epiphany, which falls on the sixth day of January, is celebrated in true French style – with food. From mid-December through to the end of January, countless versions of the delicious galette des rois pop up in boulangerie windows and on supermarket shelves all over the country.

Galette

These delectable pastry treats come in two main varieties, apple, or frangipane, the latter holding a firm first place in my book. I can still recall my first Epiphany spent in France. The adorable five-year-old boy that I looked after raced into the kitchen after school sporting a paper crown and proudly presenting his fève – a tiny porcelain figure that is hidden inside one slice of the cake. ‘Je suis le roi! Je suis le roi!’ he explained excitedly to his two year old brother, who to his credit, responded with wide-eyed appreciation.

Later that evening, Max and I attended a party at the home of a friend. I had managed for weeks to ignore the temptation to try a piece of galette, (a task akin to resisting the purchase of hot cross buns in February) instead waiting for the proper sense of occasion to have my first taste. We drank cider and chatted as I waited excitedly for the main event.

I chose frangipane, figuring that anything that shares most of its ingredients with a croissant aux amandes can’t be bad, and I was not disappointed. It was so delicious, so more-ish that I had to force myself to eat slowly, remembering that choking on the fève would not be a good way to make friends.

Feve

Alas, no fève for me. I was doing a brilliant job of masking my disappointment, telling myself that it was for the best really, as the feve must surely taint the taste of the cake (wisdom gleaned from watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), when Max discovered the elusive fève hidden deep within his (second) slice.

I was just entering the early stages of what can only be described as serious poor-sportsmanship when Max ever so kindly proffered his prized crown for me to wear. And, I’m a little ashamed to admit, I grabbed it gleefully and wore it with an obscene amount of pride. But can you blame me? After all, who doesn’t want to be king for a day?
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Galette des Rois image courtesy of u m a m i on Flickr.
Fève image courtesy of yuichi.sakuraba on Flickr.

Christmas Eve

24 Dec

In true Sydney fashion it is Christmas Eve and it is hot. We awoke early to do the early morning seafood run to the local shops. The temperature had barely dropped overnight, meaning that even at 5.30am jeans weren’t the smartest clothing choice, but I can’t complain. It’s Christmas tomorrow, and it’s hot.

Mum spends the day preparing the usual impressive array of desserts for the next day’s feast and Dad peels the five kilos of prawns in the kitchen, air-conditioning on full. Max and I head out for a swim and my sister is spending the day on a friend’s boat. It is shaping up to be a proper Australian Christmas.

xmas beach

This year is Max’s second Christmas in Australia. His first Christmas here was two years ago, and I was thrilled to introduce him to our traditions and Christmas en Australie.  Christmas Eve is the ‘day before’ in Australia, rather than the main event as it is in France.

Last year, we spent Christmas with Max’s family in Lille, and as snow fell softly in the backyard on Christmas Eve we gathered around the fireplace, glass in hand, table groaning underneath the weight of the aperitif, to open our presents.

Lille Christmas

This year, we might be back in Australia for Christmas, but there will be an element of Noël à la Française to our festivities. As a hat tip to Max’s traditions, tonight, we will drink champagne and snack on foie gras, before sitting down to an indulgent dinner of Confit de canard avec pommes sautées aux lardons et salade frisée. Then, we will indulge in one of my family traditions, and watch Carols by Candlelight on TV after dinner, with all the lights off except for the ones on the Christmas tree.  It really is the best of both worlds.

Sandman

What does your Christmas Eve look like?

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I’d also like to take the chance to wish a very Merry Christmas to all of my lovely blog followers, wherever in the world you are!
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Beach x-mas image courtesy of JoePhilipson on Flickr.
Lille at Christmas image courtesy of Mimidith on Flickr.
Sand snowman image courtesy of
mel5545 on Flickr.

Bulong Estate

10 Dec

I’d heard rave reviews about Bulong Estate, so when we found ourselves hungry and with an evening to spare last month in the Yarra Valley, it was at the top of our list. When we’d mentioned our dinner plans to the owners of the cottage where we were staying, they’d given a very solemn nod of approval, so we figured we were onto a good thing.

We’ve been fortunate enough to dine at some fairly incredible Hunter Valley restaurants over the past couple of years, so our expectations were high.

Access to Bulong Estate is via a long, winding driveway, lit with small garden lights, a feature that only served to enhance our anticipation.

The terrace wasn’t set for dinner (I assume as a result of the chilly evening), but it was easy to imagine lengthy wine-soaked lunches spent here overlooking the vines. Indeed, Bulong Estate is a winery, first and foremost, so we weren’t all that surprised to find their wine list contained only their own product. Strangely though, they did not offer any beers, or any sparkling wine. When we enquired about the latter, we were offered an expensive bottle of French champagne (a seemingly recurring theme over this weekend!) but we had to politely decline as a) we felt it was overpriced and b) Max was driving, and whilst I do enjoy the odd glass of champagne or two, taking responsibility for the lion’s share of a bottle was a big ask. Instead, we both opted for a glass of their home grown wine, for me, the Fumé Blanc (a sauvignon varietal), and Max, the house Rosé (and the search continues..).

I decided against an entrée, as we’d had a delicious aperitif at the cottage and I’d spied some tempting dessert options on offer. Max chose a dish of fried oysters, scallops and prawns and was very pleased with the flavours.

As I still wasn’t particularly hungry (a rare, but possible occurrence), I elected to forgo a man-sized main and instead try the soup of the day – a delicious melange of lentilles du puy, succulent pork belly pieces and seasonal vegetables. It over-delivered on flavour and was more than enough for me. Max chose, not the duck as I had assumed, but the porterhouse steak with garlic butter, accompanied by the most sumptuous potatoes I’ve ever tasted.

Ordinarily, we’d be tempted by a cheese plate (and indeed, the menu description of Comte, Brie D’Affinois and Cashel Blue was enticing), but we’d had quite a lot of fromage earlier in the day, so turned our attention immediately to dessert. Whilst the green tea sponge roll intrigued me, my inner chocaholic could not pass up the chocolate fondant served with white chocolate mousse and a vibrant red berry coulis. Max of course, ordered the same.

Decadent does not begin to describe this dessert, which offered a chocolate so rich it coated the roof of your mouth. The mousse was equally indulgent and the combination teetered on the edge of over-the-top, were it not for the fresh berry sauce that brought it back from the brink. I was fiercely protective of my plate as the owner joked that I might need some help from Max, but just over halfway in I had to concede defeat, and pass the rest over to my very grateful fiancé.

From the moment we walked in, we felt as if we were dining in somebody’s elegant lounge room. Space was plentiful and white gloss and chrome abounded, pleasingly offset by a rich red and gold Persian rug through the centre. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and that dessert will live on in our memories for much longer than it spent on the plate.

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All images courtesy of the Bulong Estate Website

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