Turkey Day to-do

Jessie Kanelos Weine_Thanksgiving shopping list 2I perused the butcher the other day in search of a proper turkey to crown my Thanksgiving dinner.  And what I found was no hermetically sealed Butterball.  The turkeys were proudly displayed in the window with their black claws stretched out to the clouds and their heads still fully plumed.  And at a cool 30 euros/kilo, I think a turkey breast roulade will do just fine this year.

Although this is my 7th Thanksgiving in France, this year has been especially emotional one with the earth-shattering recent attacks.  Anxieties run high and the comfort of home and family is half a world away.  The best way I can endure being a long-term expat during the holiday season is create my own comfort.  Pulling myself out of my pity party today, I prepped all the food for my Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow night.  I thought of rolling out overnight rolls with my mom while watching the Macy’s Day Parade.  I thought of some of my early culinary ambitions, taking on the turkey and fixings as a cookbook obsessed teenager. Under the tutelage of Gourmet Magazine and Martha Stewart, I learned what a chestnut was and why it should always be added to stuffing.  Although the French do know their food, I can’t begin to explain the importance of Thanksgiving to me.  But I can still craft a Thanksgiving dinner with a full heart and the best of intentions and share it with the people that I love.  And if all else fails, I can tell you one thing, a weeks worth of leftover baguette makes a wicked stuffing.  Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

P.S. This illustration was featured this week on They Draw & Cook.









I have recently been on a bread kick, walking into aperos (the French after-hours exhale) craddling my homemade pretzel, bagel, Brasilian cheese puff or focaccia obsession.  My friends often roll their eyes as I unwrap my olive oil-scented focaccia of the moment. Hate if they will, but it is curiously the first thing to disappear off the table.

Buying a baguette is easy enough, but when I need a taste of home, my go-to source for spot-on recipes is King Arthur Flour.  Seduced by its hands-off 1-minute mix in a food processor, my trusty focaccia recipe has made a weekly appearance chez moi and has become my apero standby.  It’s cheap, impressive and quick enough to whip together before a soiree.  The most taxing part is waiting the hour or so it needs to rise.  But that time can be used for things like “freelancing” (a minute-to-minute recap of gmail accounts) and an Instagram documentation of the process.

A good recipe is like a good friend.  In this case, this recipe will always rise to the occasion.  I made this focaccia with a spoon in a country cabin in the rolling hills of Les Cévennes.  It still even worked out when I forgot to switch the oven from broiler to regular oven.  And it can be accessorized with just about anything left over in the fridge or pantry.  How about dressing one up in sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic powder and sea salt à la an everything bagel? If not, I borrowed a brilliant idea from cook Alix Lacloche while I was styling her book.  Inspired by the paper-thin lemon slices and fennel seeds in her crispy lemon pizzettes, it’s the perfect herbal addition to a focaccia evoking the sunshine of the South.

Haters are going to hate, but bakers are going to bake.


Fool-proof foccacia adapted from King Arthur Flour

Yield: 1 loaf, 10 servings

1 ½ cups warm water

1 packet (5 g) dry, active yeast

2 teaspoons honey

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons olive oil + more for baking dish

1 teaspoon sea salt + more for sprinkling


For an “everything bagel” version:

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon sea salt


For a lemon/fennel seed version:

1 lemon, thinly sliced on a mandoline or in a food processor

1 tablespoon fennel seeds


1. Mix water, yeast and honey in the bowl of a food processor.  Let sit for 5 minutes until frothy.  Add flour, olive oil and salt.  Mix in the food processor for 1 minute, until the dough is smooth.  If using a hand mixer with a dough hook or a spoon, mix dough at least 1 minute until a soft, sticky dough forms.

2. Heavily coat a 8″ × 11″ baking dish with olive oil.  Sprinkle dish lightly with sea salt.  Press the dough into the pan evenly using oiled hands.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Unwrap the dough.  It should be puffy and doubled in size.  Poke fingers into the dough to create indentations.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with desired flavorings.

4. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top of the focaccia is golden brown and springy to the touch.  Let cool before serving.

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Christmas here, there and everywhere

© Jessie Kanelos Weiner
© Jessie Kanelos Weiner

My family has been through an international Diaspora since I packed my bags for Paris. As foolish as it sounds, Istanbul is the most convenient place for all of us to camp out for the holidays.  With my parents in Japan, my brother in Turkey, and me in France, the idea of home has never been as perplexing. It makes myself equally as interesting and pretentious introducing myself at aperos.  But without Chicago as a home base, even on bad days, I never consider packing my bags and buying a one-way ticket back to an Italian beef sandwich.   But thankfully, my roots have grown much deeper in Paris.  Since comfort has finally outweighed insecurity, I suppose Paris is officially my home.

Albeit wrangling a phone book of photocopies for my visa renewal rendezvous, I was missing mon mari’s bank statements from November and December 2011.  Hence, the Prefecture can conclude that we are neither married nor living together. With the next available rendezvous in February, I am trapped in the EU until then. Our Kanelos Kristmas™ is postponed.  Yes, no Yuletide pillow sprawling, tea sipping, Turkish delight deciphering and Midwest dreaming.

“I’ll be home for Christmas” and “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” are no longer department store seasonal sludge.  They tell my story.  But enough self-pity. I have committed to making this Christmas a good one.  I already exhausted Sufjan Steven’s new Christmas album on mon mari’s twee-resistant ears.  The halls will be decked!  The vin chaud will run like the River Jordan!  I will finally attempt the kitsch-iest dessert since the Baked Alaska, the bûche de Noël!  Although nothing can replace the presents presence of my family during the holidays, every cookie I bake, every wreath I hang and every spontaneous, short-lived Messiah sing-along (note: twee AND opera-resistant ears), will be a sweet reminder of them.  And I will anticipate the mystery destination of our next holidays together.

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Pardon my papertrail

© Jessie Kanelos Weiner

All paper trails lead to France.  I have a highly-anticipated rendezvous to renew my visa tomorrow.  I thought being married would alleviate my copious photocopying in preparation for the French Prefecture, but I have made a grand total of 212 photocopies for my appointment.  I was photocopying at Monoprix so long, I memorized the playlist. It was the first time since 1996 I was able to relearn the words to “I Believe I Can Fly.” Forgive me, dear rainforest.  Marianne made me do it.

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Le Select

© Jessie Kanelos

Writing my blog and for other Paris sites, there is always so much pressure to find the best, newest, coolest, untapped hole-in-the-wall.  I would love to continually be on the cutting edge of the latest tiki torch Brazilian jazz lounge.  But being an expat and feeling like a stranger for so long, I’m more interested in becoming a local somewhere.  I would like to have the power to be both recognized and left alone in a place that I love.

Every Wednesday, I have a little time to kill in the 6e. So whenever I can see the Tour Montparnasse, I know Le Select is not far away.   As the other legendary brasseries have been scooped up by conglomerates, Le Select is one of the only family-owned brasseries left in the City of Lights.  I love how every cup and saucer is stamped with an illustration of their facade, the little silver pitcher of hot water than accompanies their café allongé, and the dark chocolate sidekick to every cup of coffee.  There is always a solid mix of local geezers with morning papers and a few loud Americans just ‘taking a look’.  And a rare occurrence in any Parisian institution, a women at the door always cheerily welcomes guests upon arrival.

Since Le Select was certainly good enough for Hemingway, I could not resist using the occasion to be creative and test out my new Bamboo Stylus, my lost-lost pen to our new ipad.  This is a pen that shan’t be lost!

Yes, Le Select is nothing new; it is almost 100 years old.  But for one hour every week, I am a small part of it.  Maybe it is just me, but I would much rather have that than a 15 euro mint julep mojito in the latest underground tiki torch Brazilian jazz lounge.

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Watch your step, surviving the French Prefecture

© Jessie Kanelos

On a recent trip to the Prefecture, the dreaded bureaucratic destination of all expats living in France, I promptly took a number and a seat.  “80 people ahead of you in line,”  snarled the ticket.  Along with almost one year of marriage under my belt, no celebrations are complete without the anticipation and trepidation of renewing my visa.  Albeit the edible, instant perks of the living in France, there is a long paper trail to get something like a visa.  Although I still cannot go to the Prefecture without getting butterflies in my stomach, I could not help but compile a few quick tips while counting down from 80 on my last trip.   So be warned, fellow francophiles.

1.)  Always address someone with ‘bonjour madame/monsieur’ first thing.  This is common protocol for good reception in France.  Whenever I get back to France from a trip back to the States, my father-in-law always gets a chuckle saying “Welcome back to civilization!”  Although I did not think it was funny the first time, there is a lot of truth in this.  France is still greatly indebted to politeness. In the States, good manners are read as stuffy and a bit outdated.  But in France, the ultimate insult is to call someone mal élevé or not brought up well.  Case in point, about once a week, I see two hot tempered people get in a scuffle on the metro if one person bumps into the other without a pardon or excusez-moi.

Although I am still awaiting customer service to arrive in France, taking an extra step to be polite might certainly pay off with better service later on.  And do not forget to say hello, too.  Americans, myself included, when arriving in France all sparkly eyed, tend to demand exactly what they want the moment they have someone’s attention.  But like sitting down when I eat, acknowledging a person before addressing my own concerns is a  French custom that I have adopted as my own.  And at the end of the day, it is a bit more civilized.

 2.)  Never be too optimistic going to the Prefecture.  Although I am an optimist at heart, I always tell myself on the way to the Prefecture, “ok, this will be a pain”.  Bureaucracy in France is a continual wild goose chase.  And although one thing is stated on the website, there might be one imaginary thing that you do not have when your number is finally called at the Prefecture.  After our wedding, I had to fly all the way to the French Embassy in New York to apply for a visa to come back to France.  I followed the website’s precise requirements.  Although I had mon mari’s French passport in my hands, I was quick to learn it was not proof enough that he was French.  So I had to scrounge up birth certificates from my in-laws at the last minute.   Nevertheless, always ask as many questions when you do have someone to speak to because it has the potential of saving several trips in the future.

3.)  Be prepared to wait.  I trekked to the Prefecture at 8am that morning.  And there was line wrapping halfway around the block.  Much like DisneyLand, the queue continues in an unseen location after, too.  Once the doors opened at 9, myself and my fellow bovines in the cattle call were given numbers and waited in a packed waiting room inside the building. Never schedule another rendezvous in the morning if expected to handle anything at the prefecture.  Because it could take all day.  And always bring a book.

4.)  Be prepared to argue.  The French are notorious arguers.  It’s a continual battle between right and wrong.   Children learn argument/counter-argument at an early age.  The best thing to do is play it innocent.  If you can convince the person helping you that their exceptional knowledge can be of exceptional service to you, then maybe you can get your way.  But since everyone always wants to get the last word,  the lines are particularly long.

5.)  Over-prepare.  And take the time to organize ahead of time.  Buy a binder and organize everything carefully in plastic sleeves so it is easily visible and accessible.  Make a photocopy or two of all originals beforehand.  And don’t forget to bring  a pocket of change in case you need to make last-minute, emergency photocopies.  And for the coffee machine, if you can be so lucky.

Living anywhere has its tradeoffs.  But like everything, preparation and a sense of humor can work wonders.

Do you have any Prefecture horror stories?

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Gervita, mon amour.

If I have not lost you already, now it is going to get interesting. Walking down the double-sided yogurt isle, I am always perplexed by the plethora of options for seemingly plain yogurt. There is yaourt nature, fromage blanc, caillé, faisselle, séré, yaourt au bifidus, and drinkable yogurt, all made from different kinds of milk. Although technically not yogurt, one of the things I quickly learned to adore in France is fromage blanc, or white cheese. It varies in textures and tanginess, but the style I love has the same texture of a fatty Greek yogurt, but is surprisingly low in fat and calories. How can this be ? Fromage blanc is a simple cheese made by boiling fresh, unpasturized milk and cream with a bit of présure, a fermentation starter. Although its texture is often likened to cream cheese, playing starring role in French cheesecake, its consistancy is more comparable to a high-fat yogurt. Fromage blanc is often on restaurant menus as the sole light option. Served with a berry coulis or honey, it is a protein-packed, simple dessert. I often eat it for breakfast with oatmeal and fruit. Or I will layer fromage blanc, sliced fruit, and maple syrup for a quick parfait. A welcome nudge for Mr. Meat & Potatoes, my husband, to eat fruit.

Speaking of the varieties of fromage blanc, it is onto a reader favorite, Danone’s Gervita. In Gervita’s packaging, a spoonful of this whipped fromage blanc floats among the clouds in a blue sky. It’s a spoonful of pleasure coming in for landing. On the first bite, the mousse melts on the tongue with the smooth, fresh milk taste of cream cheese, then that characteristic yogurt tang kicks in. And then it’s back to the smooth taste of cream again. Although I was a bit surprised the mousse was just a layer on top of a bed of fromage blanc, it is a pleasing flip flop of changing textures and character. Here is a 4-pack that won’t last more than a day at chez moi.

I have seen Gervain Petit Suisse in the refrigerators of most families and all of my serious friends who have a properly stocked fridge. It’s an after-dinner kiddie treat. Although I’ve tried unsuccessfully using a spoon to just dig in, Petit Suisse can be a bit deceiving. The Petit Suisse must first be squeezed out of its container and carefully disrobed of its colorful paper sleeve and served standing tall on a plate. Kids love presentation, eh? With 9.2 % fat content, this fromage blanc is more comparable to cream cheese.  Although it lacks the fresh cream taste of Gervita, it has the decadently rich texture of strained Greek yogurt and the tangy punch of crème fraiche.   Hence, a perfect accompaniment to all chocolate and fruit desserts.

So there you have it. I love fromage blanc, I like Petit Suisse, and I would marry Gervita.  But I think it is all gone.