As we drive into Dinard, the salty winds sweep into the car from the cracked window. It is late afternoon and the covered skies are turning lavender and pink. Our car swings around the ocean-front road and the sea opens up. The bay, steel grey waters rippling over the empty beach, is dotted with vacant sail boats slowly bobbing in the waves. Beyond, the Atlantic sea is calm, silver with the horizon murky from the fog.
This town used to be the summer getaway for Parisian aristocracy until the South of France became a hipper beach hangout in the early 1900’s. Because of that, it is lined with grand mansions overlooking the sea with large bay windows and polished gardens. Unlike its neighboring cities Saint-Malo or Mont Saint-Michel, it is not clogged with tourists. It has a quaint local charm with low-key restaurants and pastry shops with the occasional gift shops catering to tourists filled with hand-made salted caramels, artisanal calvados -the famed apple liqueur – and butter cookies. Here, it is all about the salted butter. It is in all of the baked goods, from burned-salted-butter caramel coffee rolls to the almond-flour cakes. The locals are proud of their fresh produce, most of which can’t be found in Paris, and the famed crepes, savory and sweet, are from this region. The nearby Saint-Malo, the walled port city with its maze-like cobble-stoned streets has ferry services to port cities in England, and the British influence is apparent in the architecture and the low-key tea-houses that dot the towns with scones and clotted cream.
The temperature dropped that afternoon when we drove into Dinard, but somehow the chill brought a sense of coziness to our fall trip, and we enjoyed the wind-swept walks along the beach as much as running into cafes for a warm hot chocolate. We spent a few days exploring the nearby towns, especially the beautiful Saint-Malo with its fort, visiting the aquarium, taking the boats to the different towns along the coast, and, of course, eating everything that looked local and seasonal – the seafood platters crowning the tables like trophies with raw clams, oysters, crayfish and shrimp, the braised short ribs with Porto, the seafood choucroute (a creamier version of sour-kraut), grilled lobster with beurre-blanc, savory crepes with creamed crab, local caramels and baked sweets that were so fitting with our afternoon snacks on long walks along the beach.
When traveling with kids, it is always difficult to have to go to a restaurant for every single meal – to endure the long wait service and ask your child to be patient and quiet at every sitting. So we try to do at least some of the meals casual, by grabbing a sandwich or a quiche and going to a garden or skipping the hotel breakfast and going out for a quick coffee and croissants before visiting a museum. But we do make a point of having one spectacular sit-down meal together, either for lunch or for dinner, trying out the local fare and seeing what new things we can get Magnus to try. This time, he tried crab mousse. But his favorites were the savory crepes with ham and cheese, ziti with smoked salmon, and the butter shortbread cookies.
I try to include brainfood elements in his meals even if I am not the one cooking them – to include plenty of fatty fish (salmon, cod) or seafood (shrimp, scallops), dark greens (kale, spinach), and complex carbs (dark multigrain breads) – when possible. I also carry healthy snacks with me that I make in advance – home-made meusli with flaxseeds, mixed nuts with chia and honey – so that we don’t end up doing artificial snacks on the go.
We came back to Paris with rosy cheeks from the sun and wind, and me, with new ideas of cooking with salted butter and burned sugar pastries.