About the Author
Mireille Guiliano, born and brought up in France, is an internationally bestselling author, long-time spokesperson for Veuve Clicquot and former President and CEO of Clicquot, Inc (LMVH). She is married to an American and divides her time between New York and France (Paris and Provence). Her favourite pastimes are breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook Chapter One
BREAKFAST AND LE BRUNCH
I confess my greatest culinary transformation in life concerns breakfast, and my approach to it continues to evolve. I eat breakfast religiously and, I believe, healthily. That wasn’t always the case. Growing up in France, I ate a light breakfast (remember we had our main meal at midday, sometimes not long after I awoke, so I was not always looking to fill up). Generally my breakfast consisted of carbohydrates and coffee. A cup of café au lait and perhaps a piece of bread with butter and preserves (my mother’s own). Or a slice of the breakfast cake my mother would make once or twice a week. Once in a while, I ate stale bread in chunks in a bol
, like a soup bowl, softened and moistened with a soup-size portion of coffee and milk. No protein, no fruit. I was not alone in France. A croissant and coffee, anyone?
Things did not improve when I came to America as an exchange student. Mostly carbohydrates and coffee again. Once in a while I ingested an egg or two, but with bacon and sometimes potatoes. But those carbs—I discovered donuts and bagels, two of which many consider the most delicious albeit fattening and unhealthy foods on earth. Moderation? I only ate one bagel. Who knew that a bagel is loaded with salt and contains as many calories/carbs as a few slices of bread? But, of course, I covered my bagel with cream cheese and jam. Being French, more jam than cream cheese, so I was getting very little protein. And have you noticed the super-sizing of bagels? Not if you were born in the past quarter century. Before that, they actually were what we mostly call mini-bagels today. Plus, being French, I was not then nor am I now into getting my protein or water from a glass of milk. Donuts are deep-fried, and I did not restrict myself to just one. The most wonderful discovery of all was muffins, English muffins and blueberry muffins. Who knew? At least they are not fried. I was also introduced to dry cereal in a bowl covered with milk and perhaps with an added banana. And then there was orange juice in a cardboard carton and served in an eight-ounce water glass. But perhaps most memorable of all was that special occasion breakfast: pancakes. Living in New England, I developed a lifelong fondness for maple syrup. No question, I enjoyed and enjoy all of the above, but now in moderation and balance, or better as occasional indulgences.
When I returned to Paris for college, the now plump me drank coffee as my morning stimulant and ate pastry for breakfast (and lunch... and dinner). But I lived to tell the tale (in book form). I remember from then through my twenties dismissing German, Scandinavian, even English breakfasts as unappetizing and huge. I wasn’t going to eat meat or fish or eggs and cheese and get fat (again). Sausages for breakfast? Please...
I am still not a fan of big breakfasts, but am a devotee of and convert to balanced breakfasts (and lunch and dinner): some protein, some carbohydrates, some fat (a holy trinity of sorts), and fluids. I often do eat a slice (or slivers) of cheese. And, I consider breakfast the most important meal of the day. Don’t skip it or your wheels tend to come off in a hurry. My true breakfast epiphany occurred just a few years ago when one day a family breakfast specialty, perfected by Tante
Berthe, and one that I had not thought about or eaten since childhood burst upon my inner eye and palate and changed everything.
Magical Breakfast Cream (with no cream) or MBC
Here’s one of my secrets, really Tante
Berthe’s, for some quick and healthy weight loss without dieting. Aunt Berthe had her slow but sure way to lose ten pounds effortlessly each summer. So while most of the French families I knew when I was growing up (and it’s still true today) indulged on vacation and came back with a few extra pounds, she came back svelte and bien dans sa peau.
I adored my Tante
Berthe. One of five sisters, she was Grand-mère
Louise’s youngest sister, and although all of the sisters were attractive women with similar features, blue or green eyes, great cheekbones, long hair kept in gorgeous chignons (I used to love to watch Aunt Berthe do her hair), beautiful peachy skin, and a small nose ever so slightly retroussé, Tante
Berthe had that little extra je ne sais quoi
. Maybe it was her small round glasses or her beautiful smile or her mischievous look that showed in her sparkling eyes. She was also funny, had a great laugh, and sang beautifully while cooking. She always dressed simply with a gray or navy blue long skirt and had the most seductive tops from lovely classic blouses to charmeuses
in soft cotton, pale colors, and lace, and only a few pieces of classic jewelry. And she loved hats. She was the only sister living by herself, and her status was never discussed although we knew she was not a veuve
(a widow) since she was addressed as Madame Berthe Juncker. (In France had she been a widow she would have been referred to as Madame Veuve Juncker, like Madame Veuve Clicquot, a famous “widow” from Champagne.) We knew she had some beau, at least we grasped some of that among relatives’ hushed conversations. She seemed to have enough money to live without working though she lived rather frugally and would spend the year visiting relatives to help out with children and cooking usually for a week or two at a time and then move on, either go back to her home or travel (some would say disappear) for a week or so. She was also the most gourmande and gourmet and tended to get a bit pleasantly plump particularly at the end of the winter fêtes, but at the end of each summer she was at her best and looked like a movie star. No one could figure out what she had done: Grandma Louise alone knew but surely kept the secret, and we kids had no idea what the secret was and certainly made no connection with her magical breakfast.
She was the favorite aunt of all the grandchildren: Some adults in the family (especially the men) would say because she was the best cook and an incomparable baker; some said because she was single and spoiling us to no end (and she did). I was her very favorite and as such had an added privilege. When she was in town—she lived in Metz—I could visit her once a month on Thursday, the off school day at the time, and believe me I never missed a day between my seventh and twelfth birthdays (before boys started replacing her on my priority list). I would proudly take the one-hour local bus ride by myself (a conversation piece in my town), and she’d be waiting for me at the bus station. Our day together would always start with me going across the street from the station to try the escalator in the Prisunic, a small department store, a novelty I could brag about with my school friends who had never tried or seen one. She would patiently wait as she was scared of that thing. (It is a quaint reminder that there is a first time for everything, and for a seven-year-old in France, where even today escalators are far rarer than in America, an escalator can be an amusement.) After I had gone up and down a few times on the escalator with a great smile on my face, she’d give me signs indicating it was time for lunch at her house. She lived about a ten-minute walk from the store and station, and we could reach her home via an enchanting road along the Moselle River. She had a wonderful little flat, a lovely terrace with a glass-top awning, and wisteria vines. The terrace overlooked residential homes surrounded with gardens. It was country within the city.
Once there, she’d make my favorite lunch, hanger steak with French fries. (You gather by now that she made the best French fries in the world, even better than my mom, and I alone knew her secret; her trick was to make batches in a small, heavy cocotte versus using the typical large deep fryer.) Dessert would always be a seasonal surprise. I loved her for all this. I did not fancy her magical breakfast then or when we were all in the country for the summer. I realize now it was because when she was with us during her week of magical breakfast cream (a week a month, for the two summer months) we would be deprived of the aroma of fresh brioche, pain aux raisins
, morning cakes, or fruit tarts baking in the wooden stove and perfuming the whole house and the back garden where breakfast would be served. And for a whole week! We couldn’t stand it. Complaining and bickering did nothing. She ignored us. We never even noticed that no wine was served during that week. Continued whining didn’t change a thing, there was nothing we could do or say to make her change that pattern. Reluctantly, we got used to it and made silly jokes about it. When the regular routine was resumed, she only nibbled at all the goodies but did so discreetly, so that it too went unnoticed. Smart lady.
My recent epiphany and how this episode of my childhood I had sort of forgotten about returned via an early morning telephone call one spring morning while I was working on my business book. Coralie, an old friend’s daughter from Eastern France, was telling me how her mother was making my aunt’s summer breakfast. Wow. I had not thought of it in decades and thus never made it but instantly visualized the village farmhouse, our summer vacation in a lovely small village near Strasbourg, and the magical mornings eating the summer breakfast in the back of the house watching the fawns come near us (did they like the smell of my aunt’s breakfasts?), hearing her grind the nuts and cereal in her mortar and add it to her homemade yogurt base made alternatively from cow, sheep, or goat milk. So, I searched in my recipe boxes and there it was scribbled on a small yellowish piece of disintegrating paper, my Tante
Here’s our “family” version that my aunt would make. Beware: it is addictive. It’s also extremely easy and quick to make, and one can play and interchange so many ingredients. It is the perfect complete breakfast and will keep you from getting hungry until late lunch. You may have run across Johanna Budwig’s variation. A German chemist, pharmacologist, and physicist who lived during much of the twentieth century (and came after my aunt), she promoted a version using cottage cheese as a cancer-fighting breakfast and also part of a nutrition plan. I’ve made MBC in quite a few versions and can’t decide which is my favorite, as it is all a function of where I am, what I feel like, and with whom I share it.
Why do I call it magical breakfast cream? Magical? Something that is a combination of tasty, easy, and so good for your well-being and melts away pounds has to be magical, right? How many pounds? Try a week of MBC for breakfast with a normal but modest lunch and dinner (soup or salad, fish, two vegetables, and fruit), and say good-bye effortlessly to a few pounds, if dozens of converts reporting back from my website are any indication. The trick here is to eat MBC and also to cut two offenders (for me it’s bread and wine) and otherwise eat normally. It works splendidly, and your energy and well-being after these few days are remarkable.
Cream, you may ask? There is no cream in it, but the texture looks like cream and cream connotes something utterly sensual such as comfort food and pampering—except in this case you need not worry about the calories. I trust my aunt used the word to make sure we kids would love it and never mentioned the oil
in the mixture. Smart lady again: no one can taste the oil anyway. That oil, by the way, is preferably flaxseed oil, a superconcentrated source of omega-3 fatty acid that has so many health benefits.
In a variation on a theme dear to me, and a paraphrase of a quote from Lily Bollinger on Champagne, let me say: “I eat it when I am happy and when I am sad. I eat it when I am alone and consider it obligatory when I have company. I trifle with it when I am not hungry and always eat it when I am.”
Have fun playing with the range of options and make your own version. Remember, it’s like fashion: mix and match to please your own taste buds.
MAGICAL BREAKFAST CREAM
· SERVES 1 · 4 to 6 tablespoons yogurt (about ½ cup) 1 teaspoon flaxseed oil 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice (Meyer or organic preferably) 1 teaspoon honey 2 tablespoons finely ground cereal (with zero sugar such as Post Shredded Wheat) 2 teaspoons finely ground walnuts 1.
Put the yogurt in a bowl and add the oil. Mix well. Add the lemon juice and mix well. Add the honey and mix well. (It is important to add each ingredient one at a time and mix well to obtain a homogeneous preparation.) 2.
Finely grind the cereal and walnuts (I use a small food processor). Add to the yogurt mixture and mix well. Serve at once.
TIME-SAVER: You can do a week’s worth of grinding cereal/nuts mixture and keep it refrigerated so in the morning it will take just a few instants to mix the yogurt with the oil (have no fear, you will not taste the oil in the final creamy blend), add the lemon juice, honey, and your daily dose of cereal/nut mixture
NOTE: I use Post Shredded Wheat Original made from whole grain wheat, adding to this recipe a “health-friendly” mix of 0 grams sugar, 0 grams sodium, and 6 grams of fiber per cup (and I use only 2 tablespoons per serving).
MBC OPTIONS, TIPS, AND TRICKS TO FIND YOUR OWN FAVORITE
You can replace the yogurt with ricotta, cottage cheese (beware of high sodium content), fromage blanc
, or should you be in France, try it with faisselle
. When using yogurt you can opt for whole or 2% milk. I make my own yogurt and do not like skim milk, which tastes like water to me.
You can replace the flaxseed oil with sesame oil or safflower oil.
You can replace the lemon juice with grapefruit juice, orange juice, or blood orange juice. With orange juice, use less honey.
You can replace the honey with maple syrup. As the latter is less sweet than honey, you may want to adjust to your taste.
You can replace the shredded wheat with buckwheat, barley, oatmeal, or any cereal that contains no sugar, a key in this recipe.
You can replace the walnuts with hazelnuts, almonds, or a mixture of both. Pecans, pine nuts, and any other nuts work fine, too.
Finally, you can adjust the doses of the juice (I tend to add more lemon juice when using something thicker than yogurt and because I love it) and the honey (less rather than more). My husband chooses 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice, which is sweet enough and in his case requires nothing else to compensate for honey, although some times (on Sundays!) he’ll add a drizzle of maple syrup (my theory being it is his make-believe for not having pancakes or waffles! Why not?).
You can also add fruit: the obvious is half of a ripe banana mashed with a fork and added after step one or sliced and placed on top of the finished dish. Or top it with any seasonal fruit, especially a mix of berries in summer or dried cranberries, raisins, dried fig or date pieces, or even diced prunes in the cold months. Try it plain, though, as it is simply delicious and in its purest form. And, as recommended, create your own versions. And a last recommendation: surprise your kids with your favorit...
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