Zipper Test

It's official: this Leek Soup thing is no walk in the park.  I actually felt a bit woozy yesterday afternoon so I took a few bites of the Nutella panini that Bug was eating (stopping at Bar Veloce may not have been my smartest move ever...).  I know some of you are going to do the Leek Soup recalibration as well, and I urge you to make sure you're eating more than leeks, if you need to.  Have a few nuts, or a piece of excellent-quality cheese, or...in my case...some Nutella.  Just make sure to choose your "cheat" carefully and enjoy it!

I read a bit more in FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT yesterday, and I have the perfect passage to share with you.  It's from the beginning of Chapter 3 and it really sums up the essence of what we're doing here:
While diets are often inspired by fear and self-loathing, such emotions do not show the way toward living like a French woman.  To embrace recasting, you have to be ready to embrace pleasure and individual happiness as your goals.  Sounds paradoxical?  At least half our bad eating and drinking habits are careless; they grow out of inattention to our true needs and delights.  We don't notice what we are consuming, we are not alert to flavors - we are not really enjoying our indulgences, and therefore we think nothing of them and overdo it.
When I first read this, I highlighted it and underlined it; it really hit home.  When you're eating, ask yourself if you're really enjoying what's going in your mouth...the flavors, the texture...and, if it's not delicious, why would you keep eating it?  Be mindful and conscious...and indulge smartly.  It's also about self-confidence: you're amazing so why would you settle for second-best?  You're awesome so why would you settle for a low-fat, chemical-laden block of "cheese" rather than something like a tart, crumbly, delicious Bucheron?  Don't settle for anything but the best quality you can afford!

I also had a chat via Facebook with a friend who is feeling the same way I am.  And she said that, in the past, when she has felt less than her best, she cuts out bread, pasta, and/or red wine for a time - that really helps her get back on track.  Which is awesome.  Again, know your strengths, know your body.  That said, I can't go that route - bread and wine, preferably on a daily basis, are things that I love, that I'm passionate about, that make me content and pleased.  So on that note, I like this passage:
Deprivation is the mother of failure.  Any program that your mind interprets as punishment is one your mind is bound to rebel against.  Whether your pleasure is a glass of wine with dinner or a croissant for breakfast, you simply cannot deprive yourself for extended periods of time and not expect your body to take revenge.
Mireille Guiliano goes on to advocate a day of rest, a Sabbath, when you can enjoy those things you love in moderation.  But her rules (good ones) are "no junk, good quality, and respectfully savored."  

So this is the last of my perhaps overly confessional blog posts, at least for awhile: today, I'm talking about the Zipper Test...photos and all.  First, I want to share a pre-French photo of myself (yes, I realize I just had a baby in this picture...but this is very representative of my look since about 14 years old):

And here's post-French - this was the weight I truly felt bien dans ma peau:

Now, I picked my pair of pants and shirt that I'm going to use to help me gauge my success.  Some of you are fans of the scale: if you feel like that's the best way for you, then go for it.  But I hate the scale and, personally, I feel like it can be so misleading.  Another way to gauge your success is using a measuring tape.  Again, I'm not a huge fan of that, but that's something else you may want to use.

So here is the shirt:

It's hard to tell from the photo, of course, but the buttons pull so tight around my stomach that you can see glimpses of skin.  And here are the pants:

They can't be buttoned.  Which breaks my heart - I loooove these pants.  Particularly when they used to be my "baggy" pants.

So here we go!

Those of you following along with me, how is your reading going?  Are you automatically thinking, "She's full of crap - this won't work for me!"  Are you enjoying it?  Are you trying the food diary?  What quotes do you love?  Would love to hear your thoughts!

Eat, drink, and study for the Test! 8-)


Leek Soup

You guys, I am so pumped.  Your notes have been so encouraging, inspiring, and motivating.  And after two days of increased mindfulness and new motivation, I feel better already, both physically and emotionally.  And my favorite part is that some of you have told me that you even bought FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT and you're reading along with me!  YES!  You guys are the best!

I read the first three chapters yesterday and was reminded why I love this book so much.  The key is to read it with an open mind, and you need to be ready to really make some changes.  That's where I was at in 2005 when I first encountered it, and that's where I'm at today: open-armed and ready to have my world rocked again.

I loved page 10 (in the hardcover edition) where Mireille Guiliano says:
[...] the goal is to develop what works for you as you cultivate a new intuition.  I'm not presenting prescriptions so much as templates.  Tailor them according to your preferences, paying attention to your own body, schedule, environment, and other unique characteristics.  In fact, my emphasis is on the simplicity, flexibility, and rewards of doing it yourself.
On that same page, she says about Phase Two of her "lifestyle program":
It won't be a dietary boot camp, merely a chance for your body to recalibrate.  There is discipline, but flexibility is vitally important, especially at this key motivational stage: the value of avoiding routine both in meals and in activities, emphasizing quality over quantity.
The bolded words are my own - I wanted to draw out particular points that I find super important.

So today I'm making the Leek Soup that she outlines at the end of Chapter 2 (and at the beginning of Chapter 3).  It's sort of a detox/cleanse.  As I mentioned yesterday, I didn't do this part when I first "went French" in 2005 - I didn't like leeks, or hardly any vegetables, at the time.  But now I love them so I'm going for it.  You can feel free to omit this part of Guiliano's "lifestyle program".  You'll also know from your reading that Guiliano recommends keeping a food diary, but I didn't do that back in 2005 and I'm definitely not going to do it now - it feels way too much like homework to me.  Again, do what works for you!

Recipe from FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT by Mireille Guiliano

2 pounds leeks (about 6 leeks)

1. Cut off the ends of the leeks, both the roots and the dark green parts, leaving the white parts plus a suggestion of pale green.  Clean the leeks and rinse well to get rid of sand and soil.

2. Put the leeks in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered 20 minutes.  Pour off the liquid and reserve.  Place the leeks in a bowl.

Then Guiliano instructs:
The juice is to be drunk (reheated or at room temperature to taste) every 2 to 3 hours, 1 cup at a time. 
For meals, or whenever hungry, have some of the leeks themselves, 1/2 cup at a time.  Drizzle with a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice.  Season sparingly with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley if you wish. 
This will be your nourishment for [two] days, until Sunday [or in my case, Wednesday] dinner, when you can have a small piece of meat or fish (4 to 6 ounces) with a bit of butter or olive oil, and a piece of fruit. 

Presentation is everything!

Again, I'm adapting this to me.  Because, guess what...I'm so eating dinner tonight!  It just doesn't fit my lifestyle to sit at the table with a single leek and some broth...while Adam and Bug eat some awesome dinner that I made for them.  Not gonna happen for me.

But I do plan on cutting my normal portion size in half.  If I'm still hungry after that, I'll have a few bites of leek or drink some broth.

I should also note that, should the leek soup thing be too extreme for you, Guiliano also gives a recipe for something called Mimosa Soup.  It's much more substantive with hard-boiled eggs, carrots, cauliflower, and other assorted goodies.  You can give that a try instead.  It's only for two days, and this is truly the only extreme part of "going French".

I'm off to read some more FWDGF and drink lots of water and tea...hopefully that will distract me from the fact that all I had for breakfast were two boiled leeks!

The total of my breakfasts and lunches for the next two days!

Eat, drink, and learn to love leeks, my fellow Frenchies.


My French Plan

You know, something Camilla said in the comment section of yesterday's post got me thinking about something I want to address before moving forward: this isn't entirely about weight loss (nor is FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT).  It's not about my loss of perspective, and it's not about my self-criticism.  I mean, I certainly have both from time to time, but this is not a case of either.  It's about putting on your favorite pair of pants and they won't button.  It's about me eating food I don't even like because I'm eating for other reasons than hunger.  It's about eating unconsciously, without thinking, without sitting down...and, thus, eating more than I might normally.  It's about food becoming a chore...something to struggle with...rather than a source of pleasure, joy, and happiness.  And because all this has happened, weight gain has been a by-product.  But it's not the focus.  My hope is that I'm going to recalibrate my body and my life and, if weight loss results, then that's fabulous.  But what if it doesn't?  Well, then it doesn't.  It wouldn't surprise me - I'm getting older, after all.  My focus is on pleasure, happiness with myself, health, eating mindfully, and feeling in control of my own actions and body.  Truly, that's THE focus.

I share this because it's a good reminder about why I'm re-centering myself and it also serves as a reminder of my ultimate goal.

Okay, so let's get on with my plan.  First, I want to point out that this is my plan.  My plan may not work for you.  It's fluid, it's not black-and-white, and it will change a lot.  That's really the point of FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT: everyone is individual and you need to do some soul-searching about what works for you.  So with that in mind, here's where I'm starting:

  1. Re-read FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT from cover to cover.  I've tried to do this a couple of times this last year, and I never got more than a chapter or two in.  This time, I'm reading the whole thing.  I won't stop until I'm done.  I'm starting as soon as I finish this post.
  2. Do the Leek Soup "cleanse" from FWDGF (more on this later).  I actually didn't do this part of it the first time I "went French" in 2005 because, at the time, I didn't love leeks like I love them now.  I'm on board this time.  And I think it'll be a great way to jump-start this process.
  3. Stop eating anywhere but sitting down.  I won't eat at the kitchen counter or in front of the TV or, god forbid, while walking down the street.  If I can't sit down and enjoy it, then I'll wait until the moment I can.  Likewise, I won't read or check my phone while eating.  When I'm eating, that is the one and only task I'll be focused on.  This helps me stay conscious of what is going in my mouth and increases my enjoyment of the great meal I made.
  4. The saying goes that if you're not hungry enough to eat an apple then you're not truly hungry.  I'll use this as my guide to whether or not I eat...and, if I decide I am hungry, then a piece of fruit will work perfectly.
  5. My plan is to stick to 3 meals a day.  No snacks.  Now, if I'm hungry, I will eat a snack; deprivation is not part of this plan.  But I will make smart decisions about when I eat and what I eat.  And while we're at it, I'm also getting rid of processed, junky foods.  I had started eating them again, and that's no good at all.  
  6. I will pick one pair of pants and one shirt that do not currently fit me, and they will act as my "Zipper Test" (more on that later too).  I won't weigh myself because it's too unreliable (water weight, muscle gain, etc.), not to mention that it's not as fun nor as sexy.  Instead, the pants and shirt will be the method I use to gauge my success.  I will no doubt love the moment when they, hopefully, slip right on and button up with no trouble.  That is sexy and fun. 
  7. I will limit my intake of wine to two glasses a day, to be spent how I like: one at lunch, one at dinner...one with dinner, and the other post-dinner...
  8. Get inspired.  I've already told you about my major Pinterest addiction.  Well, I went ahead and started a French Inspiration board - I'll be posting there regularly.  Also, as I'm re-reading FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT, I'll post quotes from the book here, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.  This will keep me accountable for re-reading it all, and hopefully it'll inspire some of you too.  Likewise, I have all kinds of other Frenchy books - I'll pull quotes from there too.
  9. Move my butt a little each day.  The weather was pretty miserable on Friday so I didn't want to do much walking outside...so I walked up the 7 flights of stairs to my apartment instead (which, coincidentally, doesn't take any more time than the elevator in our building)...I was out of breath, of course, but I didn't sweat at all.  This morning, rather than walking straight home from taking Bug to school, I walked to the East River.  I added a few laps around a track and then walked home.  I added about 2 miles to my usual walk, hardly broke a sweat, and was greeted with this view:

I'm starting there and we'll see how it goes.  Again, it's not like I've set these as hard-and-fast rules with no room for interpretation or leeway.  The idea is that if you're too tyrannical with yourself, you will have a very difficult time being successful (and you certainly won't enjoy as many pleasures).  What if I have friends over for dinner?  Well, chances are very good I'll drink 3 glasses of wine and eat more than I might normally.  Rather than berate myself or feel as if I've failed, I'll compensate elsewhere.  The next day I won't have any wine, or I'll have a slightly smaller breakfast and lunch...you get the idea.  

Stay tuned!  I'll tell you all about the Leek Soup, the Zipper Test, being French when you have a family to cook for, inspiring music, and more...  And don't worry - I'll still be posting my usual recipes and photos as well!

Eat, drink, and get moving!


My Story

My blog is a confessional today.

I have fallen off the wagon, in a way.  I've been struggling to get back on for about a year and, as I've struggled, I've become more and more unhappy with myself.  But I'm fairly good about seeing a bad situation and, rather than staying in it, I find a way out instead.  I brainstormed this morning, and I realized that my blog could help me.  So I start today in turning things around, and I start here so that I can hold myself accountable, document my new journey, and glean some inspiration.  Today, I'm going to start with sharing my story.

I've alluded to it a couple of times on the blog before, but I'll really get into it today.  I've always struggled with my weight.  My 8th grade graduation was awful: the dress I bought a couple months before suddenly didn't fit; I couldn't button it up and my mom had to do a quickie pin job.  And it went from there.  I felt fattest of all my friends in high school...I binge-ate...I tried bulimia (but failed)...  College wasn't much better: vegetables hardly ever passed my lips, and I had a weakness for Velveeta and Snackwell's cookies.  The Soul Twin and I used to share an entire tub of fat-free chocolate frosting in front of the TV, criticizing "those bitches" who had better metabolism than us, justifying the frosting binge since it was "fat-free".  I admit this with shame, of course, but I don't know that I would change a thing; it was cumulated moments like that that helped me get where I am now.  Anyway...

My pregnancy at 25 didn't help.  I loved Arby's.  I loved mozzarella sticks at Red Robin's.  I gained 60 pounds and, by the time I gave birth, I was 200 pounds.  At 5'5", that's not a small amount.  And the struggle went on...

For 17 years, I was a size 10 at my best...a size 14/16 at my most heavy.  Some of you reading this may scoff at that and say something like, "I wish I could be a 10...or even a 14."  And that's your personal struggle.  For me, though, at that weight, I don't feel good.  I don't feel healthy.  I don't feel sexy.  I don't feel like I'm at my best.  And that's a problem.

Anyway, my "bottom" was the year I turned 30.  It was a big, important, tumultuous year in my life, and I was really open to anything and everything.  That's when I read FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT by Mireille Guiliano.  Again, scoff all you like, but that book changed my life.  The very idea that I could eat full-fat, full-flavor food and lose weight at the same time?  Revolutionary for me.  I always sensed that I was doing it wrong, and what Mireille Guiliano was selling me seemed just right.

I threw myself into it - hook, line, and sinker - and I quickly (in about 3-4 months) went from a size 12 to a size 6.  Without going to the gym.  And without hardly stepping on the scale.  And I was eating the best food of my life.  This was in 2005.  Ultimately, two years later, I was a size 4 (sometimes a size 2).  And I never felt like I was skimping.  As Mireille Guiliano says, I felt "bien dans ma peau" (which means to be comfortable in your own skin, to be happy with who you are) and all was well.

What I love(d) about FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT is that it promotes cooking and eating as a pleasurable experience, which probably doesn't seem all that revolutionary to most of you but it certainly was to me at the time.  And as someone who has loathed and hated working out at the gym, the book also gave me permission to not go, pointing out that it is possible to eat pleasurably and sensibly and still lose weight, without the gym.  Instead, I got to walk everywhere.  I sought out the stairs (have you tried to find stairs in a suburban mall?  It's damn-near impossible). I never left my grocery cart in the parking lot; I always walked it back to the store - I also parked in the furthest spot in every lot.  FWDGF teaches you that every little bit of movement you do, every little bite or sip that you shave off of your meal counts.  It's about subtlety and grace; nothing is ever extreme.  All of this appealed to me, and it made me feel like I could be my Best Self.

But forward to today, and I'm off the French wagon. I've reached another "bottom".  At least two-thirds of my closet is undeniably unwearable, thanks to my weight gain (I think I'm up 2 sizes or so...I still don't weigh myself). My proportion sizes are out of control.  I drink too much. I hate pictures of myself.  I don't feel sexy or pretty.  I'm grumpy and short-tempered.  I just don't feel bien dans ma peau.  My French-ness has gotten away from me.

So that ends today.  Here and now.  And this blog is going to help me.  Tomorrow I'm going to share my plan.  Now that my story is out, I'm going to make my move to change it.  It's not over yet.

Eat, drink, and feel bien dans votre peau.

ADDED NOTE: I should also add that Adam has gone on this journey with me.  When I was 30, he was 32.  At 6'5" he was 210 pounds, which was too heavy for him, as evidenced by his near-constant knee/hip/back pain that markedly decreased when he got down to 185 pounds, post-Frenchness.  He has also fallen off the French wagon, as couples tend to do together, and we're recommitting together.  Here we go!


Skewers of Sadness

I was supposed to be in California this week with Bug.  The kids are off school here in NYC, and I was just itching to get out of the city and back to the laid-back, sunny vibe of my home state.  But then Bug got sick and, after delaying our flight not once but twice, we ultimately decided we'd have to let California go.  So it's been a tough week, particularly when I'm really, really feeling like I need a break from NYC.  And being almost 11 years old, Bug is keenly aware that this is "all my fault."  It's been a sad, sad house.

So I decided to cheer myself up with these shrimp-and-bread skewers.  Last summer, during our annual West Coast trip, our friends Amy and Lisa introduced us to these awesome (and easy) skewers: shrimp, bread, olive oil, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes.  That's it!  Naturally, Amy and Lisa barbecued them but, in my home, I have to resort to my urban BBQ: my cast-iron stovetop grill.  When I told Amy I was going to make these skewers to try to make up for the fact that I wasn't seeing them this week, she replied, "Yeah, you're making Skewers of SADNESS!"  And I think the name may stick in our house.  Here was the menu I put up this week:

Nevertheless, these don't make me sad at all.  They remind me of summer days on Amy and Lisa's patio (here's a picture), and they remind me of taking life easy...those moments when all I have to do is laugh and eat...and that's it.  And couldn't we all use some sunshine, summer, laughter, conversation, friends, family, smiles?  Hopefully these will take you there.

a.k.a. Skewers of Sadness

Serves 2

3/4 pound large shrimp, deveined, tales removed
1/2 baguette, cut into 1-inch chunks
olive oil
fennel seeds
crushed red pepper flakes
freshly ground pepper
kosher salt

1. Toss shrimp and bread chunks with enough olive oil to evenly and generously coat everything.  Add fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper, to taste.

2. Thread shrimp and bread onto skewers.  I like to keep the shrimp on their own skewers, and likewise with the bread - this helps everything cook more evenly.  But feel free to alternate the bread and shrimp, if you'd like, which makes for a better presentation.

3. Grill the skewers on a barbecue grill, or on a stovetop grill set on high.  Grill until shrimp are pink and cooked through, and the bread should be toasted with grill marks.

4. Depending on how you made the skewers, you can either serve them directly on the plate, or you can remove the shrimp and bread from the skewers and add to a large serving platter or bowl.  Add a salad as a side dish (I ate mine with sugar snap peas in this case...which are ridiculously out of season, but I just couldn't help myself...).

When I bought our tickets to California, I got super excited and made a "California Love" playlist to listen to while driving around in my parents' new convertible.  Pathetically, I've had it playing on repeat in my apartment for the last four days.  Here's a sample of my favorites:

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

The one song missing from here is "California" by Stop 186.  It's my favorite California-themed song but I just couldn't get it for this playlist.  And sue me...but I like Counting Crows' version of "Big Yellow Taxi" better than Joni Mitchell's...

Eat, drink, and listen to "California Dreamin'" one...more...time...


Pear Wine

A work colleague of Adam's was recently visiting from the Boston area and we invited her over for dinner.  It was, truthfully, one of my biggest debacles as a host: I was way behind on the cooking itself and then I dropped a brand-new, entirely full bottle of $45 O& Co. olive oil on our tile kitchen floor...just as I was serving dinner.  But sometimes, in my obsession with trying to be a good host, I forget to pay attention to my awesome guests...Melanie reminded me of this when, a week after our dinner, she mailed us a lovely new bottle of olive oil to replace the one I dropped.

Melanie also arrived at our apartment with a bottle of pear wine, which her stepfather makes himself.  He also makes his own limoncello and wine.  Adam and I actually didn't open the pear wine that night, which I'm not sure followed the proper rules of etiquette.  Are there rules governing whether we should have opened it with Melanie or not?  Let me know if you have any ideas...

...but we did open it up about a week or two later.  It's fairly regular for us to pour a "nightcap" after Bug goes to bed: it's that drink we sip while watching a show or playing a game or chatting with one another.  It's a signal that our kid is in bed, we've eaten dinner, and our day is finally winding down.  On this particular night we felt like pouring something special and decided to open up the wine.

I wasn't sure what to expect.  Something ├╝ber-sweet, for certain, and maybe a bit syrupy.  But I didn't know if it would be very pear-specific or what other flavors I might encounter.   The rich golden color was just gorgeous - I loved holding it up to the light.  And the flavor?  Beautiful and infinitely more elegant than I was expecting; I was also relieved to discover it wasn't nearly as sweet as I had expected.  I also got some honey and vanilla on the nose, as well as on the palate. It's a dessert wine, to be sure, but it was just more subtle and light than I thought it would be.  In short, it's a new favorite.

How do you score a bottle?  Well, you really can't score a bottle from Melanie's stepfather; in fact, I'm conspiring myself to acquire another bottle (or two)!  It involves sending Adam up to Boston under the guise of a work project of some sort, buttering Melanie up, and hopefully sneaking a bottle home with him (I kid, Melanie!).  But I did find lots of web resources for making your own: this site gives recipes/instructions for making two different kinds of pear wine (one uses raisins and sugar for sweetness, the other uses honey and is more mead-like).  

But if you're more my style, then you just want to buy it.  Hillcrest Orchards has a pear wine.  Honeywood also has a version; I haven't tried their pear wine, but their other wines have proven way, way too sweet for me in the past.  And I'm very curious about Maple River's pear wine: they're based in North Dakota, which isn't normally conducive to pear growing but they make it work (but, dear god, they need a web designer).  Sounds like a unique wine tasting experience.  Lastly, having tasted a few wines from Virginia, I've been rather impressed with what they've produced (see my post about Villa Appalaccia).  Brooks Mill Winery in Virginia does a pear wine that I'm particularly interested in tasting.  Do you have any wineries you love who do a pear wine (or other fruit wine)?

Eat, drink, and pear well.


The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference 2012

I spent all day last Friday and Saturday at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference here in NYC, listening to some of the top people in food sharing their expertise and experiences: Melissa Clark, Judith Jones, Peter Kaminsky, Molly O'Neill, Laura Shapiro, Bonnie Slotnick, Tanya Steel, Joe Yonan, Grace Young...and so, so many more.  My favorite part, though, was that all the panelists shared stories with us.  Storytelling was actually a major theme of the conference, I think, and the story-loving librarian in me just soaked it all up like a dry sponge.  I felt elated, inspired, fired up, excited...and I also felt so far out of my league that I hardly introduced myself to anyone.  Aw well.  There's always next year, right?

I took a crap-ton-load of notes that I'll share with you, and I also pulled some of the tweets from #cookbookconf.  I highly encourage you to check out the hashtag for the complete rundown, including different perspectives, discussions, and notes.  (Side note: what did we do at conferences before Twitter?  I love that it enables us to experience panels we can't attend, and it allows for a multi-layered discussion and engagement.)

Without further ado, here is a sample of my (copious) notes from the conference:

  • Peter Kaminsky shared with us the three things we all need to be healthy: 1) Don't eat processed food, ever; 2) buy the highest quality, most full-flavored food you can afford; and 3) cook - or at least live with someone who does. 

  • Betty Crocker wasn't a real person!  Did you know that?  I didn't...  Not surprised, of course, but still...

  • June Hersh stated that the ubiquity of recipes means that the future of cookbooks is in the stories.  I can definitely see it coming, and I'm thrilled: the stories behind the recipes are my favorite part!

  • I learned that some people - namely Jane Lear and a number of the people in the room at the time - are not MFK Fisher fans.  I'm a die-hard groupie so I was floored to learn that there are people out there who don't love her writing.  I still don't see how you couldn't...

  • Speaking of Jane Lear, there was a lively discussion on the panel about "food TV" and how it has complicated things.  People watch shows like "Iron Chef" and even Ina Garten and "they don't see the A to B, let alone the Z."  So when it comes time for viewers to cook for themselves, they overstretch themselves, not understanding that cooking actually isn't all that easy.  Then they end up frustrated and give up.  I personally know so many people who have had this experience.  That said, though, food TV can often be the gateway to getting people into the kitchen in the first place so I don't feel like I can completely condemn it.  But, yes, it certainly complicates things.

  • I loved what Peter Kaminsky shared about planning a menu for a dinner party.  You need to think carefully about the progression of each dish, how they work together, building everything to a crescendo.  He quoted, "A diva wouldn't start the aria on the highest note."  I'm sooo going to remember this the next time I host a dinner party!

  • We also talked about authenticity and ethnicity quite a bit.  In particular, I found Krishnendu Ray's points to be illuminating (for me).  He pointed out that chefs master French techniques and, once mastered, they are considered truly skilled and accomplished chefs.  However, ethnic food is still seen as a list of ingredients that a chef is familiar with, rather than techniques that are mastered; it certainly isn't considered haute cuisine.  He also held up various cookbooks: the ones that are Euro-centric (i.e. The French Laundry Cookbook; NOMA) have covers that are cream or light-colored.  Cookbooks that feature "ethnic" foods have covers with "ethnic" colors: blue, green, red, orange (i.e. Indian Home Cooking).

  • A major theme of the conference was that "Perfection Is OVER."  Gone are the days of Martha Stewart's example of shiny perfection and seeming effortlessness.  The whole structure of the family meal is oppressive and romanticized.  Books like An Everlasting Meal and The Improvisational Cook feature much more democratic, creative ways of cooking.  Molly O'Neill said that there's more chaos in the American home these days; cookbooks bring order.  Embracing your failures in the kitchen is honest and authentic.  So, everyone, you can breathe a sigh of relief now. 

  • As a blogger, one of the major things I am taking away from this conference is that I can reach out way more than I do.  I'm an active user of Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest...but I'm not reaching out at all to authors.  A perfect example is that I LOVED Georgeanne Brennan's A Pig In Provence (I reviewed it), and I'm an evangelist for Laura Calder's French Food at Home (I cooked from it here and here).  But I never reached out to those authors, or any of the others I've mentioned here.  There were lots of authors at this conference and the overwhelming majority seemed eager to reach out to and collaborate with bloggers.  So I'll remember that going forward - I'd love to reach out to some of my favorites and let them know that they're inspiring me and that I'm spreading the word!

  • I didn't go to Judith Jones' panel, but everyone was tweeting up a storm while she was speaking.  First, she apparently had on a salmon-hued pleated Hermes scarf that was To Die For.  Second, she shared her distress that chefs seem to be ruling the food world these days; chefs and their dramatic, titillating cookbooks have very little relevance to the home cook trying to get dinner on the table for a family.  I couldn't agree more.  Many people buy chef's cookbooks because of the name recognition, but these cookbooks are intended to intimidate; they are inaccessible.  This makes their books a form of literature, rather than true cookbooks.

  • Grace Young was easily one of my favorite panelists: her passion, knowledge, and stories were inspiring.  Additionally, her rage at the mutation of traditional Chinese cooking got me fired up (particularly when I learned that my $100+ stainless steel wok is damn near useless for traditional Chinese cuisine...but at least it's better than a nonstick wok, which Young said was the worst thing you can use for Chinese cooking.  The high heat gives off poisonous chemicals and all you get out of it is a "soggy braise").  Young also shared beautiful stories about cooking with her mother, and I took away the importance of passing recipes and food from generation to generation; oftentimes, food is the "iron thread" that binds us together.  Lastly, she spoke what was one of my favorite moments of the whole conference: "Record what is real because it has meaning.  It has legs.

  • As I said before, one of the major themes of the conference was the idea that you need to make connections and relate on a personal level.  Jennifer Abadi shared gorgeous, poignant stories about trying to record her grandmother's recipes; ultimately, she said that "it was about more than recipes. It was about history, stories, culture, connection, so much more."  On that same panel, Susheela Raghavan shared that "it has be personal.  That's what it's all about." Indeed.  And amen.

I know, this is the Longest Blog Post Ever.  But I was just so inspired and had so much to share!  I hope to attend this conference annually - it was an invaluable experience and I learned a tremendous amount.

Thanks to all the panelists and organizers!  Thanks as well to the Roger Smith Hotel for hosting, as well as to all the sponsors who provided us with such yummy treats!

Eat, drink, and share your stories.


The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference

I'm off today to The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference which, luckily, is taking place right in my own backyard: NYC.  I can't wait to get inspired and learn all kinds of new things at panels like "The People Behind the Pages: The Appeal of the Personality-Driven Cookbook" and "Cookbooks in Libraries: Gateways to Food Studies".  And some of the best in the biz will be speaking: Betty Fussell, Molly O'Neill, Rebecca Federman, Joan Nathan, Laura Shapiro, and so many more.

I'll be live-tweeting, barring any unforeseen technical difficulties, so check it out over on Twitter.


Cannellini Beans with Rosemary, Thyme, and Lavender

Man, it's hard for me to come here to post lately.  I can't even claim insane busy-ness...or a family tragedy...or anything remotely close to anything earth-rocking.  So where have I been?  Well, I find when I'm online, I immediately go to Pinterest.  I pull up to my boards, take a seat, get comfy, and I don't seem to move for ages.  Seriously, I'm addicted.  So if you're missing me here (ha!), then do head over there and say hi!

But I've finally broken free for a bit to stop by and share this gorgeous recipe with you: Cannellini Beans with Rosemary, Thyme, and Lavender.  Cannellini beans are one of my favorites: they're creamy, rich, and ridiculously versatile.  I love that you can mash them up with roasted garlic and olive oil and - bingo! - you have a satisfying crostini topping.  White beans with bacon?  Sublime.  White beans with thyme?  Perfect pairing.  A little sprinkling of crushed red pepper?  Even better.  In a soup?  Of course.  Pureed?  Yep.  I've even been known to eat them with breakfast.  I'm beginning to sound like Bubba in Forrest Gump, aren't I? 

And the best thing?  For me?  Is that they come in a can!  I know purists and cooks more advanced (or snobby) than I am will sniff at how easy it is to soak dried beans overnight, etc, and blah, blah.  But, you know, some things are just quicker from a can.  Easy as that.  If I can take this shortcut, then I'm taking it.  There are many, many other places where I don't cut corners when I'm cooking; opening a can of cannellini beans is practically a gift to myself.

I thought I'd tried damn-near every preparation - it seemed that way - so I was particularly excited when I read this one in one of my new favorite cookbooks, The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider.  I have to confess that I've never used lavender in a recipe before so I was completely intrigued.  Sally Schneider has a note before the recipe that has some serving suggestions: "[these beans] make a fine little meal on their own, with some shavings of Parmigiano, aged goat cheese, or ricotta salata [...] They are also a classic accompaniment to grilled or roasted lamb."  I'm not a big lamb fan so we just served the beans on their own, but feel free to give the pairing a try yourself!

And - bonus! - this is a one-pan recipe!

Inspired by Sally Schneider's The Improvisational Cook

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1/2 cup shallots, thinly sliced
1 1/4 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
1 1/4 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
Pinch of dried lavender
4 cups cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (about 2 cans)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. Combine olive oil and shallots in a large (12-inch) heavy skillet.  Cook, covered, over moderate heat until the shallots are soft and golden, about 5 minutes.  

2. Stir in rosemary, thyme, and a pinch of dried lavender (note: careful on that pinch - lavender is very potent!).  Saute, stirring, for 1 minute.

3. Add beans and 1/3 cup water to the pan.  Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 5 minutes.  Add lemon juice.  Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.  Spoon the beans into 4 bowls.  Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over each serving.  If desired, serve with grilled baguette slices.

LAVENDER NOTE: Dried lavender wasn't easy to find. I ultimately found it at the Union Square Greenmarket.  You can order it online at Lavender By The Bay (the same sellers at Union Square).

WINE NOTE: I paired this with the Cupcake Pinot Noir, which you can get at Trader Joe's.  The beans brought out all the berry in the Pinot Noir - very nice.

NOTE ON KID-FRIENDLINESS: I know, I know.  I haven't made many kid-friendly meals lately.  This was served on an "Adult Dinner"night after Bug had gone to bed.  She won't touch cannellini beans.  

Eat, drink, and look for new ways to dress up old favorites.