Les vacances…

The very best part of being a teacher in France is getting 5-weeks paid vacation time built into my 9-month contract. However, if the very best part of teaching is the ample vacation time, then the very worst part of being a teacher in France is invariably making it through the last day before the vacances begins. The kids are a walking nightmare: they fight on the playground, they are loud (give-you-a-headache loud) and unruly, and in general they couldn’t pay attention to a word I said in class if their little lives depended on it. I have now been through 4 last days, and  have just one left: the big one in June before the summer vacation. That particular last day will also be painful because it means the end of my contract and beloved salary! But, I am pretty sure I am returning to teach at the same school next fall: everyone I work for here in Rennes has assured me that they requested that I keep the same position, so unless there is some strange bureaucratic decision in Paris that goes over everyone’s head, I should have a job, and more importantly a Visa come next fall. But, you just never know with French bureaucrats and this climate of budget-cutting and penny-pinching.  And, I don’t know…maybe the Bretons are rubbing off on me after all because I just don’t trust those damn Parisians! As my Doctor has joked every time I’ve visited his office: “It hardly ever rains in Brittany, and when it does it only rains on the assholes” and then he chuckles and follows up with “That’s to say the Parisians…”

No point in worrying about all that though, not when I have no control over it and especially not when I am in the midst of my spring break! Yes, I survived one more dreaded last day, and am now enjoying la liberation! So, what have I been doing with my new found freedom? There have been the usual strolls through Rennes’ many open-air markets, a dinner here and a lunch there, an Easter brunch, and generally a lot of white wine and a lot of cheese, a lot of time spent lazing on grassy patches in various parks and a simply enjoying the last few weeks with my friends before they head back to the States.

In other, more food-related news: Another trip to Au Boulingrain, another seafood galette. This time the saumon: a lascivious pile of smoked salmon, two types of salmon roe, crème fraîche and salade. So salty and decadent and filling that I couldn’t even manage to have dessert though everyone else at the table did (it’s very uncharacteristic of me to pass up any opportunity to eat caramel au beurre salée).

In general, I just can’t get enough seafood lately. Due to the warm, summer-like weather we’ve been blessed with the last few weeks, I’ve been craving meals that are light, citrusy and fresh. No more quiches and onion soups for me, at least for the time being. Here’s what I’ve been cooking to beat the heat:

Caesar Salad with Lemon and Dill Salmon Baked in Foil

For the caesar salad dressing, I used a recipe by Tyler Florence which I have gone back to time and again. I love this salad dressing, and as far as I’m concerned, caesar salad doesn’t get any better than this. I made my own croutons (which I lovingly burnt) by cubing stale multigrain bread and tossing it with olive oil and herbes de provence and then toasting them at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Super easy and quick, and honestly, you can’t have a caesar salad without croutons! I topped it all with baked salmon that was smothered in lemon and dill. I can’t think of a better use for my happy dill plant that is growing in my windowsill box.

Here’s the recipe for the salmon:

Lemon and Dill Salmon Baked in Foil

4 (5 ounces each) salmon fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons fresh dill

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place each piece of  salmon on a sheet of aluminum foil that is twice te size of the fish, and fold the edges up at each corner to create a sort of bowl. Sprinkle salmon with 2 teaspoons olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour the lemon juice over the salmon, then sprinkle each piece with the lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic and dill.

Fold the sides of the foil over the fish, covering completely; seal the packets closed. Place the foil packet on a heavy large baking sheet. Repeat until all of the salmon have been individually wrapped in foil and placed on the baking sheet. Bake until the salmon is just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Using a large metal spatula, transfer the foil packets to plates and serve.

Poached Eggs Perched on Rice Cakes with Steamed Spinach

I have a friend who has recently become obsessed with poached eggs, and her obsession is apparently contagious. They’ve always intimidated me a bit. Being the impatient person that I am, whenever I have attempted to make them I rushed through the delicate process and the result was messy, mushy and disappointing. But this time I took a deep breath, slowed down and followed my friend’s simple advice. Her directions: Add a dash of vinegar to gently simmering water. Crack an egg into a bowl. Create a spiraling whirlpool motion in the water with the stick of a wooden spoon, and gently slide the egg into the center of the whirlpool. Let cook about 3 minutes et voila, a gorgeous egg. It couldn’t be easier (as long as the eggs are fresh – very important!) What is it about poached eggs? They’re ever so refined and elegant compared to their hard-boiled, scrambled and fried counterparts. That being said, I love eggs in all forms.

I served the poached eggs on top of a fried rice cake and alongside some steamed spinach. The rice cakes are a great recipe to have in your arsenal as they’re so versatile. You could really throw any leftovers or available veggies into them. Here’s the recipe for the rice cake, which is loosely based on a version by Chocolate and Zucchini:

Brown Rice Cakes

1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/8 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup leafy greens (I used radish and turnip tops, but kale, spinach or chard would work too)
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice, al dente (I cooked mine in homemade veggie broth which made it that much tastier!)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tomato, juice and seeds removed, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
Salt, pepper
Red pepper flakes
Fresh dill (or cilantro, basil, etc…)

In a large sautee pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the greens and sautee until they are wilted and the water has evaporated, about 10 more minutes.

In a medium mixing-bowl, combine the rice, egg, greens and onion mixtures, tomato, and garlic; stir until well combined. Season generously with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Heat 1/8 cup of olive oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the rice mixture from the fridge. Use two tablespoons to form patties (about 3 inches in diameter) with the mixture, and transfer them into the skillet. Cook for five to eight minutes on one side, or until browned, then flip carefully with a spatula and cook for another five minutes on the other side.

Serve immediately with fresh dill or other herbs.

*As a side note, the eggs I used were hatched fresh by my boyfriend’s happy, free-range chickens. As an experiment, I tried poaching a supermarket egg and it was messier and less cohesive than the farm-fresh eggs. So, if you try poaching at home, get good eggs!

Stay tuned for the story of my trip to lower Normandy next week. Camping in a van should lead to some interesting cooking situations…

In the meantime, check out my flickr photos to see how pretty Rennes is in the Spring! Wish you were here…

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3 Responses to Les vacances…

  1. Nice. It’s breakfast time here and suddenly I want smoked salmon!

  2. Tort McCarter says:

    Those rice cakes–brilliant! I have to try those. Believe me, we wish we were there too! How do I access your Flickr account? You usually send a link…

  3. caelycate says:

    There’s access to my flickr account on the right hand side of the page underneath where it say “recent posts” and “archives”. The rice cakes would be perfect for you! You can also double the recipe, fry up a bunch and keep them in the fridge to reheat. I also served them with slivers of goat cheese on top and broiled them. Delicious!

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