Hi everyone!

Thanks so much for sticking with me while I was taking a short break!  Everything's fine with me - don't worry!  Now I'm back and better than ever.

New York has been experiencing record high temperatures lately, and the California Girl in me is just swooning with delight and heart-bursting joy.

Last night was "Girls' Night", which meant that Adam had a work thing to go to so it was just me and Bug for dinner.  Naturally, with temps in the high 70s, we decided that dinner on the rooftop deck was de rigueur.

I put together our favorites on a cutting board: smoky almonds, Manchego, salame, grapes, pears, apples, bread, and crackers.  I drank a glass of Cotes du Rhone; Bug drank ginger beer.  And as per usual, there wasn't another single person on the deck with us.  On the one hand, I can't believe that in our HUGE building there is no one - no one - who thought it would be a good idea to sit outside.  But on the other hand, I adore having the deck to ourselves.

It's been a crazy, maddening, wonderful, challenging, refreshing couple of weeks...but I'm slowly feeling like the universe is coming into balance again.  I'm not doing much in the way of menu planning or complicated cooking as of late.  But with a meal like this, who needs it?  You don't have to turn cartwheels and set things on fire to put a good meal on the table.  Bug and I sat together, sharing details about our day, debating who the murderer could be in The Westing Game, and giggling about a boy that has a crush on her in class.  That was the best part.  Gathering together to eat is just what made it possible.

Again, you have all been really supportive and wonderful - I love being here and I love sharing with you. Thanks for being a part of it.

More soon...I really do want to get back to cooking in the kitchen!

Eat, drink, and enjoy the change in season!



Hi all,

Well, this past weekend I received some very difficult news, and my world has been turned upside down a bit.  I'm actually going to take a week or two off from blogging; I really need to focus on myself and my family for the time being.  But I am hoping that inspiration still strikes during that time period; in which case, I might stop by here for a quick picture or two.

In spite of everything going on in our lives, Adam, Bug, and I rallied together and had a lovely day yesterday.  After six years of living in New York City, we finally - finally! - went on the Staten Island Ferry.  And we decided to take the trip for no particular reason...we had never done it before and the weather is incredible...what better reason is that?

Then I came home and made a very simple dinner: sauteed Chanterelle mushrooms, a salad, and some cheese and bread.  It took me all of 15 minutes to make and it was incredibly satisfying and grounding.

The cheese is incredible.  It's called Rush Creek Reserve Farmstead Cheese from Wisconsin's Uplands Cheese.  I got it at Murray's Cheese - it was recommended by the staff person there as a better alternative, both in cost and flavor, to Vacherin.  Even then, the wheel above cost a whopping, painful $30!  BUT we've been eating it for more than a week.  It's so rich and creamy that we really are eating it in extreme moderation.  And worth the splurge - it tastes incredible.  

For the salad, I tossed together spinach, toasted walnuts (sorry, Marjorie!  But I think it would taste just as good with pecans, if that's a possibility for you), dried cranberries, and blue cheese.  I made a light dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, kosher salt, and pepper.

The Chanterelles were so good; these mushrooms are so delicately flavorful that the simplest preparation will do: splash of olive oil, tablespoon or so of butter, kosher salt, and pepper.  Saute until just cooked through but not completely soft.

I poured a glass of Prosecco and the whole thing was just heartwarming and refreshing.

I'll be back soon, I promise.  You know I can't stay away long.

Love, Laura



Brown Butter Pasta

This is a quick fly-by to tell you that Saveur's Brown Butter Pasta is INSANE.  In the Best Way Possible.

And for those of following all my FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT posts (here, here, and here, among others), I have this lovely quote from Debra Ollivier's awesome Franco-inspiration book, ENTRE NOUS: A WOMAN'S GUIDE TO FINDING HER INNER FRENCH GIRL:
There is a phrase, bien dans sa peau, which means "to feel good in one's skin."  It is a state of mind to which the French aspire, a state of ease and contentment that they hope is reflected in their faces.  No worry wrinkles, no cheeks flushed with stress.  Being bien dans sa peau is a state of simple physical and emotional grace.  You live well.  You do not have a guilty conscience for personal pleasures.  You feel good about yourself on a very essential level, and so others feel good around you. The French girl who is bien dans sa peau is balanced.  Relaxed.  Natural.  At ease in body and soul.  A perfect description of the French girl at her best.
And in conjunction, I paraphrase from Mireille Guiliano when I say that we must be the masters of our pleasure as well as our restraint.

I tell you what...I took ENORMOUS pleasure in that Brown Butter Pasta you see up there...and it took ENORMOUS restraint to not eat until I popped.  One of the best pasta meals I've had in awhile...maybe ever?

And, for the record, Côtes du Rhône pairs gorgeously with this dish...

Eat, drink, and live well.

NOTE: Okay, this is where I feel I must editorialize.  Being bien dans votre peau (feeling good in your skin) is not about weight.  Or weight politics.  Or unrealistic body expectations.  We're on a whole different level, one where we talk about personal well-being and your inner core.  Don't feel bien dans votre peau?  Then CHANGE IT.  Seek out that contentment, that joie de vivre.  I support you and I have to say thanks again to those family members, friends, and readers who have been so supportive of me - you are all amazing, fabulous, and kick-ass.

NOTE ON KID-FRIENDLINESS: I omitted the egg for Bug; otherwise, she gobbled this up.


Ham and Cheese Waffles

Happy Monday, all - how was your weekend?  Those of you who are following along with me, reading FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT, how did you fare?  I had a lovely weekend with many, maaany indulgences; my Friday night was positively Bacchanalian.  But that's one thing I love, among many, about Mireille Guiliano's philosophy: have fun now and compensate later.  I fared a bit better on Saturday, and Sunday I got right back on track with much more realistic portions of both food and drink.  This morning it's back to walking and light meals.  And I already feel a difference.  I do. I may not actually be lighter but I certainly feel it.  The biggest contributing factor to that, I think, is that I'm no longer eating until I'm full...I'm eating until I'm satisfied...which are two totally different things.  Even Adam said to me, "I forgot how great it feels not to be stuffed!"  Adam and I are thoroughly enjoying rediscovering flavors and textures, and Bug said that my walks along the river sound nice and she'd like to join me.  I feel like our household has come back online.

I'm fully engrossed in Chapter 6 of FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT where Mireille Guiliano is discussing the importance of seasonality.  Those of you who have tasted a summer tomato from the farmers' market and compared it to the flimsy things available from other countries in the winter will know what I'm talking about.  Eating foods in season is a key secret for the French woman (though, is it really a secret?) Here is a passage from FWDGF:
In the end, seasonality is the key to the French woman's psychological pleasure in food - the natural pleasure of anticipation, change, the poignant joy we take in something we know we shall soon lose and cannot take for granted.
Man, I love that.  Just...love.  I never embraced seasonality before "going French" and, once I did, it was a whole new world.  Now, am I major stickler for it?  No.  I have been known to buy a pint or two of cherry tomatoes to get me through the winter.  But asparagus or strawberries?  I never (seriously, never) buy them out of season because I feel like they are just that much better in season than out.  I'm very lucky in that I have the Union Square farmers' market a short walk from my apartment so I get a lot of my produce there.  But Fresh Direct (a grocery delivery service in NYC) also has a ton of seasonal, local options.  And I know other cities and towns around the U.S. are the same - when we lived in Olympia, WA, there was a gorgeous market, and my parents living in Folsom, CA also have great access to local, seasonal produce.  Seek out your local markets if you can.

So, speaking of seasons, this is the time of year when the California girl in me is freaking out: my friends and family on the West Coast are already enjoying asparagus and the like...and the Northeast is still in hard-core root vegetable weather.  I'm So Over Winter Produce.  It's this time of year that I question my decision to live in this region (don't worry; I get over it).  So I end up making things like Ham and Cheese Waffles:

These have the perfect interplay between salty and sweet and, with a little crunchiness on the outside, these waffles are intensely satisfying.  I served a little spinach salad on the side, and it was a lovely breakfast-as-dinner meal. (SEASONALITY NOTE: I get my spinach from Satur Farms through Fresh Direct.  Satur Farms is based in Long Island but they do grow in Florida during the winter months)

Recipe from Bon Appétit (March 2012 issue)
Makes 12 waffles

1 3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large egg whites
3 large egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup soda water (I used seltzer, which worked fine)
1 cup thin strips of ham
1 cup sharp white cheddar, grated
Non-stick vegetable oil spray

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Heat waffle iron until very hot.
2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a medium bowl until medium-soft peaks form.
4. Whisk egg yolks, butter, buttermilk, and soda water in a medium bowl; gradually whisk into dry ingredients.  Gently fold in egg whites (don't overstir!).
5. Coat waffle iron with non-stick spray.  Pour small amount of batter onto iron (amount of batter needed will vary according to machine).  Scatter about 1 tbsp. ham and 1 tbsp. cheese over each waffle.  Add a small amount of batter to cover.  Cook until golden brown and cooked through.  Transfer to a baking sheet; keep waffles warm in oven between batches.  Serve with butter and warm maple syrup (I also liked jam on mine).

NOTE ON KID-FRIENDLINESS: It's waffles.  Always a hit.  I made one waffle with no ham or cheese for Bug.  But she finished it and wanted more...so she just ate a ham-and-cheese waffle and loved it.  She ate more leftovers the next day.  Instead of a spinach salad on the side, Bug got apple slices.

A NOTE ON FRENCHNESS: Yep, this is how we eat while we're embracing a French lifestyle and even losing weight.  The key is portion control.  Pre-2005...and even two weeks ago...I would have eaten two full squares, maybe more.  Not this time.  I had one square and stopped: was I satisfied?  I decided to have half of another one.  Delicious.  Then I stopped.  Eating only 25% less may not seem like much but it is little choices like this that add up over time.

WINE NOTES: Yep, I've got wine notes for waffles.  Treat it like brunch and go for bubbles: Prosecco, Cava, or Champagne.  I'm a particular fan of the Llopart Rosé Brut Reserve Cava 2008, which I get from Fresh Direct - the pink hue has such a celebratory feel to it.

Eat, drink, and embrace seasonality.


Bacon Macaroni

It has been a couple of wonderful days for me: first, it was lunch yesterday at Lucien with the Soul Twin, where we talked about all things French-inspired...and how neither us could do the Leek Soup recalibration (let's just call it a fast, shall we?).  Then it was a middle school interview for Bug yesterday, which wasn't as scary as we feared (and she felt so confident at the end because, apparently, all the math was "SO EASY"...).  Tonight, it's dinner at The Smile (don't you love that name?) with some of my favorite people: Jen, Phil, Tina, Vic, and Adam.  In celebration of everything, I'm listening to Lyle Lovett's version of "Blue Skies"...

But before the weekend starts, I'd love to leave you with one of my new favorite recipes...

Awhile ago, I came across a recipe for Bacon Macaroni.  Bacon...and macaroni.  That's. It.  Easiest thing ever and something I knew I could get my kid to eat.

It's a pound of macaroni, about 6 slices of bacon (feel free to add more!), and that's it.  Cook the mac according to the package instructions.  When the bacon's done frying up, remove it, drain, and chop up.  Add all the macaroni to the bacon pan (with all the bacon fat still in it!) over medium heat, and give it a few flips to coat evenly (and I let mine get a little crispy).  Pour into a bowl, add the chopped bacon, and voila!

I added a few leaves of spinach to justify the decadence that is Bacon + Macaroni.  Feel free to omit, or add veggies to your own taste.

And wouldn't this be a-mahz-ing with a fried egg on top???

The result?  Splurge-worthy, easy, and amazing.

Eat, drink, and give bacon the star treatment.

RECIPE NOTE: I must acknowledge that this recipe is from somewhere - I didn't make it up on my own.  However, for the life of me, I can't figure out where.  Looked through bookmarked blog recipes...looked through all my cookbooks...did a search on the Goog...looked through all my saved magazine recipes...and to no avail.  So if you do know the source of this recipe, I'd love to know so I can give credit where credit is due!


Portion Control

First, I want to state that I did not get through the Leek Soup recalibration: I had a small lunch yesterday.  I just couldn't do it.  I had a leek for breakfast, lots of water...and I felt punch-drunk and off-balance all morning.  Then I got a headache.  Then I couldn't stay hydrated enough.  I got to lunch and thought, "This is craziness.  I feel like I'm on Valium."  For the record, I took Valium when I had a root canal and hated it immensely (both the Valium and the root canal).  So I ate lunch.  No worries.  Clearly, it wasn't for me.  I do still feel like it got me jump-started so that's a good thing.  So for those of you who are trying the recalibration: please listen to  your body and eat if you need to!

So some French words of wisdom for today, quoted from FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT:
Eat only at the table, only sitting down.  Never eat out of cartons.  Use real plates and decent napkins, if you have them, to emphasize the seriousness of the activity.  Eat slowly, chew properly [...] Do not watch television or read the paper.  Think only about what you are eating, smelling, and savoring every bite.  Practice putting down your utensils between every few bites, describing to yourself the flavors and textures in your mouth. (Don't let anyone mock you for acting like a French woman - you will laugh last!)
This is an important passage because it really does redefine the way you eat each meal, at least it did for me.  And I especially appreciate the reminder about people mocking you - I felt ridiculous when I first started eating this way but, ultimately, it became part of my eating ritual (which I'm trying now to reclaim).  You'll feel silly at first but, when you eat better, feel better, and look better, it'll be easy to eat with a knowing smile on your face (yes, I totally had the Mona Lisa in mind when I wrote that...).

So, portion control.  In Mireille Guiliano's follow-up to FWDGF, FRENCH WOMEN FOR ALL SEASONS, she shares the 50% Rule.  I'm paraphrasing but the idea is that you mentally cut your plate in half.  Eat half your meal, mindfully, savoring.  Then stop.  Utensils down.  Evaluate your satisfaction level.  Are you satisfied with what you ate?  Are you finished?  Or are you genuinely still hungry?  If so, then have half of the half that's left.  Then evaluate.  And so on.

One example of exercising portion control is my dinner just last night.  Adam and I had "adult dinner": Lemon-Herb Steak with Warm Potato Salad.  See?  Don't you love being French?  Does that sound like a diet?  Anyway!  I plated our dinner but, before taking it to the table, I asked Adam, "Do we really need all this food on our plates?"  We both looked and Adam said, "I think you can definitely pull enough off to have a nice lunch tomorrow."  He was absolutely right.  So I took a bit off each of our plates, and guess who gets to  have steak and potatoes for lunch?  This gal!  And we ended up eating a little bit less than we might have otherwise!  The key is to really engage your mind in everything you're consuming, especially at the beginning.  Eventually, it'll become intuitive and routine.

Another example is my breakfast this morning:

Apple slices, Idiazabal cheese slices, and whole wheat toast with about a 1/2 teaspoon of butter.  This is about half of what I have been consuming lately.  I normally have a whole apple - this was a half.  I have the same number of cheese slices but I cut them much thinner than usual today.  And I normally put a full teaspoon of butter on my toast.  But I felt no less satisfied this morning.  In fact, I felt downright virtuous and content.

The other idea that Mireille Guiliano talks about is tricking yourself.  I tricked myself with the cheese slices.  Because I had the same number of slices, I didn't feel like I cut down at all - they were just thinner.  The butter?  Didn't miss the other half because my mind was still telling me, "Mmm...butter!"  I also cut my toast in two - it made me feel like I was having more than I was...and it also helped me remember the 50% Rule - I only ate 3/4ths of my toast!

Additionally, my weakness - my "offenders" - is anything salty and crunchy.  I fooled myself with this meal.  The apples and toast were crunchy, and the cheese and butter were slightly salty.  I got to satisfy my jones without downing half a bag of pretzels.  And I got so much more genuine pleasure out of this.

Lastly, Mireille Guiliano, in Chapter 4, talks about her colleague who has nothing but OJ, sugar-laden coffee, and two biscotti for breakfast: pure sugar!  Eventually, this woman starts eating breakfasts similar to mine today.  About this, Guiliano says: "[...] she was seeing breakfast now not as a sugar-charged jump start, but as a ritual of self-pampering; it put her in a sunnier mood to face the day."  I love that.  Couldn't we all use a little more pampering?  And why shouldn't we turn our breakfast into a lovely ritual of being kind and gentle to our minds and bodies?

Eat, drink, and pamper yourself!