Saffron in Burgundy

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A bowl of fresh saffron filaments I harvested atop a box of crocus petals at Safran des Aulnes

Saffron hardly prompts images of the sloping verdant expanses of Burgundy, and yet, cultivation of this valuable spice in France dates back to the 13th century when traders are thought to have imported it from the Middle-East. As the most valuable spice in the world, and indeed one of the most valuable materials by weight, harvesting saffron proved an intriguing first experience while WWOOFing through France this autumn.

Harvested from the pistons or stigma of the crocus sativus, the deep red filaments must be quickly yet delicately plucked by hand and dried before preserving as the coveted spice. The process involves hours of stooping low to collect baskets brimming with flowers whose simple beauty is secondary only to the precious threads enclosed by the pale violet petals.

I doubted that volunteering on organic farms in France would result in exposure to a spice I had only rarely encountered in fragrant rice dishes. Having grown quite accustomed to a student’s budget, I hadn’t exactly been consuming gourmet products while studying in Belgium.

This elegant autumnal crocus, however, blooming only several weeks each year, became a mealtime staple for a few short weeks. From infused confitures of pear or peach made from fruit trees grown on the property, to slowly roasted chicken, rubbed with a blend of saffron and olive oil, surrounded by squash from the garden, steeping in the juices, saffron became a familiarly versatile flavor. While saffron is not an icon of French culinary culture, our host, Joël, introduced us to not only this specialty spice, but also to the simple art of homey French cuisine. With yellow stained finger tips from hours of picking out the tender saffron filaments, we grew accustomed to the evening glass of wine, the nightly cheese course, and the pervasive regional branding of everything from coarse table salt to the AOP Burgundian Epoisses cheese (one of my favorites), with it’s pungent scent and distinct orange-colored rind.

The feeling of eating locally was nothing akin to the “buy local” urban (and often overpriced) farmer’s markets I’ve often visited in the US, but more of a matter-of-fact mentality, an unpretentious understanding of eating seasonally and taking pride in the bounty of the land. This impression was heightened by biking through the surrounding fields, lined with almost unbelievably picturesque rows of cabbages and lettuce, past ripening pumpkins, freshly turned soil, revealing smooth, newly unearthed potatoes, and greenhouses protecting the last of the late-season tomatoes. To bike through rural Burgundy in the early autumn instilled a peculiar sense of well-being, as though the fertility of the region were inexhaustible. Whether strolling the property (after a sometimes arduous day of harvesting) and gathering a bowlful of raspberries for dessert, or baking the season’s final apples into a tart with saffron-infused honey, the stay at Safran des Aulnes brought forth an inspiring example of living simply off of the land.

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An apple tart I made with saffron-infused honey, ginger, and cinnamon.

Do you have any surprising saffron information, recipes, or questions? Please feel free to share or ask below!

-Jenny

 

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Investigating Digital Food Trends

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Hello! I’m excited to announce that my article, #EatingfortheInsta: A Semiotic Analysis of Digital Representations of Food on Instagram, is out this week in the new edition of the Graduate Journal of Food Studies!!

For the past year I have been completing a M.A. at KU Leuven in Cultural Studies, where I focused my research and projects on various connections between food and society. Through various projects I have had the pleasure of digging into the fascinating world of food studies and am in the midst of applying for opportunities within the field.

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“Le Lapin Agile” Louis Abel-Truchet (1890-1910)  This piece inspired me while I researched paintings of women in cafe society, and also now, as it almost looks like she’s browsing the classified ads for job posts.

It’s an exciting time, and I am looking forward to reviving this blog while sharing some of the experiences of this last year and the present! Keep an eye out for some posts on French cuisine and sustainable farming as I just returned from two months of WWOOFing throughout France. Feel free to follow along on Instagram for updates and if you are interested in the article or would like to share your thoughts on the implications of digital food media trends, please share in the comments below!!

Cheers!

-Jenny

 

Summery Fruit Galette

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As Autumn approaches, I find myself wanting to cling to the fresh abundance of summer produce, namely the sumptuous stone fruits and plump berries of early Northeastern summertime. From the delicate glow of ripe apricots with their velvet-soft skin, to the gleaming gem-like quality inherent in freshly picked berries, few other seasons provide such an aesthetically rich bounty for the senses as that of summer. While fruit pies are certainly a wonderful way to embrace the seasonal harvest, the rustic galette is regaining traction for both its simplicity and its ability to showcase what might otherwise be covered by (albeit lovely) latticework.       img_7592

The galette wins extra favor with me as it satisfies my desire to whip up something presentable to share, while also taking very little time and not requiring much skill. This free-form tart is a baking dream for those who want a quick and elegant treat. This post from Food 52, which I recently read, is a great guide to the basics of producing a great galette. This dish can be prepared in either a sweet or savory fashion, and is limitless in its possibilities for creativity. Similarly to fruit pies, the fruit galette requires some acid, some sweetness, and a thickening agent to help with moisture. I made the galette featured in this post vegan, but for a more golden brown crust, just brush on butter, egg, or milk.

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For this recipe, I mixed together blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries with a little balsamic vinegar (for the acid) and some vanilla and agave (for the sweetness) and tossed them in a bit of cornstarch. I mixed the apricots separately with lemon juice and sugar so as to keep their color brighter. Arranging slices of the apricot in a fan created a pretty border which also helped keep the berries contained in the center. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream was absolutely delightful. Here in Belgium the weekly farmers markets have been torturous as I don’t have an oven here in my tiny apartment. Hopefully by fall time I will meet a few classmates who want to let me bake a few savory galettes with caramelized onion, squash, and goat cheese!

Please share your favorite flavor combinations or ideas for galettes in the comments. I can’t wait to hear of more delicious variations!

-Jenny

*Note: This popular tart form is not the same as a traditional french galette, but along with the name, they share a few similarities. The french galette is more akin to a savory crepe folded up around ingredients, rather than a pie-like tart.

Belgium: A country that understands the importance of snacking.

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Cappuccino (with house cookies) from ANNA

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived in Leuven, Belgium to settle in before commencing a Master of Cultural Studies program at KU Leuven, Belgium’s oldest and largest university. Although Leuven is a relatively small town, the university culture allows for a bustling cultural scene, complete with many charming cafes and restaurants. Leuven, also boasts the title of birthplace of Stella Artois brewing.

Yes, several items of obvious popularity abound: We have beer, beer, and more beer, enough chocolate to give pause to an absolute cocoa fiend- such as myself, and so many frites-the fatty cousin of the french fry. Leuven is a place where the following sign is unironically posted on the entrance to a local shop:

IMG_8112 I imagine the sentiment is something like: We applaud the enjoyment of snacks, but kindly finish them before entering the store. Alsjeblieft.

Upon arrival, a few surprising culinary trends became quickly apparent: Belgians adore Italian food- especially pasta. There are many quick Italian options akin to Chipotle in their set-ups, but with a choice of extra mozzerella or basil rather than guac and salsa. Stewy Flemish fare (which is basically any type of soft cooked meat with something creamy on it) is a given, along with the aforementioned frites, beer, and chocolate. We’ll save chocolate for another time. Let’s just say I am doing extensive ‘research’ at the moment.

The unexpected, however, came along with the coffee. In Leuven, far be it from anyone to serve you a coffee and expect you to suffer the duration of the drink without a snack. I am thrilled at this cultural difference. This is what I have always wanted without realizing it. You don’t ask for it. It doesn’t cost extra, nor are the prices inflated. It’s just a surprise little treat. Just for you…and everyone else. Locals are clearly unphased by this luxury, but for me, the novelty is unending. I have ordered coffee here and actually told the waiter it wasn’t my order because the little chocolate croissant which came along with it had to be a pastry that someone ordered, but no!

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Vangrootloon’s house coffee

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Werf Koffie at De Werf

The “Werf koffie” pictured above, listed on the menu as just coffee, wins the title of most gratuitous coffee snack of all. I was baffled when I was given an entire thermos of coffee accompanied by a container full of chocolate biscuit sandwiches, cream, sugar, and a side of whipped cream… all for €2.60!

Me, every day now: “What’s this? What’s this? I can’t believe my eyes!”Image result for what's this gif nightmare before christmas

I assumed my greatest challenge this year would be writing a Master’s thesis, but I am afraid it might be resisting the urge to eat every single thing. Follow my progress by checking in on Very Voracious, or check out my Instagram.

Keep snacking!

-Jenny