Gypsy Grub

A fine food enthusiast travels the world, and her own backyard in search of the best eats.

Flashback to San Francisco

I had read about it only a couple times, and heard about it once from an acquaintance. So no way could I have prepared myself for the near perfection I was indeed going to experience that day. The little bakery stood on an industrial street with no spectacular surroundings, and only stood out because of the line filing out the door that very morning. The bakery had a certain lived-in feel to it that you rarely feel in such a public and popular place. It still felt whole and earthy even though the majority of seated customers wore suits and typed nonchalantly on Mac computers. After inching slowly closer and closer to the counter I finally put in my order of Morning Buns, but then something caught my eye. Tres Leches Cake is my favorite when done right, but only one time has it been mastered, I decided to give Tartine Bakery a chance to prove themselves.
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I must admit Tres Leches is a complicated cake. Literally it is a Three Milks cake and is different from all other cakes in texture. When done correctly the cake is extremely flavorful, light, cold and satisfies every want in the world. It could be called the hispanic cousin of rum cake or italian tiramisu. At Tartine, it was made with coconut milk and layered with cajeta and crema. I thought their play on the traditional was clever and one can never go wrong adding cajeta to a recipe. However they added a flakey element to the crust and in every layer of the cake I found was not enjoyable. Although I admired their interpretation of Tres Leches it was not truly one. The cake did not tasted soaked, but quite dry and the layers of flakey crust between layers made it more French than hispanic.

The croissants at Tartine have a following that is well deserved for anyone who has never left the United States. It was a beautiful creation, but too crusty for my liking. The very outside layer is suppose to be a bit like cracking the top of a creme brûlée. The croissant at Tartine was just a bit overcooked, and not as moist as it could have been inside the delicate layers.

And next, to the bit of pure pleasure in your mouth. A pastry that Tartine has perfected beyond any abilities of the French is the Morning Bun. It is a cross between a croissant and a Kouign Aman the buttery Brenton pastry – with a modern twist. It has a hint of cinnamon and orange essence which counters the sweet butteriness perfectly.

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You must must must visit if you need a bit of perfection.
600 Guerrero St San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 487-2600

Pain au Chocolat pour mon Anniversaire

I was planning my petit dej even the night before my birthday. But I was at a loss for what to treat myself to. On one hand there was the deliciously decadant croissant which was a buttery bready heaven, on the other hand there was its cousin the equally marvelous pain au chocolat. They are essentially the same thing if you think about it sauf que one has a bar of chocolate stuck in the middle of it. Nonetheless it drove me insane. Would it be better to opt for the simpler wholesome pleasure, or the one with chocolate. I chose the pain au chocolat after much consideration, and here’s why.
I have a bit of a disorder if you wish with the way I eat. It is so strange in fact that I do not enjoy eating with strangers in fear of them feeling awkward and embaressed because of my eating habits. However although they are embaressing, they are (everyone must admit) very officient. Now I will attempt to describe what said “disorder/gift/ritual” is.
I will use a dish I was served in the Dordogne as an example. I was at a beautiful little restaurant in the heart of the foie gras region excited for my entree. I was served a generous slab of foie gras with a crustada, a red berry coulis, Monbazillac jelly and dried Sumac to garnish. Now normally a gourmand would eat the bread with the foie gras with trading off between the toppings. I however must try every combination on the plate no matter how tedious; foie gras and coulis, foie gras coulis and bread, Monbazillac jelly and coulis, foie gras and bread, Monbazillac jelly on bread…etc. This makes for a very long but very efficient and enjoyable meal which ends in me knowing how all the combinations are and which is the perfect combination. And yes, I do this with every single meal that I eat. For most people this is exhausting.
So although the croissant is amazing and allows for much experimentation with different toppings, I chose a combination that was already put together for me and destined to be wonderful.
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Luckily I have the best bakery in all of the Paris region right next to my house. It does not have a famous name, or a well known baker but I have tested other bread from all the well known bakeries in Paris and this one beats them all. To treat myself I decided to pop my pastry into the oven so the chocolat inside would be perfectly gooey and warm. I admittedly forgot about it for a bit, so the result was a bit bruleed. But there is nothing better than burnt butter.
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And nothing goes with a warm sweet pastry better than an expresso.

And So… The Age Old Birthday Question

In such a glorious country as France, does a birthday food critic have a croissant or pain au chocolat for breakfast?

A Realization and a Boy Band

Overall the stereotype could be made that the French look at life like its some twisted joke. Of course it’s not entirely true but they have a more depressed sarcastic but deeply honest view on life. It did not hit me on how much the culture had effected me until just this morning. I was laying in the bath tub after a good hike running through my best guilty pleasure I-miss-home teen vogue magazine when I came across a spread on an all boy band that went to Africa to help the children there. If I I saw this spread seven months ago I would have seen it, read it and proceeded to feel warm and fuzzy inside like all was a little bit more right in the world. However without my knowledge it seems my brain had changed me into a completely different person. My first reaction when I saw the spread was absolute disgust. I literally laughed out in disgust. Not because I disliked the faces of said boy band, but because the whole idea of what the article was trying to convey had worked. I had been brain washed by my prior American culture and through France I have learned how stupid Americans really are. But we can’t help it! We have been fed certain norms, and been allowed to stay in the comfortable darkness without stepping out of our comfort zone and seeing the truth that surrounds us. This article would make a person reassured that the world was a better place, leave them feeling content and satisfied while they lay on their half a million dollar couch and did nothing to help the world. The feel good culture leaves citizens feeling as if there is no real need to do anything because they are reassured and fulfilled by the doings of celebrities who then profit from the publicity.

Culture clash; Italians vs. the French

Some people may say I am too biased to write this article to which I would accept but may not understand. I will start by saying I am a very critical person; not of everything, but of cultures. I stupidly assume that there must be at least one culture who are intelligent enough to filter out old stupid customs and accept new better ones. I have American- Mexican roots and therefore can criticize these cultures more harshly (more on that later).
Yes I’ve been living in France quite some time and at first I believed anything would be better than America. Next I went through a phase at the beginning of integration here (when I did not speak a word of French) that I felt completely excluded and that the French were cold and unwilling to welcome anyone but those already born French. As I learned the language, and thoroughly began to embrace the culture, the way French society treated me changed drastically. The simple truth is; they hate someone who comes into their country and has not enough respect to accommodate. Many Americans travel here assuming everyone will adapt to their needs, and thus everyone will speak English. Most of the French know English but why would they cater to an outsiders needs when you have come into their country?
And so as I began to blend into the crowd (gladly) the people saw that I respected their way of life, and they began to respect me. At shops I act and say all of the customary French things to say; greet when entering, small talk, formal language, shy eye contact, thank and wish them a good day, say goodbye. In America we don’t do this, in France it is an unspoken knowledge. Things work differently in different countries and it takes some time to adapt, but little time to notice.
Once I learned French, I could clearly tell what social happenings were appropriate or not. Wet hair in public- absolutely not, shorts or skirts higher than the knee- slutty (contrary to popular American belief the French are very conservative), saying hello and goodbye whenever entering another persons establishment or home- a must, greeting every person in a room individually when entering and saying goodbye to everyone individually when leaving- also a must (yes this is always a must no matter if there are 20 people or 2), smiling and waving gratitude at someone in the car behind you or next to you- no (this one is a bit confusing, you can smile OR wave but doing both simultaneously is seen as flirtation), greeting a person on the street- absolutely not. At first I didn’t like many of these, most of all I found not smiling and greeting people on the street to be cold and horrible. But I understand now, in America it is a habit to do but do you ever think… Why? Why are you smiling? Why are we saying hello? Do we know the person? Do we really care? Are we actually happy to see this passerby? No. They will mean nothing to us in a few minutes, and we will never think about them for the rest of our lives. Now, on to the whole reason I am writing this article; the Italians and the French compared.
For my spring holidays I traveled to Spain for a week, and then to Italy, Florence exactly, where I stayed also for roughly a week. No, I do not speak Italian but yes I have adopted the European vision on life. Here is where the bias comes in. You may think because I live in France, am surrounded by French and have decided to stay here for as long as I have that I have embraced the culture and think they can do no wrong. Incorrect. There are many French customs I hate; anorexia is a trend, they are old fashioned and stubborn, they are judgmental, they don’t think but KNOW that they are always right, they are stuck on their old ways and many times unwilling to change things just because “they’ve always been this way why change them now”. The list goes on. So no I am not bias towards the French, just like I dislike parts of American culture, the French are equally flawed (though they might never admit it).
Despite this there is a distinct difference in the attitude and acceptable actions in what the Italians and French say and do. I have found French men to be very egotistical, sexual, respectful, and at times when there ego is bruised very silly and stupidly insulting. In my experience a French man will not assault you on the street (by grabbing your ass), rape you with his eyes, or attempt to take you home to sleep with you without asking. All of these things are normal in Italy. And so while enjoying the beautiful rich art and culture in Italia, at the same time I could not help but constantly compare. In many basic fundamentals the French and Italians are the same. For starters they both use the euro- and are both rooted in their old ways and unwilling to change. In Italy some time way long ago there was a tax on salt, so they stopped using it when making bread. Well guess what? Hundreds of years later EVERYONE can afford salt (I mean there are even free salt packets at every fast food restaurant) and still they decide they will hold on to their roots and make tasteless and utterly disgusting bread. While in France the baguette is the pride and basis of every French family’s life, but they know white flour is not the best for them and whole wheat is. I was once confronted on why I mainly eat brown rice by a French man (he thought it was odd) and when I said its because its healthier he knew. The French know things about the world; they know they should eat less cheese, less creme fraiche, less white flour but they don’t change it. Why? Because its always been that way.
But while on the overnight bus from Italy back to Paris I experienced the most perfect example of French culture exactly paralleled to Italian. The exact same incident happened twice within an hour of each other, but with the two different cultures in each one. And here’s how it went…
We had been driving for nine hours straight and it was one in the morning. The buses seats were tiny and none of them reclined so sleeping was a task, not to mention the fact that the bus creaked and shook like the sides were going to fall off. But everyone was exhausted and so we tried to sleep. We get to the boarder and they chose our bus for a random customs check. On walks a fat, red faced angry Italian officer who could have just caught his wife sleeping with his best friend for all I know, but he exudes hatred and self importance. He walks on the bus pushes aside the funny bus driver and proceeds to take a long look at every one of our passports, treating us all like criminals as he goes through the bus. His beer belly brushes my face as he passes by and he looks at me in disgust. How dare my ugly face touch his god blessed stomach. After a thorough and long check of everyone’s passport he decides he will arrest no one tonight and leaves in a huff. Thanks for waking us all up, making us feel like shit, making us wait for half an hour while you decide if you will let us pass through the boarder, and leaving like we waisted your time.
So we were on our way and crossed the Italian boarder into France. Just our luck we were also stopped by the French customs for a random passport check. The officer got on, greeted the bus driver. He was not happy to be there, it was close to three in the morning, but it was his job. As he checked each passport he said hello to every person individually and handed them their passports back without violent feelings. Towards the end he got confused about all the passports and a couple fell on the floor. All of the French people on the bus who were tired and upset about being stopped a second time proceeded to ridicule and mock the officer for his “clumsy” ways. No it was not his fault that they decided to check our bus, but the people decided they were angry and he was a police officer to take it out on. They were rude, but he continued to thank everyone individually as he passed back our passports. When he left he said goodnight and nodded to the bus driver. This is the French way.
And that concludes my border experience. Two cultures, two men, both with the same title and the same scenario, two very different outcomes.
Voila.

Gypsy Grub Turns One

I had a passion for food when I started this blog that I thought may eventually die out. I am proud to say that after food writing my heart out, Gypsy Grub has turned one years old, and my passion is still as strong as ever! I would like to thank my readers for giving us over 1000 views, I appreciate every pair of eyes that has ever even just skimmed through the pictures… *cough* Dad *cough*

Thank you ever so much for reading, and I promise some good material soon. I am currently exploring the likes of Florence, Italy a city full of good food!

Happy Birthday to me,

And with love to you,

Gypsy Grub

Museu de la Xocolata

 

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When I read about the Chocolate Museum of Barcelona in a book I really had no idea what to expect. A museum of chocolate could be anything really; chocolate taste testing, how to make chocolate, demonstrations of chocolate artists, chocolate taste testing or what I was really hoping for – chocolate taste testing.

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I was enchanted by the ticket to get into the expo, it was a sweet little treat to nibble on while you walked through the museum.

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The museum is a mix of wonderful chocolate art, and the history of chocolate throughout the years. Here is a representation from the adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha which I found to be expressive, but also very playful because of the use of chocolate. It seemed to fit the story well seeing as Don Quixote himself may have enjoyed the chocolate scene.

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This was my favorite sculpture of the museum. Unlike many of the others it was truly a great piece of art, so much so that you forgot it was chocolate. You can feel what the characters are feeling in the work, and then you remember it is a piece in chocolate and it allows you to appreciate it even more.

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If you have a little extra cash, and want a break from museums that make you think too hard pop by this museum for a bit of childish amusement.

Find them online at;

http://www.museuxocolata.cat/

Or visit at;

Carrer Comerç, 36, 08003 Barcelona, Espagne

Téléphone :+34 932 68 78 78

Visiting Bakeries with the Best Reputations

I once had a dream, a wish, a goal of finding the absolute most perfect bread in all of France. If you are a loyal reader you will know that bread of all things is the only carbohydrate, only “guilty” food item in the world that to me is heaven. There is nothing better than a perfectly crafted warm loaf. After living here for almost three months I have finally realized that that task is an impossible one. Not only is it absolutely impossible to visit all the bakeries in Paris in all of your life, but there are endless different varieties du pain, et aussi one would forget how the bread tasted from the bakery you ate a week ago and could therefore not compare all of them accurately.

So after hours of research and a lot of wandering around the streets of Paris completely lost, I have compiled a list of the supposed “best” most well respected bakeries in Paris. In a sense researching in this way is completely going against my philosophies of food. From experience I know the best foods are found not in well known and rated Michelin restaurants, but in small restaurants that no one knows about, not even the locals. This idea follows the philosophy that the greatest eateries can not be talked about, but only wandered upon coincidentally.

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Never whilst living here have I ever felt in danger or even a little uncomfortable in a place. However for the first time while searching for this bakery it was necessary to wander a neighborhood I would not be in at night. Thankfully I had my companions at my side and a strong drive to find 34 Rue Yves Toudic, also known as Du Pain et des Idées.

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After waiting in a line out the door, I selected a collection of Mini Paves (recommended by Anthony Bourdain).My favorite was the olive, but the others included chunks of ham, bacon and cheese. The bread was very good, and they make a perfect “on the go” meal.

The “on the go” meal however is very un-French. Snacking, or eating in a hurried fashion is something that is frowned upon in France, and slowly I have become accustomed to only eat when I have a minimum of half an hour to enjoy the food.

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I also selected the Mouna; a sweeter bread perfumed with orange flower water. It was my favorite of the day and reminded me of the perfect cheese Danish in bread form. Orange flower is a a very popular flavor in French cuisine and fragrance at the moment.

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Du Pain et des Idees does not offer a variety of tables to enjoy your selections at, so my recommendation would be to pick lunch up here and then go have a picnic in the park or along the Seine. However if you do wish to stay close to the boulangerie there is a small table that seats about six people right outside the door.

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The bakery’s specialty bread is one qui s’appelle ‘Pain des Amis’ translated as the bread of friends. At first I found the bread to be tasteless. But as I really started to search and examine the flavor I found it to be a complex yet subtle flavor combination with hints of chestnut and barley. The exterior is very hard and almost burnt tasting, this is due to its very long and tedious (but precise!) cooking process which has been mastered after many years.

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There was a time when I questioned whether it was even possible to make a bad pain au chocolat. Now, I know that if you go to a chain boulangerie or the super market and buy one from the cheapest brand you can find such a pastry that is not worth eating. But if you walk into almost any artisan boulangerie they have to be idiots to get it wrong. Honestly its layers of butter dough wrapped around a piece of chocolate. This specific pain au chocolat avec banane has a very good reputation, and is made with Valrhona chocolate. It was a good sweet treat but I was not blown away; if something is easy to make well, I don’t give it much praise.

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Next stop the famous Poilâne. Everyone in Paris is familiar with the name and dreams of the wonders this old bakery holds. Most known for their Punitions cookies and original Poilâne sourdough adorned with a cursive ‘P’ I went in quivering with excitement.

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Each time I visit (which is every time I happen to be in the 6th arrondissement) there is a line out the door and smells waft down the street like vendors alluring the passerby’s.

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Poilâne bread has the distinct rustic flavor of a good sourdough. The bakery has been passed down the generations since it was opened in 1932 by Pierre Poilâne. Like every loved bread in France it has a thick hard crust that counters the fluffy soft interior. 

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Poilâne Bakery also offers a tour of their kitchens and history which I recommend. I had a chance to try some Punitions which have a huge following around the world. They are small sugar cookies that are barely sweet and have a hint of cinnamon. “The story goes that Pierre’s grandmother in Normandy would call the children, seemingly to punish them, but instead pull from her apron a handful of butter cookies” (from Markets of Paris by Dixon Long and Marjorie R. Williams). The tale made me rêve of a different time, and brought a cozy feeling to my mouth. When I tried a Punitions I was unfortunately unimpressed, but the memories of such tales are good enough for me.

For more information visit their websites, or go to the boulangerie’s themselves!

Du Pain et des Idees

http://dupainetdesidees.com/

34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris

01 42 40 44 52

Poilâne

http://www.poilane.com/index.php?

8 rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris

01 45 48 42 59

Barcelona: The Land of Tapas

In America I was never enthralled with the tapas craze. Truth be told, I was never quite sure what tapas were, but I knew people I didn’t like (pretentious Orange County-ers) who talked about them as if they were a fad. Because of this I grew to dislike them, yes its wrong I judged them before I knew what power they held.

In Barcelona, I had the pleasure of encountering my first Catalonian tapas. Once the time arrived to try them, I was eager although I still was not quite sure what they were, I looked for around an hour for the tapas spot Taverna Basca Irati. One thing I liked about this eatery is that the majority of it was stand up which I think is a new and upcoming food trend in Europe at least.

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There were a variety of tapas to try from, all lined up with toothpicks stuck in them to hold them together. For payment they went with the honesty system; simply counting how many toothpicks were on your plate when you were done, and charging you for them.

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Here is a plate with my favorite tapas of the night (the one furthest from the camera). It was simple, a “tortilla” (omelet) with potatoes, and a lovely sauce on top! The other was also a favorite; a fish cake hugged by a thin layer of zucchini.

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There was a lot of variety with the tapas; beautiful presentations and lots of color. Another one of my favorites was the fish with a tangy yellow sauce drizzle, it was visually appealing and oh so delicious.

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There were two dessert tapas I had the pleasure of tasting. This was a custard tapas with blackberry glaze. The custard was one of the best I have had, and it was piled high on the crust of bread. The blackberry glaze was perfectly tart like eating a fresh blackberry. It was garnished with some spicy ginger crumble.

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The other dessert tapas was the most surprising thing I have ever eaten. I have eaten many strange things, but this one took me completely by surprise. It repulsed and then delighted me. It looked like a tapas topped with praline crème, but when I smelled it, it smelled fishy so my brain and senses told me it was a savory tapas. After I put it in my mouth I knew immediately I was wrong, it was wrong, the world was upside down… but oddly not. The more the fish-dessert was in my mouth the more I liked, it even enjoyed it. I understand a person cannot believe such a dessert could ever be enjoyable, but that’s

even more reason to visit Taverna Basca Irati and see for yourself.

Visit them (if you dare) at

Carrer Cardenal Casañas, 17 08002 Barcelona, Espagne
+34 902 52 05 22

or online at

http://www.iratitavernabasca.com/fr/

Famous Macarons and Mexican Food…finally

Think back to a time when you were young and spry and craved independence. It was the prime of your life, and you knew your future was bright. Then, you cut all your ties at home and threw yourself into this hungry world of ours, certain that the power of the earth would catch you. But, then after you jumped into the hopeful abyss you realized you really missed the comforts of stability.

This, my readers is the story of my current life. I have now recovered from the shock of living in a foreign country surrounded by foreign people, and have established myself in my own community. Then, my parents decided it would be a fun time for a visit and a bit of traveling. This was a great idea, but to be honest it rocked the individuality boat a bit. When remnants of your old comfortable life comes into your new independent life a person can easily get confused.

Nevertheless it was a wonderful time to see the ones who have made me who I am, and a good reminder of where I have come from. We traveled together and were able to reminisce on all the times of the past good and bad, and talk about the future as bright as it now seems.

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First stop when your showing a newbie around Paris… the Eiffel Tower. Mind you, this was not my idea and sorry to say I believe the Eiffel Tower to be something worth skipping, and a waste of time compared to all the other wonders of Paris. However no one agreed with me, and so the first stop was to the Eiffel Tower to stare at it… and nothing more.

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The Champs-Elysees is also a staple of Paris high living. I insisted on a stop in the world renown Laduree for a first time taste of their famous macarons.

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Here is the selection I picked, they have staple flavors, and then seasonal flavors that come and go. From top left we have; Orange Blossom, Marie Antoinette, Rose Petal, Lemon, Vanilla, Caramel Salted with Butter, Pure Brazilian Chocolate, and Licorice.

For the price that was paid for the pretty little pack I expected all of them to be sensational. They were all good, but not all of them were necessarily worth the price. There were a select few I know were perfect and could never be duplicated by another society.

The Orange Blossom was my favorite and left a flavor in my mouth I had never experienced before, Usually I find that I hate floral flavors because they leave a sick perfume-like flavor in your mouth. But Orange Blossom was perfect and beautiful like a sweet dream. Marie Antoinette was actually revolting and whoever invented it must have absolutely burned off their taste buds. Rose Petal was also quite good. The lemon was nothing especially worth eating, as well as the vanilla or caramel although the clerk told me Caramel with Salted Butter was their most popular flavor. The Brazilian chocolate had a nice cocoa bite and was not too sweet.

I am a huge black licorice fan, and was therefore expecting a macaron that would blow my head back with anis shock. What I got was far from that, a very subtle licorice hint, but I found it to be refreshing. I also bought a Canele in order to compare it to the one I got at the Christmas Market. I found that Laudree’s Canele had more layers of dark flakiness which was nice, however the Christmas Market one was warm and therefore unbeatable.

If I ever returned to Laudree the flavor I would get again would be the Orange Blossom, all the others are good, but nothing to rave about.

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I pity all people that do not have Mexican fathers or mothers. I didn’t even truly appreciate my Mexican father until I moved to France. Here I am surrounded by superb French food, all sorts of creamy sauces perfectly roasted meats, and blissful breads but there is something about Mexican food that fills your life in a way nothing else can. And I honestly don’t believe its just a sentimental feeling I have got because it reminds me of childhood. The flavor spectrum of Mexican food (minus chocolate mole) is absolutely perfect – when done right. And I can honestly say my father has no flaws in that category. Yes, when you ask him what a good NON MEXICAN flavor combination for a dish is he does say “pasta with edamame” and cannot tell a fifty cent chocolate from a high caliber Swiss one, but he is the king of all traditional Mexican food.

After months of creamy monotone French cuisine I wanted something in my mouth that would make me sweat, and would burn my throat till it melted away in fear. And so Daddy, with Mother’s help, got in the kitchen and made me and some of my French people some of his Mexican cuisine. Because of the abundance of French at the dinner table, and their inability to handle even the heat of garlic the meal was not as spicy as I had hoped it to be. It was wonderful nevertheless.

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