Hot Dogs & Croissants: The Culinary Misadventures of Two French Women Who Moved to America, Got Fat, Got Skinny (Again), and Mastered Eating Well in the USA¿With Recipes

Hot Dogs & Croissants: The Culinary Misadventures of Two French Women Who Moved to America, Got Fat, Got Skinny (Again), and Mastered Eating Well in the USA¿With Recipes

by Natasha Saulnier, Victorine Saulnier


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When the Saulnier sisters suffer one disappointment too many in their native France, they decide to pack up and try their luck in America. As journalists they have the run of the country, following stories that take them to places where most Americans have never been—from the back roads of Appalachia to an underground village of homeless people in the New York City subway system.

And along the way they dine on:

• Nathan’s Famous hot dogs at the annual hot dog–eating contest in Coney Island
• Snapping turtle soup as prepared by the Native American elders of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe
• Cheesy grits from the Armadillo Diner in Texas
• And burgers, burgers, burgers everywhere!

As the Saulnier sisters adopt the American way of eating, their relationship to food shortly changes. They gain weight—and lose their self-esteem. This new diet is especially hard on Victorine, who temporarily abandons her vegetarianism. It’s not until they meet a couple running an organic farm in upstate New York that they realize how far they’ve strayed from their native food values—and learn that you can eat well in America, too.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629145365
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 02/03/2015
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Natasha Saulnier is a journalist, author, and translator whose work has appeared in such publications as Libération, L'Humanité, Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace, Ouest-France, The Independent of London, Progressive Magazine, Marie Claire, Grazia Magazine, and others. She’s also the co-author of Kill, Kill, Kill: Crimes de guerre en Irak (War Crimes in Iraq), published by Editions du Panama 2005, which has been translated into Spanish and Greek. Natasha holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and currently works as a Diplomatic Translator at the United Nations in New York City.

Victorine Saulnier is a photojournalist whose work has appeared in and graced the covers of Marie Claire France, DS, L’Humanité and Dernières Nouvelles D’Alsace (DNA). She has also worked behind the video camera in television news as producer/editor and audio engineer in Texas and Connecticut, and is a certified Sivananda yoga instructor and private vegetarian chef. She studied video and film production at the Lambeth Institute in London, holds a private pilot’s license and a Bachelor of Science in Ecological Sciences from the University of North London. She is now preparing to launch Terreko, her line of nutritional and organic skin care products.

Read an Excerpt

Hot Dogs & Croissants

The Culinary Misadventures of Two French Women Who Moved to America, Got Fat, Got Skinny (Again), and Mastered Eating Well in the USAâ"With Recipes

By Natasha Saulnier, Victorine Saulnier

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2015 Natasha and Victorine Saulnier
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62914-536-5


Hot Dogs or Croissants?

The French countryside flew past the train window as I rummaged inside my handbag searching for sunglasses to hide my red puffy eyes. I had been crying for two days and the pitying looks from my fellow passengers were too much for me to bear. I reached back inside my handbag for a tissue and my hand closed around the letter, that horrible letter. I was tempted to read it again in the vain hope that somehow, stuffed inside its envelope the words had miraculously changed, but what was the use? I knew the devastating news was final. Two years of relentless work reading, analyzing, and deconstructing the greatest works of Chaucer, Nabokov, Hardy, Poe, and too many other authors to name had culminated in nothing but a one-page rejection letter now lying crumpled in my bag. The document informed me that I had failed my Agrégation d'Anglais, the civil service exam that would have certified me to teach English literature at a French university. My longtime dream was shattered. All I wanted to do now was run home to my parent's house, curl up in my childhood bed, and disappear. My one consolation? My older sister Victorine would soon be there to share my unhappiness. My mother had informed me during our last tearful phone conversation that Victorine was abandoning London, where she had been living for the last ten years. Nigel, her musician boyfriend, was supplementing his income teaching English as a second language and Victorine had apparently came home unexpectedly early from work and discovered him upstairs in their bed conjugating some irregular verbs with one of his young female Pakistani students. Our father, bravely facing his fear of driving on the "wrong" side of the road, was on a ferry crossing the channel on his way to London in his horse van to retrieve Victorine, her six-toed cat Rani, and her ten years' worth of possessions. No, Spring had not been kind to us Saulnier sisters. We each suffered our own little miseries, mine in Paris, Victorine's in London, and we were both returning to our childhood home in Brittany to lick our wounds.

After three days hiding in my room and replenishing my tears with nothing but hot tea, I finally succumbed to the delicious scents emanating from the pots simmering on my mother's stove. In bathrobe and slippers I shuffled to the kitchen table and sat down to a meal of our favorite childhood dishes. A bowl of Maman's incredible leek potato soup and a large helping of endives covered with béchamel sauce helped to comfort me, and as I finished my first slice of her delicious apple tart my misery began to subside.

"The world always looks a bit brighter on a full stomach" Maman said as she gently stroked my hair and kissed my forehead.

Victorine apparently hadn't lost her appetite, nor skipped a beat, for while I was upstairs sobbing into my pillow, she had been downstairs at the kitchen table drinking coffee, eating crêpes, talking with my parents, reading the brochures she had picked up at the travel agent in town, and most importantly making big plans ... for the both of us.

As I finished my second slice of apple tart I noticed a spark in her eyes and a look I knew all too well. For as long as I could remember Victorine always kept multiple schemes simmering on the back burners of her mind. The recent break-up with her now ex-boyfriend had merely turned up the flame under her latest one and it was now boiling over.

"Natasha" she said, "we're going to America"


"America" she repeated. "I have it all planned. I explained it all to Maman and Papa and they agree it's a good idea"

"I can't go off on holiday to America now."

"Oh yeah? Why not? What's keeping you here?" Victorine asked, raising her eyebrows.

I racked my brain for a rational reason why I couldn't go but could find none.

"Listen, I'm not talking about a holiday, I'm talking about work" she continued. "We'll go back to journalism, like we did before—only this time, we do it in America. I have it all figured out. Contact your editor friend at the newspaper and suggest some story ideas. If he agrees, we'll go."

I thought about it. Normally, journalism is a difficult profession to break into in France but through a friend from school who worked at one of France's regional newspapers, I was offered the opportunity to submit a story to the paper's editor several years ago. To my astonishment and delight, he accepted it, then one submission led to the next and the next until eventually, my portfolio had grown to the point that I had the reputation and confidence to submit unsolicited story ideas to editors of a variety of regional newspapers and magazines. Once my proposals were approved, I dove into my research and interviews and wrote stories on topics ranging from politics to culture. Occasionally, Victorine helped me with research and contributed her admirable skills with a camera so I could submit photographs along with the articles.

We hadn't done any reportage while I was engrossed in my studies, but with nothing to keep us in France, Victorine wanted to revive our journalistic selves on the other side of the Atlantic.

"You have to admit it's a good idea" said Victorine as she leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. "We both need to get away."

She was right, she knew it and she knew that I knew it.

This is how we Saulnier sisters wound up in America, I as a freelance journalist and Victorine as a photojournalist. Like all Europeans, we had heard about the legendary American bonhomie, the relaxed and easygoing attitude of Americans and were eagerly anticipating encountering it firsthand. To be perfectly honest, we were a little tired of some of the French attitudes and the not-so-endearing uptightness and judgmental nature derived from the native sense of superiority. Peek into the psyche of any true French person and you'll find that deep down in their soul, they believe that France is responsible for the invention of all that makes the world civilized: wine, gastronomy, perfume, fashion, and yes, even democracy.

For two romantic and adventurous French girls, America promised to be ... well, what it is supposed to be, the country of new beginnings and self-reinvention. Like our countryman before us, Alexis de Tocqueville, we wanted to study her mores and customs and learn more about the land we were soon to call the "country of smiles."

Thankfully, language was not an issue. Ten years living in London had left Victorine with an impeccable command of the English language. She had also acquired a noticeably softened accent, both cosmopolitan and elegant, of which I was quite envious. I loathed my strong, unmistakably Parisian accent, but after the umpteenth time I was told it sounded sexy, I decided to embrace it. I had a degree in English Literature after all and aside from the occasional malapropism, felt totally confident in any conversational setting.

Like millions of European immigrants bound for the Free World before us, we landed in New York, and quickly sought out the Statue of Liberty: the famous gift from France symbolizing the friendship between our two countries. The smell of freedom and hope was in the air and the moment we caught sight of her we spontaneously burst out singing the famous Nana Mouskouri song, "Song for Liberty"—a corny song for sure, but we were excited about our newfound freedom. Lady Liberty gazed down upon us impassively. If she knew what was in store for us on our American adventure, she wisely kept it to herself.

Our second day in America was July 4th—Independence Day—and its national festivities were upon us. The newfound New York friends we met on the ferry invited us to Coney Island to give us "Frenchies a real sense of American traditions on Independence Day." Still a bit giddy from the excitement of our arrival in America, we wallowed in the carnival atmosphere and allowed our pals to escort us through crowds that thronged the beachside boardwalk to the Original Nathan's Famous Frankfurters Restaurant. Apparently in America, as in France, national holidays ultimately become all about food, but that's where the resemblance ended.

Our joy quickly subsided. We had arrived just in time to catch the starting bell of Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, an annual competition in which each contender's goal is to eat as many hot dogs as possible within the space of twelve minutes. This was something we had never heard about nor could even imagine. We stared dumbfounded at the sight before us: about twenty people standing behind a long table covered with plates piled high with hot dogs and containers of soda. All were frantically stuffing their mouths, sometimes helping themselves with both hands and all ten fingers to broken pieces of hot dogs and buns. The scene was sheer madness. These men and women were gorging themselves non-stop with hot dogs, slurping soda to help them go down, and all the while jumping and squirming like worms in a feeding frenzy. Their faces were red and swollen. The veins on their foreheads and necks protruded. Frankly, they looked as if they were going to vomit. I caught a glimpse of one of the contestants regurgitating some food through his nostrils and I quickly looked away. The screams of hundreds of people attending the contest filled the air. They were rooting for their favorites, yelling their names and egging them on. Just like in a real sports competition, an announcer wearing a straw hat was excitedly pacing the stage and shouting commentary into his microphone.

"Now, only two more minutes to go ... our champion Joey is considerably slowing the pace ... Now only fifty-nine seconds to go ... The crowd is going wilder than ever ... Now thirty-five seconds to go ... he's about to set a new world record ... ten seconds ... fifty-eight hot dogs! JOEY CHESTNUT IS THE GREATEST EATER IN THE WORLD!"

I was so stunned that I had to borrow a chair from my neighbor, an elderly lady who looked genuinely concerned and kept asking me if I was all right, but the announcer's comments were what really dealt me the final blow.

"I'm truly stunned," he continued, as he stood with the winner at his side. "I've seen some amazing things in my life but this is clearly tops them all, and look at him, he doesn't look affected at all. Isn't it amazing? You've eaten fifty-eight hot dogs and you look healthy and refreshed."

An avalanche of applause and cheers welcomed the announcer's words. To me, the winner didn't look so good at all. A disagreeable situation—and since things can always get worse when you are in a disagreeable situation—an unmistakable smell began to permeate the atmosphere around me. My nose directed my eyes to the guilty parties. Some of the less skilled contestants were doubled over and had begun vomiting in the back. Great, I thought, soon it's going to be my turn. Yet one question kept turning around my mind: Why on earth would anybody want to hurt oneself so much? I turned to my big sister for an answer. Victorine was sitting motionless, her camera in her lap, staring wide-eyed at the triumphant champion. I got the distinct feeling she was going to throw up, but I was more worried that she might not have taken any photos.

"You didn't take any photos?" I asked.

She didn't answer but instead kept muttering, "Maman wouldn't like that. Maman wouldn't like that at all."

Of the two of us, Victorine was the one who at the time had the healthiest relationship with food. She ate no meat, only organic vegetables, and no grease. She lived by the motto, "You are what you eat." Understandably, she was horrified. For French girls who had been taught table manners by an extremely elegant mother, considered by our family on par with any Cordon Bleu chef, it was an unimaginable scene, an unfathomable experience. We felt like Martians trapped on an alien planet overrun by a gluttonous species. Our mother had always taught us that quality was more important than quantity in everything, but even more so with food. Didn't the contestants know that they could smother themselves with food? That they were hurting their internal organs? That half of the planet was starving to death?

This inexplicable freak show was our first culinary adventure in the United States—and its morbid and toxic quality left a very bad taste in our mouths. I was never able to write a story about the hot dog eating contest itself. Victorine was so traumatized that she'd only taken three useless photos during the event. Still, we needed to understand what was behind this American tradition. We did some research, and discovered that the truth behind the contest was even scarier than the contest itself.

In 1916, a poor Polish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker made his living slicing bread into buns for ten-cent frankfurters at a restaurant on Coney Island. Nathan's coworkers, Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor, singing waiters who would later become famous in their own right, jokingly suggested that Nathan open his own stand and sell them for five cents. Nathan did exactly that. He invested his life's savings of three hundred dollars into his own business on the boardwalk, selling frankfurters made from his wife Ida's own recipe. His slogan: "A hot dog, a pickle, and root beer for a nickel."

Unfortunately, Nathan had a problem. Growing public concern over dubious practices in the meatpacking industry made people doubt the quality of his five-cent hot dogs. At the time, hot dog was a slang term that most likely referred to the fact that the meat from which frankfurters were made was as likely to be dog as anything else.


'Tis dogs' delight to bark and bite, Thus does the adage run. But I delight to bite the dog When placed inside a bun. —From the Yale Record, October 5th, 1895

Nathan needed people to trust and believe his hot dogs were healthy. In an inspired, pioneering marketing scheme he hired hungry unemployed actors to don white lab coats, pose as doctors from the nearby hospital, and hang around his stand eating his frankfurters. He then posted a sign reading, "If doctors eat our hot dogs, you know they're good!" His ploy worked brilliantly. Nathan's Famous quickly became the most popular restaurant on Coney Island and eventually evolved into an American icon. Finally, in 1987, seventy-one years after it first opened with a three hundred dollar investment, Nathan's son Murray sold the family's Nathan's Famous franchise for over nineteen million dollars.

We didn't know it at the time but my sister and I were doomed. We were about to be swallowed by America's fast food culture and our native French way of eating would soon fall completely by the wayside.

Hot dogs or croissants? That was the question. And even as our mother's words rang in our ears—"Always leave the table a little hungry"—we would choose hot dogs ... and we would pay the price.

Murray Handwerker's Cheese Hot Dog Roll-Ups

Serves 4 to 8

• 8 Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs
• 4 slices American cheese
• 1 can crescent refrigerator rolls

1. Preheat the oven 375°F.

2. Parboil hot dogs.

3. Split them lengthwise, almost through.

4. Slice cheese into strips. Insert strips of cheese into each hot dog slit.

5. Separate the crescent rolls into triangles. Wrap each hot dog in a roll.

6. Bake the roll-ups for about 10 minutes or until the rolls turn golden brown.


Lotte à l'Américaine

(Monkfish "American Style")

Serves 4

• 2 pounds of monkfish fillets
• 4 tablespoon of olive oil
• 3 big shallots, finely chopped
• 1 small leek, finely chopped
• 3 tablespoons of garlic, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
• 1 cup of diced plum tomatoes
• 1 bottle of fruity white wine
• 5 tablespoons of Armagnac or Cognac
• 1 pinch of clove powder
• 1 pinch of grated nutmeg
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan until hot.

2. Sauté the garlic, shallots, and leek.

3. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, clove powder, nutmeg, white wine, and the Armagnac or Cognac.

4. Let it cook for a few minutes on low medium heat.

5. Add the fillets, cover, and let it simmer gently on low heat for 20 minutes.

6. Sprinkle with parsley and serve hot with rice.


Excerpted from Hot Dogs & Croissants by Natasha Saulnier, Victorine Saulnier. Copyright © 2015 Natasha and Victorine Saulnier. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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