Sunday, February 28, 2010

Historic house hunting

As some of you know, I'm house hunting, which means later today I'll be visiting open houses in my future neighborhood, Fairlington, Virginia.

I've settled on Fairlington as my new community because it offers much of what I love about my current home and neighborhood: close to DC, small and modest brick homes built in the 1940s, a strong, active community, a walking neighborhood, and an urban sensibility. Also, like my current neighborhood, Maywood, Fairlington is on the National Register of Historic Places which ensures that its historic architecture will be preserved. And I love the architecture.

In Fairlington, all buildings are of the Colonial Revival style. Gable roofs predominate, followed by hipped roofs, flat roofs, gambrel roofs, and a handful of mansard roofs, and most roofs are slate. The windows are six-over-six double-hung sash. Front entrances are sheltered by porches or stoops and have hipped, shed or gable roofs supported by wooden Tuscan or Doric columns, square or turned wooden posts. Typical details include dentils and other decorative wood molding. If you click on the photo you can read a little about the history of the community.

Fairlington is a lovely village and I'm hoping to find the perfect place that will one day become my lovely Paris apartment. Wish me bonne chance!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Petit potager winners!

This is my favorite giveaway yet because everyone who commented--Kristi, Lizzy, Stephanie, and aaonce--is a winner! (Marsi commented but didn't enter, and Leigh commented but she's in the middle of moving and seeds are the last thing she needs!)

Ladies, send me your addresses and as soon as the seeds arrive from The Cook's Garden I will send them your way.

Bisous!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Giveaway: Your petit potager

When I look outside and still see snow covered gardens (and roofs and cars) it's hard to imagine spring, but this is the time to begin planning a kitchen garden. Very traditional in Europe, a kitchen garden is a simple way to bring a bit of France into your home.

Last year I posted about my container garden, mon petit potager, which I've maintained for many summers. Planting containers of my favorite herbs means I'll have fresh basil, parsley, chives all through the summer and into the fall. Then last week I saw this post on Apartment Therapy that inspired me to add lettuce to my mix.

Baby lettuces are perfect for warm weather salads, when dressings tend toward lighter vinagrettes. Many varieties of baby lettuces are ideal for small container gardens and will begin producing within a month of planting the seeds. Sometimes referred to as "cut and come again" greens because each cutting encourages new growth.

I've ordered my seeds online from The Cook's Garden. True to their name, The Cook's Garden, located in Londonderry, Vermont, has everything you would want for a kitchen garden. Imagine, no more packaged baby greens for your salads! I'm eager to get mine started.

So how about you? Would you like to try to grow some baby greens? I ordered three extra seed packets to giveaway on my blog. If you'd like to participate, post a comment about your plans for the seeds, and I'll put your name in the virtual hat to win a packet of seeds to grow your own lettuce cutting mix. Winners will be announced on Saturday.

And, if you have experience with a small kitchen garden, especially baby greens, I would love to hear from you, too. I'll need all the advice I can get!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Looking for inspiration

You might recall that I have started my search for a new house. Within the year I'll be saying goodbye to the house that's been my home for the past sixteen years. I've decided on a particular area and have been spending available Sunday afternoons visiting open houses. And of course, when I see a house that I like, I begin to imagine how I would decorate.

Lately I've been inspired by Stephanie's house redo, as well as a few books and magazines I have collected. I've also visited several French decorating blogs--La Maison Douce and Pampille--which I know some of you would enjoy. These are beautiful, feminine, French-inspired spaces--Rococo mirrors, Louis XV chairs, crystal chandeliers--but, I'm not sure it's the style for me.

I'm not even sure how I would define my decorating style these days; it's been years since I've lived alone and haven't had to negotiate decorating decisions. I'm attracted to 40s vintage, but with a contemporary edge so it doesn't end up looking like my grandmother's house. I live with neutrals, but I enjoy pops of bold color in interesting objects--paintings and prints, antique cloth book covers, objets d'art. I crave the formal intimacy of a small Paris apartment, but love the expansive casual feel of French country. Qu'est-ce qu'une fille à faire? What's a girl to do?

I'm looking for inspiration. Do you have any favorite décor inspired books, blogs, or websites you can share?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Freezing baguettes?

I had planned a different post for today when something on The Kitchn caught my eye and I thought it was the perfect follow-up to yesterday's post on My French Corner.

The staples in my pantry saved me last week, but the one thing we did miss was our daily bread. Then yesterday I saw this post about freezing baguettes and was fascinated. Honestly, I never considered freezing baguettes, but how nice it would have been to have them, last week, in my freezer.

So, when I went to the bakery this afternoon, I bought an extra baguette to freeze (oh, I hope my French brother-in-law isn't reading this . . .) It won't take the place of my pain quotidien, but I'm eager to see how the bread holds up after freezing.

I'm curious: do you freeze baguettes? Have you ever? What's your experience?

My pantry

Last week, back-to-back snowstorms in the DC area sent folks scrambling to the grocery stores. I did my part by snatching up three bags of spinach, two small poulets, and the seven remaining pieces of bacon in the butcher's case (seriously, there were only seven slices).

Last year I posted about shopping for food "the French way" but last week, shopping daily wasn't possible. (Last Tuesday I walked to the grocery store for fruit and produce, and the cases were empty!) So, in addition to the few perishables I had on hand, I relied on my refrigerator and pantry staples. Onions, shallots, potatoes, garlic, nuts, dried pasta, as well as eggs, butter, cheese made their way into many dinners over the past eight days. I was so thankful to have staples on hand, and to be able to enjoy cooking and baking without worrying about ingredients.

J'adore my pantry. Created fron reclaimed space under the stairs, it's a walk-in with five long shelves that go to the ceiling. In addition to storage for food, there's space for table linens, serving pieces, sets of extra dishes for entertaining, oversize cooking pots and pans, and plenty of floor space for cases of wine and water.

But, as you can tell from the photo, my pantry is nearly empty. After ten days without grocery shopping, I need to make the trip to the grocery store . . .

Bon lundi!

p.s If you're interested in learning more about the history and use of the pantry, you might enjoy reading or paging through this book, The Pantry, by Catherine Pond.

Friday, February 12, 2010

1 Sweater, 5 Ways: Friday

Today is the last day of the sweater series that I've been doing with Kristi over at La Bella Figura. This project has been so much fun because I got to play around in my closet which I never take time to do. This series also gave me permission to try out something new on my blog--talk about clothes--which I also never do. While I'll never be a fashion writer, I have to admit I enjoyed the change. And learning how to use Polyvore let me tap into my creative side (I've already started working on a collage for a future post!) Finally, I think Kristi and I both agree that the best part of the series was the comments from readers.

It's been wonderful working with Kristi. She is open and generous, and so creative, and I hope we get to work together on another project.

Venredi

You'll recognize the pieces I'm wearing today: I wore the boots on Monday and Tuesday, the pants and coat on Tuesday, the black tee on Monday and Wednesday. But today I've added something new--la pièce de résistance--a splash of color! My friend Leigh suggested that I add a bright color to my neutral tones, so voila--this red scarf. The scarf was a gift, not a purchase, and though it's beautiful, I never wear it because it's so bright.

But I've been indoors for days because of the snow and when I go out today I could use a little bright, n'est-ce pas?

Bon week-end!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

1 Sweater, 5 Ways (and a love story): Thursday

This morning I reached for my Gap jeans and paired them with my grey sweater and light grey cami that I bought at Target. I added a long, navy wool challis scarf that's warm but lightweight, and the navy blue looks great with the grey. Then, I pulled on my Frye boots.

Jeudi

I have always loved boots, and I especially love these boots. I got my first pair of Fryes when I was a junior in high school, a Christmas present from my parents. Those boots and I went steady through high school and was faithful to them throughout college, a perfect match for my boho-hippie-style. After college I abandoned my Fryes for a pair of sophisticated knee high black Anne Klein boots, which suited a more grown-up-new-graduate-first-job style.

A few years later my career path (and style) changed, and I took up with Tony Lama, falling head over heels for those authentic cowboy boots with their bad boy attitude. I had a few boot flings after that, including a couple of embarrasing months with Steve Madden, an experimental phase with Betsey Johnson, and a completely misguided affair with Doc Martens. What was I thinking?

I finally settled down, got married, became a mom. For a while it seems I swore off boots altogether (couldn't find a pair comfortable enough for chasing a toddler?) When my son turned nine, I returned to school to pursue my teaching degree. Being back on a campus brought back college memories, and once again I found myself longing for a pair of boots. Lucky for me, Frye was still around. I rediscovered my orignal love and we've been together ever since.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

1 Sweater, 5 Ways: Wednesday

If you've been following the news you know that the DC area got socked with more snow overnight, and it's still snowing this morning. In fact, it's a blizzard; the wind is fierce with lots of blowing and drifting snow. A good day to stay inside and do some planning for school, in case we ever get to go back!

I won't be going outside today, so there's no need to bundle up. I'm wearing a black Old Navy sleeveless tee over a pair of comfy black wide-leg cropped pants. These are my go-to pants in the spring and summer months, but they're also great for just hanging out.

Mercredi

I'm also wearing the most comfortable shoes in my closet. I bought these black Repetto ballet flats 11 years ago on a trip to Paris with my husband and my son. I had an afternoon on my own to shop, and my first stop was 22 Rue de Paix, Boutique Repetto. For years, I wore these shoes almost everyday; I had them resoled several times. As you can imagine, they're pretty worn, but I still love them and wear them at home all the time.

Today I put on my son's watch--a little big for my wrist, but I actually like the look. I think I'll put one of these on my wish list.

Oh, I almost forgot, on top of it all I wore my grey sweater!

1 Sweater, 5 Ways: Tuesday

It's another day off from school; we're still digging out, and more snow is predicted for today. I'm venturing out this morning in search of fresh fruit, a bottle of wine, extra batteries, a spare snow shovel, and a full tank of gas.

I pulled on my grey sweater over a short sleeve Gap tee, and since I'll be going out, I added a scarf. Instead of jeans I decided to wear these knit pants that I bought on sale last year at Eileen Fisher. A cross between skinny knit jeans and leggings, these pants are very warm and tres casual, and I love that I can tuck them into my boots. I don't wear them to school, but they're great for weekends and days off from work.

Mardi


I love the ease and flexibility of uniform dressing, and how this outfit will take me through my day. After running errands, I'll return home, take off my scarf and sweater and do a few chores around the house. A little later in the afternoon I'll do some baking and cooking; I've invited a few neighbors to walk over for dinner this evening, as we're all getting a touch of cabin fever. Before guests arrive, I can throw my sweater back on, swap the scarf for the necklace I wore yesterday, et voila--dressed for a casual evening at home.

So, time to grab my coat and gloves and head out--wish me bonne chance!

Monday, February 8, 2010

1 Sweater, 5 Ways: Monday

We all have a few items in our closet that we find ourselves wearing all the time. For me, one of them is my black turtleneck sweater with kimono sleeves. The other is my oversize grey sweater. Because of the t-neck, I wear the black sweater a lot in the winter, and the grey one in the fall.

But this week, I'll be wearing my grey sweater everyday, for the "1 Sweater, 5 Ways" series that Kristi at La Bella Figura and I are doing. I hope you don't mind, but I don't have the nerve to post pics of myself, so I'm using Polyvore to post my outfits.

(For those not familiar with Polyvore, it's a web application that allows the user to create virtual sets , or collages, of items found on the web. To create my outfits, I browse items until I find the exact item I have in my closet--like my Frye boots--or an item that is a good match--like these black boots. Not as authentic as Kristi's photos, to be sure, but you'll get the idea.)

Monday

So here's today's pick: an Old Navy black cotton sleeveless t-shirt over my favorite Gap jeans, consignment black boots, a favorite necklace, and of course, my grey sweater. And I added lipstick and fragrance because I don't feel dressed without them, even at home on a snow day.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

1 Sweater, 5 Ways

I started My French Corner because I wanted to write about the ways I include simple French touches in my life: habits, cultural experiences, food. But, I knew there were two topics I probably wouldn’t post about: fashion and decorating.

Then, a recent thread on the French Chic list about uniform dressing style--maybe inspired by this post on GOOP--made me think it might be fun to explore the idea on my blog. This style is where one has a few basic items in her (or his) wardrobe, and she (or he) wears those items often--sometimes several times a week, sometimes every day. Many of you will agree this is tres French, tres European.

One of my favorite bloggers, Kristi of La Bella Figura, is expert at uniform dressing. Those of us who follow her blog love the different looks she creates just by changing her accessories--scraves, boots, jewelry.

Kristi and I discovered we have similar taste when it comes to clothes, and even have some of the same items in our closet. So we thought it might be fun to dual post on the subject of small wardrobes and making do with less in our closets. We decided to choose one item from our closet—a grey oversized sweater—and mix it up five ways, one for every weekday.

For the past few days we've been experimenting with different combinations (though I suspect Kristi's are much more creative than mine!) I know Kristi has invited her readers to experiment on their own by selecting one favorite piece of clothing and trying out different ways to wear it, and I invite you to do the same.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

La neige grande

I'll be the first to admit that this post has nothing to do with France or anything French. But I couldn't miss the opportunity to write about the snowstorm that has hit the DC area this weekend.

Readers in the northeast and the midwest are accustomed to lots of snow; in Pittsburgh, where I grew up, 20 inches of snow wasn't a big deal. But here in the nation's capital, well, it's a different story. This pic was taken from my backyard and you can see the snow atop my neighbors rooftops and cars. I know the snow's a major inconvenience, but I have to say, it's pretty and I don't mind it at all.

Today I have nothing but time on my hands so I'll be doing lots of reading, cooking, baking, blogging, and of course, shoveling.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Summer potatoes

It's a cold day here in the DC area and everyone is preparing for the major snowstorm that is about to hit. In anticipation of the snow, we had no school today, so I'm home reading, blogging, and loving the slow quiet of the day.

Slow days remind me of summers in France; the days are relaxed and there is time to spend with friends. One day last summer my sister and her French husband invited some friends for lunch and I was happy to prepare the meal.

In looking through photos from the trip I discovered this one and it immediately put me back to that afternoon. I don't recall what else we served (Darcy, do you?), but I remember arranging this colorful platter of tomatoes, hericots verts, and roasted potatoes. Click on the photo for a closer look, and you can almost taste them! Roasted potatoes are a summer staple for me; they can be prepared on the grill, and complement any grilled meat. They can be eaten hot, or at room temp, as shown above.

Everything in this photo shouts summer--the white platter, the rough hewn white table, and the market fresh vegetables. A perfect antidote for a grey, cold, snowy winter day.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Aligot

Believe it or not, there is a French take on mashed potatoes. Aligot, a regional dish from Aveyron, is the ultimate combination of potatoes, garlic, butter, milk, and cheese. Lots of cheese.

I didn't make it for dinner, but if you want to make the aligot pictured here, visit The Way the Cookie Crumbles for the recipe.

What I did make was my version of French mashed potatoes, sans cheese but avec olive oil. These are different from traditional mashed potatoes because I use a hand mixer to whip the potatoes. Using a mixer on potatoes yields a more elastic result, but the addition of olive oil ensures a super creamy potatoes more akin to a puree than a mash.

Served alongside a thinly sliced steak au poivre with a silky reduction sauce, this dinner was pretty close to heaven.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pommes Anna

We had a snow day today--no school! I love snow days because they are like gifts, and always seem to come just when I need one. I also love snow days because they give me an excuse to be even more of a homebody than usual, and today was no exception.

With more time to prepare dinner, I decided to make pommes Anna, one of my favorite potato dishes. I've made this dish many times, but for fun, I consulted my new Julia Child cookbook to see how Julia made pommes Anna.

Reading through the the recipe I learned something about the history of this crispy potato cake. According to Julia, pommes Anna was "created during the era of Napoleaon III and named, as were many culinary triumphs in those day, after one of the grande cocotte of the period."

Want to make pommes Anna? You'll need several potatoes, a stick of unsalted butter, and salt and pepper for seasoning. I recommend using a cast iron skillet; I have tried other baking dishes, but the cast iron skillet yields the crispiest result. And Julia's recipe calls for clarified butter, though I've used unclarified with success.

Preheat the oven to 450. Slice the potatoes the same as you would for a potato gratin, into thin coins; don't rinse the potatoes after cutting. Place the skillet on the stove top over medium heat and put several pats of butter in the skillet. Starting from the center, arrange the potato coins in a circular pattern. Continue arranging the potatoes this way, layering them as you go. I prefer to season them the layers as I go with a little salt and pepper.

Bake the potatoes at 450 for about 45 minutes, or until the top gets brown. Julia's recipe calls for covering and weighting the potatoes for the first 20 minutes of baking, which you can certainly do. When the potato cake is brown and crispy, loosen the sides by sliding a knife around the edges, and carefully invert it onto a serving plate. Let the potatoes rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving.

Whatever recipe you follow, you are almost guaranteed to end up with a tasty potato cake, crispy on the outside and tender and buttery on the inside.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Potato gratin

For dinner I made the easiest, most satisfying potato dish: a potato gratin. This evening I paired the gratin with some grilled garlic saucissons from Whole Foods, and a bottle of La Vieille Ferme Cotes-du-Ventoux.

I think the proper name for these potatoes is gratin dauphinois, but the name seems haughty for a dish that is so simple. I learned how to make these potatoes from my sister, Darcy, and it is one of our go-to meals during our summers in Annecy.

To make the gratin, preheat the oven to 425 and butter a shallow baking dish, such as a pie pan or gratin dish. To avoid the tedious job of peeling, I use small, thin skinned red or yellow potatoes, and cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch rounds, or coins.

I layer the potato rounds, salting each layer as I go, until the layers are nearly to the top of the baking dish. I pour on enough cream, half and half, or milk to almost-but-not quite cover the potatoes and bake in the oven until the top is bubbling, brown, and crispy.

Some recipes call for adding butter or creme fraiche, which you can certainly do. You can also add shallots or garlic or cheese, or spices such as mustard or nutmeg. Personally, I think the addition of other ingredients turns this dish into something entirely different, when all you really wanted was some simple potatoes, oui?

Bon appetit!