Friday, December 31, 2010

Tiny Kitchen Tour: Open or closed kitchen?

The one thing that hasn't shown up in the other photos is this countertop and kitchen pass-through. 

I like the idea of an open kitchen, and enjoy talking to friends while I'm in the kitchen and they sit at the dining room table.  But this pass through opening is too low to do that, and, it feels like I'm a short order cook in a diner.

Also, the pass through visually chops up the room.  You can tell from this photo that there's way too much going on for such a small space (and that doesn't include all the repair work that needs to be done on the walls!)

A while back, I read this post on The Kitchn, about open v. closed kitchens, and I have to say, I'm really torn on what to do.  Opening the kitchen would create an island, and I could hang out with friends in the living room and the dining room while I'm in the kitchen.  The other part of me wants a closed kitchen, and to keep my dining room more formal.  Do you prefer an open or closed kitchen?

One thing I know for sure is that it needs to be all or nothing--completely open, or completely closed--because standing at this pass through makes me want to say, "Do you want fries with that?"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tiny Kitchen Tour: Pantry

One thing I really miss about my old house is the pantry.  If you've been following My French Corner for a while, you might remember last winter I posted about that pantry. Created from reclaimed space under the stairs, deep and high, it was walk-in pantry with a door.  In my new kitchen, what serves as a pantry are eight shallow shelves just to the right of my stove.

I actually like the shallow shelving (these are 7 inches, but I think 8 inches would be the perfect depth), and the height takes full advantage of wall space. The location is makes great use of what would otherwise be dead space; appliances can't placed here because the steps to the basement would be blocked.  Today the pantry is a little bare, but even filled, I think it's enough space.

But I would like a door on my pantry; items that aren't frequently used collect dust: my oversize serving platter, my dishes for entertaining, my cookbooks.  When I look at photos of kitchens with open shelving, I wonder if those dishes ever get dusty?

I'm considering a pocket door when I renovate the kitchen, or maybe framing in the space and adding a door to create a pantry similar to what these homeowners did.  I also like the commercial look of this narrow rolling unit, but it doesn't solve the open shelving issue.  There may even be the option to move the pantry to another part of the kitchen, or maybe even another place in the house.  We'll just have to wait and see . . .

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tiny Kitchen Tour: Appliances

On the subject of appliances and doors colliding, how about this one?  Not that I would purposely open the oven door and the fridge at the same time, but let's just say it's happened once or twice.

As I said in yesterday's post, this kitchen was not designed for large appliances; the footprint is small and most of  it is occupied by appliances that are not the right scale for the space. At 33 inches wide and 34 inches deep, this fridge occupies a lot of precious kitchen real estate, and the interior space is so much more than I need.  I shop daily, so my refrigerator is never full; space for perishables--cheese, butter, milk, eggs--is what I need.

Earlier this year, Apartment Therapy posted on small apartment size fridges, and I continue to refer to that list as I plan my kitchen renovation.  And this jewel box kitchen with its column fridge never ceases to inspire me.

In the meantime, this refrigerator door-oven door thing in the photo gives new meaning to the phrase "from fridge-to-oven!"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tiny Kitchen Tour: Retrofitting

When considering the use of space in an old house, it's important not to apply modern standards; houses that were considered luxurious in the 1940s seem modest by today's standards. 

Pre-war houses built in the 1940s were designed for the way people lived then.  For example, dishwashers were considered a luxury item and were not common in American kitchens. So when the open door of my dishwasher collides with a cabinet drawer, I have to remember that this kitchen was never designed for a dishwasher.

As you can see in the photo (click on the pic for a better look), when my cutlery drawer and my dishwasher door are both open, well, let's just say that I can empty the dishwasher without taking a step.  Rather than thinking of my kitchen as too small, I remind myself that the kitchen was not designed for oversize modern appliances, and certainly not for a dishwasher.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tour my tiny kitchen

I have a little more time for blogging this week so I thought it might be fun to do a tour of my tiny kitchen, a kind of mini-series, if you will.

I wanted my first photo to be of the entire kitchen, but I couldn't find the proper angle to get capture it without going outside, or standing on the countertop!

What you see here is the long view, captured while standing on the steps leading down to my basement.  I tried to make it look as big as possible by angling the camera--how did I do?

On the right is my sink, the dishwasher covered by the countertop, and my stove with a microwave above; what you can't see is the hulking refrigerator just across from the stove.  And right next to the fridge is a cabinet with a little more counter space.

What the photo does show is the fabulous light that pours in every afternoon; it's one of the kitchen's best features.

Ile de France products

While cheese shopping at my new neighborhood market, I (re)discovered the Ile de France line of products.  It's been a while since I'd seen the brand in the grocery store; either Whole Foods doesn't carry the line, or I've completely missed it.

Ile de France is not the cheese maker, but rather an importer of French cheeses to the United States. Like wine, French cheese is protected under the Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC).  For example, Comté can only be called Comté if it is produced in the region Franche-Comté.  The history of Ile de France products is interesting; you can read about it on their website.  And while you're there, you can browse the very long list of recipes that includes everything from raclette to mac and cheese!

You can't miss the distinct blue, white, and red packaging--clearly French.  For the holiday, I decided on the Camembert along with some Ile de France mini-toasts, and both were delicious.  I'm thinking maybe I'll try their brie en croute for my next get together.

Have you tried any Ile de France products?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Francophile goodies

For those of you who love all things French, design*sponge contributing editor Anne Ditmeyer has put together a 2010 gift guide for the francophile. 

Ditmeyer, who resides in Paris and has her own blog, Prêt à Voyager, assembled the guide, selecting items that would "add a little Parisian charm to your life." 

I'm not encouraging you to spend, only to browse and enjoy the goodies.  My favorites?  I have an ongoing love affair with kitchen linens, so naturally j'adore the chic linen dishtowels from Basic French.  Although, I could easily be tempted by a pair of Bensimon sneakers . . .

Et vous?  Does anything catch your fancy?

Monday, December 20, 2010

My tiny (French) kitchen

Did I mention that I have a small kitchen?  Okay, it's bigger than Jill Santopietro's tiny kitchen, but not by much.  And it isn't really French, but it reminds me so much of the small apartment kitchens in Paris, so it's fun to pretend.

I am in the process of planning a renovation, but the kitchen still has to work for me now, so I've been looking for ways to save/increase space.

I was happy to discover this over-the-sink cutting board; you can click on the pic for a better view.  Wow, what a difference it has made!  In addition to being a cutting board it's a great place to set a few dishes to dry, and it has increased my counter space. What a great find.

Have you found ways to save/stretch space in a tiny kitchen?  I would love to hear your ideas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Week-end Simple: Polish your silver

If you are overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done before the Christmas holiday--buying and wrapping gifts, putting up a tree, decorating, baking--then you will want to skip this post.  You don't need to add another thing to your "to do" list.  On the other hand, if you are in need of a simple, satisfying task, read on.

Over the years, polishing my silver has become as much a part of my holiday preparation as setting up the Christmas tree.  Like ironing, polishing silver is one of those tasks that requires no attention but yields instant gratification.  I actually polish my silver for Thanksgiving, but like to do some touch-up just before December 25.

I don't have a special set of flatware for the holidays; I use the same mismatched vintage silver forks, knives, and spoons all year round. But polishing makes even my everyday silver look new, and adds a sparkle and gleam to my holiday table.

How about you? 

Bon week-end!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Macaron of the Month Club

I can't take any credit for this post, I'm simply passing it along: this week The Kitchn featured a Macaron of the Month Club from Dominique's Sweets in California's Sonoma County.

I love the idea!  

Monday, December 13, 2010

J'adore "Tiny Kitchen"

Since moving to my new house, I've been obsessed with finding ways to make my small kitchen more efficient and pleasant.  Happily, my obsession led me to a delightful series of cooking videos, "Tiny Kitchen with Jill Santopietro." 

At the time the series was filmed, Santopietro was a recipe tester for the New York Times, and did all of her cooking and recipe testing in her very tiny New York City kitchen.  In fact, the "Tiny Kitchen" series was renamed "Kitchen 4B" -- Santopietro's apartment number.

Not only are the videos expert and informative, Jill Santopietro is charming.  She's a natural in front of the camera, and watching her turn out fabulous food in that tiny space serves as a reminder that it's not the kitchen that makes the cook.

Those of you who appreciate small kitchens will enjoy Santopietro's take on the 12 top tools for a small kitchen (Kristi, you will love this!)  She is also expert at using mise en place, and cleaning-as-you-go to keep surfaces clean and clear.

And even if you don't cook in a small kitchen, treat yourself to a dose of "Tiny Kitchen"--you'll love it!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Paris in the snow


By now, everyone knows that Paris has been besieged by a huge snowfall.  Here's a link to a photo slideshow with pics from around Paris.  Strangely beautiful, n'est ce pas?

And the winner is . . .

If I were selecting a winner based on the creativity of the responses, it would have been impossible to pick!  But, I left the choice to chance, and the random generator selected Heather B for the Limoges giveaway.

Heather, if you email me your mailing information, I'll mail your gift on Monday.  Thanks to all for entering!

Week-end Simple: Make breakfast

Blustery winds, snow, cold mornings.  There's no denying that for many of us, the cold weather has arrived, and this weekend wouldn't it be so nice to stay between the warm sheets a little longer, and wake-up to a real breakfast?

Since I've moved, I'm leaving earlier in the mornings, and at 5:30 am, I'm not ready for anything more than a coffee.  I'll take some cheese and bread  or dried apricots and almonds with me, to have a little later in the morning, but, I really miss my morning breakfast ritual.

So this weekend I plan to enjoy my favorites--tartine, raspberry jam, fresh juice, and lots of coffee with milk.

What's your favorite weekend breakfast?

Bon week-end!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Staub brasier

If you've been following My French Corner, you know that I recently moved to a smaller house.  I had to pare down considerably, especially in my kitchen.

In this tiny kitchen, storage for pots and pans is at a premium, with long handles and lids presenting the biggest challenge.  So after thinking it through, I decided to swap out several pieces of cookware for one.  Out went two skillets, a large sauce pan, a paella pan, and a dutch oven, and in came a 4-quart Staub brasier.  Now, one piece of cookware does the job of five.

The brasier, a beautiful graphite color, is pretty enough to sit on the stovetop when I'm not using it.  There are no long handles to get in the way, and because I can leave it sitting out, I don't have to contend with the lid rattling around in a drawer or cabinet.  So far I've used my Staub to prepare eggs, grilled cheese, soup, roast chicken, fish, and rice.

Was the swap worth it?  Well, the jury is still out, but so far I think the five-for-one-trade was worth it.

What do you think?

Monday, December 6, 2010

LeSportsac saga

Anyone who knows me can vouch for this:  I don't carry a purse.  I know, I know, it's very un-French.

So, what do I use?  Well, for years, I've carried a small 3-Zip cosmetic bag from Le Sportsac.  I bought it for a France trip years ago, and it was perfect:  my passport and cell phone fit into the top zip compartment, my francs/euros in the second, and I stashed my dollars in the third.  The bag fit nicely in my hand or pocket, and ever since that trip, it's functioned as both my wallet and purse.

The problem is that it's easy to lose LeSportsac.  For example, say I'm at the market on the day before Thanksgiving and I put LeSportsac down and forget to pick it up and I walk out of the market and don't realize it until 7:00 that evening? 

Au revoir, LeSportsac.

I need to get a purse.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Limoges Giveaway

Just in time for the holidays, a lovely, little, Limoges giveaway!

This miniature Limoges plate has a diameter of 1-1/2" and is in excellent condition. It is set in a small  plate stand, for sitting up on a table, or hanging on a wall.  The color is a deep raspberry with a gold gilt rim and gilt scene.  The scene is a maiden and her suitor; he is on bended knee, she appears to be surprised.

If you are a lover of Limoges, or miniatures, or, all things French, you will love this tiny treasure.  To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is tell us what you think the suitor is saying to the maiden!  The winner will be announced on Friday, December 10.

Bonne chance!

P.S.  This would also make a lovely Christmas tree ornament!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Week-end Simple: Iron your table linens

The Christmas holiday is approaching, and for so many people it means the weekend will be spent shopping:  running from store to store, fighting for parking places, weary from trying to cross everything off the list.

Et moi?  This weekend, I will iron my table linens.  After Thanksgiving, I laundered my linens; now they are soft and sweet smelling, and ready to be ironed in preparation for Christmas. 

I admit, it's not a very exciting thing to do over the weekend, but, I enjoy ironing. And especially this time of year, when so much energy is used for buying and accumulating and acquiring, small household tasks keep me focused on the simpler parts of the holiday, the parts that have to do with family and home.

Bon week-end!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

La vache qui rit bowl

I love Laughing Cow cheese, and, like the cow, I had to laugh when I saw this footed bowl at Blazing Thyme, a site that sells French housewares.

It's not for me, but, I know a few friends who would love this bowl, or any of the items at Blazing Thyme, including the La Rochere glassware, the kitchen linens, the beautiful vintage-print footed bowls.  I confess that I did fall in love with this butter dish, large enough to hold a block of French butter.

I guess it's not too early to start thinking about holiday gifts and some of these pretty items on this site might just fit the bill.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mise en place

Mise en place is a basic technique employed by many cooks; some swear by it.  From the French, and meaning "set in place," mise en place can make food preparation a breeze.

I've always used this technique when baking, and sometimes when cooking.  But never have I appreciated it more than I do now, cooking in a tiny kitchen.  With very little counter space, there isn't room for excess, especially when preparing a meal.

So when cooking, as I just did over Thanksgiving, measuring and setting out all the ingredients before beginning made preparation easy. That meant that during preparation my precious countertop space wasn't crowded with unnecessary boxes or containers.  One part of the countertop was used for working, the other was used for my mise en place; when I reached for the ingredients, they were there, already set in place.

There are traditional mise en place bowls, like these cuties from Williams-Sonoma, or these from Bormioli, but any small bowls will do.  The end result will be the same: tidy and oh-so-efficient food preparation.

Do you use mise en place when cooking?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Week-end Simple: Savor a small dessert

No, I'm not advocating eating desserts, especially the day after Thanksgiving.  But the holiday is a reminder that we don't have to overindulge in order to enjoy, n'est ce pas?

With so much emphasis on food during holiday season, it's the perfect time to practice restraint and remind ourselves that a small bite tastes just as good as half the pie.

Like our chic French inspirations, there's no need to sacrifice pleasure, just portions.

Bon week-end!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Familiarity

Changes are hard, whether they're made by choice, or foisted upon us. At the moment, I'm in unfamiliar territory: new house, a new neighborhood, a different commute.  Some of my belongings are gone; no space for them here.  I search for the best place to put the sugar, the toothpaste, the dishtowels.  In my old house, everything had its place; here, I've moved the silverware three times because I can't decide which drawer works best.  Ah, changes.

Then yesterday, I was preparing a post about the French and the utility of  kitchen scissors.  I went to get my own kitchen shears, and when I spied them in the drawer, it was like seeing an old friend in a crowd of strangers.

These kitchen scissors have been in my family for as long as I can remember.  There's nothing special about them; they're a vintage Wiss with green handles, though the paint has all but worn away.  Holding them brought on a rush of familiarity, and strange comfort.  I started thinking of all the hands that had held those scissors--my parents, my sister and brother, my husband, my son.

Tomorrow I am hosting Thanksgiving;  in a few hours my house will be filled with familiar smells and sounds, with family and friends, and I believe my new house will begin to feel familiar.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Réentrée

Tomorrow will be one month since my last post, but it feels like much longer. 

My life has changed so much in the last thirty days, and I'm ready to begin settling into my new house, my old routines, and my blog.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Apologies

This past week I've been preoccupied with negotiating the sale of my current house, as well as elbow deep in paint and plaster dust at my new house.  And all the while feeling guilty because I've been neglecting my blog.

I'm going to take a few weeks off, until everything gets settled again, and I'm not between two houses.  In the meantime, I'll be taking some photos of the restoration process of my historic 1940s row/town home so I can share them. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Emile Henry Online Factory Store

For those of you who are collectors of Emile Henry (or those who would like to be), there's a post on The Kitchn about the Emile Henry online factory store.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Week-end simple: Take a walk

Here in the DC area, today is sunny but the air is cool, and it's a perfect day for a walk. 

Maybe it will be a walk along the canal, or the bike path that finds it way into the city.  It might be a walk to Georgetown for some window shopping and a coffee at one of the cafes.  Or maybe just a walk in the neighborhood to see what's going on.

Whether you have a destination, or you simply want to enjoy the autumn air and the changing colors of the leaves, treat yourself to a walk this weekend.

Bon week-end!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

French baby beets

The produce at the farmer's market is changing.  If you're a seasonal cook, you've said goodbye to the tomatoes, the courgettes, the stone fruit, the sweet corn.  What you'll find instead are the cool weather vegetables: varieties of greens, squash, brussel sprouts, and beets.

I discovered beets a few years ago; my friend Laura, a personal chef, shared her recipe for baked beets and I couldn't believe the flavor!  Since then, I've experimented with my own recipes and discovered what I really like are baby beets.  About the size of a radish, these petite beets yield a sweeter flavor than mature beets, and they cook much faster, which makes them ideal for weeknight meals.

Roasting baby beets in a bit of olive oil brings out their natural sweetness; add a strong herb like rosemary, and finish them off with butter is the simplest way to enjoy this root vegetable.  Recipes for French baby beets usually call for the addition of balsamic vinegar, which reduces to a velvety sauce while the beets are baking.  Beets can stand up to strong cheeses so you can toss them with a handful of nutty mâche and add chèvre or bleu for an entree salad.  And this recipe from Epicurious pairs roasted baby beets with haricots verts and lemon; I haven't tried it, but doesn't it sound delicious?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

French Week at The Kitchn

It was French Week at The Kitchn, and they celebrated with dozens of posts about everything we love about le cuisine and la cuisine.

You'll go shopping along Rue Montorgueil and tour Paule Caillat's Paris kitchen.  You'll discover Caillat's three cheese soufflé, Julia's beef bourguignon, and Clotilde Dusoulier's mini financiers.  And you'll learn how to make a Provençal mac and cheese, ouefs en meurette, and authentic French onion soup.

You'll find posts on Basque cooking, cooking from Alsace-Lorraine, and why the best French butter is found in Normandy.  There are posts on tartes, tartiflettes, and terrines.  My favorites are the posts on where to buy French-inspired kitchen linens, the French kitchen tours, and the classic Mouli Grater.  And Stephanie, the post on using Le Creuset pots as kitchen art made me think of you!

Seriously, if you enjoy French kitchens and cooking, you'll love every one of the posts.  They will make you want to get out your Staub Coquette and cook a cassoulet!

If you visit, I'd love to hear about your favorite posts.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Week-end Simple: Open a window

This weekend, the weather will cool and for the first time in months, I will open my windows.

It has been a long summer, with the hot, humid weather persisting up until this last week of September.  With the air conditioning on, the windows have been shut tight, occasionally being opened at night when the temperatures promise to be below 90 degrees.

This weekend will be perfect for throwing open the windows during the day, bringing in the crisp, fall air.  J'adore the fresh air, the outside noises, and the breezes that travel through the house on a cool autumn day when all the windows are open.

So throw open a window, and enjoy the week-end!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Marinières

A well-edited wardrobe means that a few pieces must serve many purposes. Classic styling, a neutral palette, and basic pieces combine in ways that seem to expand rather than limit possibilities.

A recent addition to my wardrobe is this classic French marinières in a dark navy blue. I've wanted one for a long time, and decided to get one for my back-to-school wear.

I've already worn it several times, so I know it's a keeper. It looks great with my jeans and Frye boots, and tres chic with my wide-leg black cropped pants and ballet flats, and I already have plans to wear it with pearls and a long, black, silk taffeta skirt to a friend's wedding in November.

J'adore pieces that can be both casual and formal, and can be worn in so many ways. It means fewer clothes in my closest, more money in my pocket, and wardrobe of go-to pieces that I know will always work for me.

Do you have any pieces like this in your wardrobe?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lessons on Living with Less

Living with less, simplifying, downsizing--call it what you will--is not for everyone.  Let's face it, there are times in our life that demand we have a full house.

For example, children have a lot of stuff:  toys, books, art, papers are a part of raising children and it's not practical to consider downsizing.  Newlyweds have a lot of stuff: setting up house is an expensive endeavor and shower and wedding gifts take up a lot of space.  People who work at home also need a lot of stuff:  supplies, computers, fax machines, copiers are a necessary part of running a business.

But living with less is working for me.  It has been liberating to unburden myself of the excess in my life.  I love the sense of order and calm in my home, and knowing exactly what I have, and exactly where I can find something if I need it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lesson #4: Cleaning

When you have your house on the market, it has to show-ready at a moment's notice.  For the homeowner that means daily cleaning and upkeep: clothes are hung up, shower and sink are wiped down, and every surface is dust free.

It took me a few days to establish a daily cleaning routine, but by the end of the first week I had it down.  I'm an early riser, so every morning I take fifteen minutes to wipe off, pick up, and put away.  This means that I walk out the door leaving a house that is clean and ready for anyone who walks through the door.

And that includes me.

Yes, an unexpected benefit to this daily routine is that I get to enjoy it too!  It is a pleasure to come home at the end of the day to a home that is clean and tidy--what a treat.  I used to save cleaning house for the weekend, but now a few minutes each morning actually saves me time; the weekends aren't spent cleaning house, or feeling guilty because I'm not.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lesson #3: Decorating

Selling a house today is not the same as selling a house twenty years ago.  It used to be, if you were putting your house on the market, you might do a bit of fix-up, maybe some painting, and put the "FOR SALE" sign on the lawn.

But I've watched enough HGTV to know that the presentation of the house--the staging--can have an impact on buyers.  So, after weeding out all the excess, it was time to decorate, or stage my house for sale.

My realtor works with several home stagers, and I had the good fortune to work with the stager who echoed my American-Modern-Thomas-O'Brien-Paris-apartment-aesthetic.  Using only my furniture and accessories, he rearranged furniture, hung mirrors and art, and placed rugs and lamps to create clean, open spaces.  It was great fun, and I learned so much through the experience.

For example, I learned I like a limited palette in my home--taupey-greys, black, and white--almost identical to my wardrobe!  I've also learned to LOVE mirrors (I've never even had a mirror in my bedroom) for the way they reflect light and open up a room.  I have a new appreciation of how architectural features such a windows, doors, and trim become part of the decor.  The result is a restful calm created by the absence--rather than the addition--of things. You can click on the photo for a better view of my living room.

The less-is-more philosophy has helped me appreciate my home in a new way, and when I move in a few weeks, I'll be applying those lessons to my new house.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lesson #2: Discarding

After committing to getting rid of stuff, I decided to go through one box, one piece of furniture, one bin at a time.

In some ways, the furniture was the easiest; a piece of furniture will either fit in my new house, or it won't. I told my closest friends that I needed to get rid of some furniture, and before long, all the chairs, chests, trunks, and tables had found new homes.

Things that belonged to my son were also easy; I asked him to go through the things I had saved over the years, and to select anything he wanted to keep.

I had several boxes of things that had belonged to my mother; the boxes had been in my attic for so long, I didn't know what was in them anymore. I was a worried that going through them would be emotionally overwhelming, but as I started to comb through the boxes I realized that these things had been important to my mother but not to me, and after fifteen years, I was able to part with them.

Finally, there were my boxes of mementos--letters, photos, ephemera. How did I decide what to keep and what to discard? I simply asked myself did I want someone else to have to through them someday, the same way I had to go through my mother's belongings?

So, after months of sorting and discarding, one hundred twelve boxes are down to five.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lesson #1: Committing

Like any other life change, the decision to live with less should stem from a commitment to change the way one wants to live.

For me, it was a forced changed; downsizing because I am moving. But living with less is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and this was the time to do it. I was ready to commit.

What did committing mean for me? It meant 112 trips up and down the attic stairs. It meant carrying heavy boxes and getting dirty. It meant going through hundreds of photographs, one-by-one. It meant keeping only one or two things (not twenty) that belonged to my mother. It meant reading a letter one last time. And, it meant knowing that most things can be replaced, and some things never can.

But, once I committed, everything started to fall into place.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lessons on Living with Less

In a few weeks, I will be moving to a new house. I'll leave behind a four bedroom house with a dining room, living room, family room, home office, a big yard, as well as a full attic and attached garage.

I'll be moving into a two bedroom townhouse, with a small living and dining room, a small galley kitchen, and a basement. No garage, no attic, and limited storage. In this interim period, my house is on the market and has to be show-ready at a moment's notice, which means daily cleaning, no clutter, and spare, open spaces.

The process of downsizing (and it is a process) has taken months, discarding and giving-away a lifetime of stuff. At first, I was dreading the process, thinking it was going to be physically and emotionally overwhelming. What I discovered was exactly the opposite.

In my next few posts, I'd like to share what I've learned on this journey; lessons on living with less. These posts will not be about bringing touches of France into my life, but have been inspired by several of the francophile blogs I read, and discussions on the French Chic group about decluttering. The posts are also inspired by my desire to (finally) achieve a well-edited life.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Week-end Simple: Write a letter

Over the summer I sorted through boxes of photographs and letters that had been in my attic for years. Among all of it I discovered hundreds of letters from my sister, written to me when she first moved abroad in the early 90s, before either of us had computers and email. I read the letters, then bundled and sent them to her, a kind of journal of what was going on in her life at that time.

Who still writes letters? I don't mean the occasional thank you note or invitation, but a letter, on a sheet of paper. Last week, I wrote a letter, my first one in years. My son, who is now at college, loves receiving mail; finding a letter in his campus mailbox is an instant high for him.

This weekend, I'll write again, having rediscovered the simple pleasure of writing a letter.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What would you want from France?

For all kinds of reasons, I really missed not going to France this summer. One silly thing I missed was not being able to stock-up or replace non-perishable items that I use throughout the year. However, in a few weeks, my close friend is traveling to Provence and has offered to bring back a few items for me.

One of things I've requested is this 0.5L Pyrex measuring cup; sadly, mine broke over the summer and I've been eager to replace it. Taller than its American cousin, this measuring cup is perfect for a variety of kitchen tasks, including frothing warm milk for the occasional cappuccino.

I'm also going to ask my friend to bring me several boxes of fleur de sel. I usually bring home several boxes from France each summer--some to keep, some to give away. I'm down to my last box and it will be nice to have some extras in my pantry.

Finally, I want another jar or two of sucre grains de patisserie, the coarse brioche sugar. I use these coarse crystals to top brioches and other yeast breads baked during the holidays.

If your friend was going to France, what would you like to have?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Moving forward

As I mentioned, I very recently put my house up for sale, and today is the first open house. (If you want to take a peek, you can actually go on a virtual tour with music!)

I've lived in this house for seventeen years, and have spent the past several months paring down and carefully editing my possessions. Coincidentally, this has been a hot topic on several blogs I follow, as well as on the French Chic group posts. It seems like everyone is seeking a life with less stuff.

A well-edited life is a topic I want to explore in future posts. But for today, let's just say that living a life with less "stuff"--clothes, furniture, objects--can be liberating.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Réentrée

The month of August was filled with changes: I bought a house, put a house on the market, took my son to college, returned to the classroom.

The proverbial applecart has not been upset, but I'm not sure it can hold another apple . . .

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blog en vacances

In true French fashion, I'll be on vacation during the month of August. I hope everyone enjoys these last few weeks of summer, and I look forward to being back in September.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Week-end Simple: Whip up crème Chantilly

This weekend, indulge in the simplest, inexpensive French experience available: crème Chantilly, Leave it to the French to turn an 85¢ carton of whipping cream into a culinary delight that is beautiful to look at and heaven to taste.

All you need to create crème Chantilly is a half pint of heavy whipping cream, a balloon whisk, and a bit of patience. If you've never whipped cream, check out these expert step-by-step directions and you'll have a bowl of delcious crème Chantilly in minutes.

Crème Chantilly is the perfect finishing touch for summer's freshest fruit--peaches, raspberries, strawberries, cantaloupe. A spoonful of freshly whipped crème dresses up a bowl of berries or sliced peaches to create a perfect summer dessert.

Bon week-end!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cooking for one: Chatting with the butcher

I am very, very fortunate to live in an area that offers so many choices for grocery shopping. A bakery, a farmers market, a butcher, a fishmonger, are all within a few minutes of where I work and where I live. This makes it easy to shop daily, and to buy small.

But even without these choices, buying high quality and the right quanity is possible, especially if you make friends with the butcher. All the major grocery stores have a butcher on site, and it pays to chat. At first, it might seem strange to strike up a conversation with the butcher. After all, the goods are already packaged and in the case, so what's to talk about?

Well, ask the butcher about his best quality product, or the best cuts, or ask for recommendations. I've never met a butcher who didn't like to share his expertise! You can also ask him to halve larger cuts or repackage items. Get to know the butcher well enough and soon you might be asking "Can I order two of your best lamb chops for tomorrow?"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cooking for One: 1 eggplant, 2 ways

When buyng fruits and vegetables for one. it makes sense to look for the smallest produce available. Most fresh fruits and vegetable are not uniform in size; even grapes on the same vine vary in color, size, and ripeness.

Consider the eggplant. Eggplants are not uniform in shape or size, and it's just as easy to find a small one as it is a large one. On Saturday I bought an eggplant at the farmers market, along with a tiny zucchini and several tomatoes. About the size of my open hand, the eggplant was perfect for one.

At home, I cut the eggplant in half; with the first half I prepared a gratin d’aubergines, adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II. I sliced the eggplant and layered it in my gratin dish with tomato and fresh mozarella to create a single serving eggplant gratin.

I cubed the second half of the eggplant, and along with the zucchini, another tomato, and an onion from my pantry, I slowly roasted them to create a classic Provençal ratatouille, also adapted from Julia Child's cookbook. Coupled with a protein, or atop couscous or rice, this fragrant stew is a perfect weeknight meal.

As you can see, with the right pantry staples and a little planning, one eggplant = two meals. But it doesn't have to be eggplant. It can be a bunch of asparagus, a small squash, or petit cauliflower. The idea is to think of your vegetables as more than one meal.

So, think of your favorite vegetable; what are two ways you can prepare it to create two delicious and distinctly different meals for one?

Next post: Chatting with the butcher

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cooking for One: Pots and pans

Cooking for one is not so different than cooking for two, or three, or more--all you need are the right ingredients, and the right equipment.

Because you are preparing single portions, it's important that your cookware is the right size. For example, if you are pan frying a single chop in an 11 inch cast iron skillet, the juices will be too dispersed; a smaller skillet insures the juices and bits don't cook away before you have a chance to make your sauce.

A small saucepan is also essential for everything from boiling an egg to steaming rice (and if your saucepan is heavy duty, it can double as dutch oven for braising a few short ribs or roasting a chicken breast).

In a small, shallow gratin dish, you can easily make savory dishes for one, like, well, gratins! The dish is also perfect for a variety of egg dishes and fruit desserts. I have several Emile Henry gratin dishes and find no end of use for them.

With your favorite ingredients and the right equipment, cooking for one can be a cinch. Tomorrow I'll share some recipes and a plan for cooking that might help keep you out of the prepared and frozen food section!

Next post: One eggplant, two ways

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cooking for One: How would a Frenchwoman shop?

A question posed by one of the women of the French Chic group asked, when shopping and cooking for one, what would the chic Frenchwoman do? Of course, I am not a French woman, but I am a sensible, practical woman, and, French women are sensible and practical, n'est ce pas? So, the question remains, how does one shop and cook for one?

Perhaps most important are the perishable and nonperishable staples in your fridge and pantry. Everyone's list will be different; here's mine. With your staples on hand at home you can sure that anything you buy at the market can made into a delcious meal for one (or two, or more!)

What next?

First, make a list of all the fresh foods that can be purchased individually. Produce is easy--artichoke, avocado, peach, plum, apple, potato, mushroom, courgette, tomato--because most fruit and vegetables are sold individually. Protein is also easy--chops, chicken breast, petit filet, seafood--can be purchased individually as well. And don't forget foods like eggs and cheese that are perfect for individual servings. The foods on your list should be the ones you enjoy, the one you like to prepare.

Next, find a grocer, butcher, farmers market, or chain grocery store where you can buy that one lamp chop or a handful of broccoli florets. Remember, even if food is already packaged (two steaks), bagged (a pound of grapes), or bundled (a bunch of asparagus), if it's sold by the pound, you can buy only what you need. I shop at Whole Foods and the weekly farmers market, but you can just as easily shop at the neighborhood Safeway or green grocer.

Finally, promise yourself that you will buy the best quality and freshest ingredients you can afford. If you are buying one pear, make sure it is the most fragrant perfect pear you can find. If you are going to put in the effort to cook for yourself, you deserve to buy the best.

Next post: Pots and pans

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cooking for one

A recent thread on the French Chic boards has been daily shopping, and, cooking for one. I have long been a fan of daily shopping; I believe it yields the freshest food and the least waste. But I have never shopped for one, and have seldom cooked just for me.

In her book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, author and editor Judith Jones recalls that after her husband died, she wasn't sure she would ever enjoy preparing a meal for herself and eating it alone. This is not an uncommon thought; many of us--women and men--live on our own, and the thought of cooking for just one feels more like a chore than a pleasure. When my son leaves for college in a few weeks, I will join the ranks of those who shop and cook for one, and I'm not sure what to expect.

When it comes to cooking, you might think that being solo has its disadvantages; everything in the grocery store seems to be geared toward families. But, if you think it through, there are no disadvantages: you cook what you want, when you want, how you want. The only person you need to please is yourself.

Inspired by the questions and comments of the French Chic group, I decided to take on the topic. This week on My French Corner, I'd like to explore the possibilities that exist when you are simply cooking for one.

Next post: How would a Frenchwoman shop?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Week-end Simple: Enjoy some basil

Here in the DC area it's the height of summer and everything is rich and ripe and ready to be picked. Tomorrow at the farmers market I'm sure to find beautiful tomatoes which I plan to serve with the basil from my petit potager.

Basil is the summer herb. Chopped in a bruschetta, made into pistou, or served atop a slice of mozarella and tomato, basil tastes of summer. You can even cut a bunch of basil to put in vase for a the perfect summer centerpiece.

This fragrant herb can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, so treat yourself this weekend to the simple pleasure of basil.

Bon week-end!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Something to make you swoon (and smile!)

Eileen Fisher is one of my favorite clothing lines for wardrobe basics. And since they've reframed their brand to include a younger, more hip demographic, the choices have increased; the capsule wardrobe concept is a foundation of the line.

Eileen Fisher's advertising has also become more playful and fun. You have to check out this video of their new fall collection--more than 100 inspired combinations for work and play that will make you swoon. But what's the French connection here? Why it's the music for the video,"Petit Chaton," by the UK band The Swings.

"Petit Chaton" is a catchy Frenchy tune, and if you really want to smile watch this animated music video--it had me singing and smiling all afternoon.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Veyrier kitchen

This bright, comfortable kitchen is one of my favorites. Although it's one of the smallest French kitchens I've ever cooked in, its location on the southern facing side of the house means that it is filled with natural light and it feels open and airy.

Located in a house in the village of Veyrier, I have to say that this kitchen does feel very French, though I'm not sure I can say why. Maybe it's the smaller size of everything, from the appliances to the cookware. Perhaps it's the kitchen linens, or maybe the tile floor? How about the big window that swings open wide and the windowbox filled with herbs?

What do you think? Does this kitchen 'feel' French to you?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rue du vy élevé kitchen

If any kitchen goes against my stereotypical French kitchen, this would be the one. The house, a former boathouse, is located in Annecy le Vieux near Petit Port, just two blocks from Lake Annecy.

What I love about this kitchen is living, dining, and kitchen are one big room, which makes for lots of great gathering for family and friends. And while you can't tell from the photo, this kitchen also opens directly onto a small deck and backyard.

Several elements make this kitchen unique--no wall cabinets, poured concrete countertop, and, everything from bread to dishes is stored in drawers. But, I don't know that these choices make the kitchen uniquely French. What I do know is with its streamlined efficiency and polished concrete floor, this kitchen was fabulous to cook in and a cinch to clean!

Next post: Veyrier kitchen

Monday, July 19, 2010

Menthon Saint-Bernard kitchen

Are there elements that make interior spaces, such as kitchens, uniquely French? In my experience, kitchens in France seem as varied as American kitchens; there are small kitchens in Paris and large kitchens in Provence. As in the US, I think French kitchen design is probably dictated by space, taste, and budget.

This kitchen is in a 1901 limestone guest house where we stayed during the summer of 2005. The house is on the grounds of Palace de Menthon in Menthon Saint-Bernard, one of the small villages that circle Lac d'Annecy in Annecy, France. You can click on the pic for a larger view.

This kitchen, located in the rear of the house, doesn't receive a lot of natural light. But the design choices go a long way to addressing that problem: light colored, highly reflective countertops and wall tile do a wonderful job of reflecting light from the oversized light fixtures and undercounter lights, as did the gleaming dark wood and polished metal fixutres. What I loved about this kitchen was the how cool the temperature was, and yet it never felt "cold" because of the all the wood.

Is there anything that makes this kitchen particularly French? Perhaps the smaller appliances--cooktop, in-wall oven, narrow refrigerator--and the lack of a dishwasher?

What do you think?

Next post: Rue du vy élevé kitchen

Sunday, July 18, 2010

French kitchens

A recent post on The Kitchn invited readers to see if they could determine whether a kitchen was French or American just by looking at a photo. "French or American? Guess the Country of These Kitchens" the post tempts. Can you guess? Take the quiz and see for yourself.

This post made me think of the French kitchens I've cooked in over the years--kitchens in country houses, kitchens in Paris apartments, kitchens belonging to friends.

I thought it might be fun to revisit those kitchens and to recall my thoughts about what made a kitchen distinctly French, or not. For this series, I'm going to go through my France photos to see how many kitchen pics I can find and share them with you.

By the way, how did you do on the quiz?

Next post: Menthon Saint-Bernard kitchen

Friday, July 16, 2010

Week-end Simple: Have lunch with a friend

Yesterday, I invited my friend over for lunch. For me, lunch is usually a solo affair, so having someone join me was delightful. I prepared the meal as thoughtfully as I would have prepared a special dinner, and served it in courses--a dressed salad of mâche and fresh tomatoes sprinkled with fleur de sel, chicken salad with grapes and pecans, and fresh raspberries for dessert.

An unhurried lunch with a friend is so civilized, so European, so French, n'est ce pas? Sitting with Leigh on the patio yesterday afternoon, I was reminded of summers in France and the leisurely lunches I share with my sister, talking, laughing, sipping, catching up on each other's lives.

I encourage you to do the same: have lunch with a friend. Whether it's at home or a cafè, leave time enough to linger, to savor the moment, to celebrate friendship.

Bon week-end!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

And the winner is . . .

Kalee, author of the blog Une Vie Chic! You can also follow Kalee on her other blog, Making a House a Chic Home, and see what's up to as she and her husband transform their house into a maison chic! Kalee, you can email me your mailing info and I will post your package tomorrow.

Thank you to everyone who entered; I enjoyed reading your creative entries, and wish I had a French house number for each of you. Maybe there will be another one in the future, n'est ce pas?

I'm off to celebrate Bastille Day!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Veuve Cliquot

The Tour de France continues, Wednesday is Bastille Day, and both of these make me think of celebrations, and celebrations make me think of champagne.

Mireille Guiliano loves the mood champagne creates, "the feeling no other wine can come close to: celebration, life-affirming joy." I couldn't agree more; there's nothing like a glass of champagne to make any occasion a small celebration.

The French love their champagne, and one of the best is Veuve Cliquot. If you have a few minutes, you might enjoy the Veuve Cliquot website. Like other French sites such as Roger Vivier, Hermes, and Anne Fontaine site, Veuve Cliquot's site is delightful and the animation and graphics are fabulous.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Week-end Simple: Watch Le Tour de France

When I started this week-end series back in March, I didn't realize how much I would enjoy writing it. My aim is to post about doing something simple and deliberate to slow down our life on the weekend. And, because this is My French Corner, those posts usually have a French inspiration or a French twist.

This weekend is no exception. The Tour de France got underway last Saturday, but the excitement over our own 4th of July celebration kept me from paying close attention to Le Tour.

But not this weekend! Here in the US you can follow the Tour on the cable network Versus; great footage and interesting commentary. Or, you can view regular updates, as well as this year's route and the history of the race, on the official Tour de France website.

Bon week-end!