Posts from the “Lifestyle” Category

The Secret Garden

Posted on May 4, 2014



Murray the Office Dog is a joy, but he also likes to eat things like bricks (pictured above) and rocks and, well, plants. This is why we had to build a fence around our backyard vegetable garden. Our dear Murray just has his own horticultural ideas, and they usually involve pulling plants up by the roots and shaking them for all they’re worth. As you can imagine, this sort of behavior is not conducive to a productive growing season.

Thus the fence…which our clever pup has also figured out how to open…which is why it is now fastened shut with a vise.

Our dear Murray, and all that.

The luxury of this fence (if you can call it that), is that it has given me a way to claim more turf for planting whatever I want. So my daughter and I have been working really hard on filling in the space, when we haven’t been telling Murray to kindly remove his meaty boy paws from the top of the bloody fence. We’ve nicknamed it the Secret Garden, because we have romantic notions of being able to hide in there once we’re done turning it into the lush and productive plot of our dreams.

Here’s a taste of what we’ve been up to…


This morning’s radish haul.


 Someday when this little bud grows up, it will be a red bell pepper.


A pea pod. These normally don’t stick around for long, as my girl eats them straight from the vine.


I’m pretty excited about these. These little spikes will grow up to be haricots verts someday.




Looking forward to the day when this vine sprouts its first cucumbers.


Kale. Of course.


Tomatoes. I would love it if they would hurry up and ripen.

Not pictured: wild garlic, carrots, strawberries, potatoes (for obvious reasons), vidalia onions, leeks, lavender, okra, canteloupe, watermelon, black-eyed peas, butternut squash and various herbs.

I’m really excited that I’ve been able to get my garden back up and running and will be updating here and there with the garden’s progress and how and what I’m cooking with what it yields.  I’ll also be sharing the ups and downs of what it takes to keep this going, through heat and through fierce red ant invasions (we had a massive one two weeks ago) and changing seasons. I hope you enjoy those stories!

In the meantime, if you are looking to start or maintain a vegetable garden of your own, here are two books that should have at the ready:

* Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew


* Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte

Do you have any other book recommendations, or gardening resources, etc that you like? Please let me know in comments.

Not-So-Deep, Dark Secrets

Posted on April 23, 2014

I had a long-overdue lunch with my former academic advisor last week. Our conversations tend to be pretty free-flowing, covering everything from Jimmy Buffet lyrics to cheetahs and my maybe not-so-deep, dark secret. My maybe not-so-deep, dark secret is that I want to have my own restaurant someday. My neighbors in Decatur, Ga. knew it. My journalism colleagues have known it at various points in time. One of my graduate school classmates knows it all too well (and we’ve even discussed a Donald Trump-esque plan to develop an entire city block in New Orleans around business ideas like this that we’ve cooked up). My husband also suffers through my occasional fits of resto-reverie. He instantly (I imagine) regretted sending me to Paris for my 40th birthday after I returned to the States, told him I met a restaurant investor during a Paris By Mouth walking tour and felt that it was a sign that I needed to open a restaurant — the one I’ve wanted for as long I’ve been carrying on about it — in the City of Light.

His reply: “Why can’t you just have a food truck…here.”

My reply: “Because I want people to sit. At tables. In Paris, France.”

He sighed.

So, as I was saying, I was talking about this not-so-deep, dark secret with my former academic advisor, who has a long history of suffering through my weird ideas as well. He said I would be good at it, this running-a-restaurant thing.  But being the doom-and-gloom type, he also told me all the challenges I’d face and things that could or would go wrong. All of what he said was legit and came from a place of…let’s just call it…informed hyper-concern. That is precisely why I told him my next plan: The concept, as I envisioned it, would be best tested out in the privacy of my own home. He tried to hide his horror and said “What about health inspectors?” I told him I ran a clean kitchen and that “these things totally work, especially in Havana. There’s a huge underground restaurant scene in Havana.”

He, too, sighed, which must mean I’m on to something.




When I think about my restaurant, I envision something similar in feel (though not identical, of course) to Jody Williams’ renowned gastrotheque Buvette, which is located in New York and now (ahem) Paris. Williams authored a cookbook of Buvette recipes that came out yesterday and I’ve spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out which simple-but-sophisticated dish to try first. I chose Lentils with Kale and Shallots, mainly because I had lentils on hand (and love them) and plenty of fresh kale growing in my backyard. I substituted onions for shallots though, and it still turned out fine.

To make this, you’ll need:

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3 diced shallots

5 garlic cloves

1 tsp. red chili flakes (more, if you’re from South Louisiana)

1 bunch of kale, finely chopped

1 cup of lentils (be sure they’re the green French lentils called Lentils du Puy because they are yummy)

coarse salt

4 cups of water

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Here’s what you do:

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add the garlic, shallots (or onions, if you’re me), chili flakes and kale and cook until tender, stirring constantly for about five minutes.

2. Add the lentils, salt and water to the pot, bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for an hour or two, splashing with water if the liquid dries up too quickly. You want the final product to be soft, but not too brothy. Season with nutmeg and more salt just before serving. It should look something like this:







Monday Reader: 4/21/14

Posted on April 21, 2014



There are a lot of goofy quizzes on the Internet. Among other things you can find out which 1970s music star you are (I got Olivia Newton John) and where you’re really supposed to live (I got Paris, bien sur). My recent favorite is “How French Are You?” which features some of the worst stereotypes about the people, from how much you strike, to how much you complain or cut in line. Of the 90 questions on the quiz, I clicked 65, which apparently makes me:

as French as Jean Dujardin eating camembert on the Canal Saint Martin. You’re pretty French. You know good food and good wine and although you’re a pessimist who complains a lot, you always know how to enjoy life.

I can’t argue with this.

Some reads:

France Marks 70 Years of Women’s Voting Rights (France24.comToday marks the 70th anniversary of women’s suffrage in France, a measure signed into law by General Charles de Gaulle, who headed the provisional government at that time. Women cast their first ballots a year later, during the country’s first elections after German occupation. There’s a great video on the France 24 website of women casting those first votes, and a roundup of Western countries where women were already voting before les femmes joined the fray. The role of women in French politics has grown slowly. In 1993, only 5.7 percent of seats in France’s Parliament were occupied by women – barely more than that after the end of World War II. The lack of women in politics prompted France to pass a law in 2000 requiring political parties to present an equal number of men and women on voting lists, making it the first country to do so. But men still heavily dominate French politics. Seventy-three percent of the National Assembly is comprised of men, while the Senate is 78 percent men.

France’s Silent Tea Revolution (BBC NewsWhen I worked in Washington, D.C., I had a French roommate. When her mother came to visit, we used to make sure we were well-equipped with Lapsang Souchong tea, her morning drink of choice. Up until this particular point in time, I thought the French were more of a coffee-oriented people, but I learned that wasn’t the case. Ever-resourceful, my roommate would brew mint leaves from our backyard for a mid-afternoon restorative. And, we’d go tea-shopping in Chinatown even when her mother wasn’t coming to town. So I enjoyed this story about how tea culture is strengthening in the hexagon, between the delicate and refined French blends and wonderful tea salons that dot the City of Light. What you find is that tea has been in France longer than it has been in Great Britain. The reason why more people associate it with Brits is because it was a popular drink instead of a drink for a wealthy few, as it was in France. News that coffee was bad for you changed all that, and more of the French began looking for a replacement. They rediscovered tea and, as you might figure, began putting their own Gallic twist on it, pairing it with cheeses, among other things.

Paris’s Haut Marais: From Shabby to Chic (WSJ.comWhen I was in Paris finishing my thesis research a couple of years ago, I rented an apartment in the Marais. My first favorite memory of staying in that neighborhood was walking to picture-perfect Jacques Genin, buying a finger-sized eclair and almost weeping when I sunk my teeth into that first, perfectly creamy bite. My second favorite memory: Discovering the Repetto store on Rue des Francs Bourgeois. The Wall Street Journal looks at how real estate prices are skyrocketing in this part of town, once ground zero for the French nobility. “Five years ago nobody wanted to be here,” says Nicolas Wibaux, a Marais-based agent for Paris real-estate firm Daniel Féau. “Now everybody wants to be here.” In the past five years, the average Paris apartment has increased by about 25%, to $1,056 a square foot. In prime areas of Haut Marais, prices in the same period jumped by 35.2% to 41.2%, reaching as high as $1,535 a square foot.

French Village Fights for Right to Use Its Name (rfi.frThe Laguiole council is appealing to France’s 36,000 local councils to come to its aid, claiming that it is the victim of a “supernatural catastrophe” following a Paris court’s refusal to uphold its case against Gilbert Szajner, who lives in the Val de Marne département just outside Paris. Szajner patented the Laguiole brand in 1993 for 38 different types of products, among them knives, tableclothes and cigarette lighters. But Szajner has had his wares made in China and Pakistan, while the town itself has been making its own distinctively designed knife since 1829. In 1997 local officials took Szajner to court, accusing him of dishonest trading practices and carrying out “harming its name, its image and its reputation”. After a long legal wrangle, the court threw out the case a few weeks ago and ordered the village to pay 100,000 euros in costs to Szajner.


Friday Interview: Katherine Warren, artist

Posted on April 18, 2014


Nepotism alert: Katherine Warren is actually my younger sister. I wanted to feature her because I’m really proud of her for a wide variety of reasons, one of which is that she has decided to follow her passion after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about a year and a half ago. At the beginning of April, her work was featured in a juried art exhibition in Fredericksburg, Va. Although she did not win, it was good exposure for her and work and something that gave her the added confidence to keep doing what she’s doing. Because the thing is, she’s really good at it. What follows are excerpts from a recent conversation I had with her about her work and life:

When did you decide to become an artist and why?

It never really dawned on me until I was applying to colleges that that was even an option for study. But it was all that I really wanted to do because it made me happy.

How long had you been painting before you decided that you wanted to pursue this line of study and work? What about the discipline appealed to you?

I can’t even remember when I started painting. It was just who I was. It was a complete escape that helped me express myself. It’s really that simple.

Why did you turn to painting as opposed to sculpture?

I preferred two-dimensional art because I saw things as pictures. I thought it was more artistically exciting for me to explore on a 2-D surface. And to be able to add shape and volume and texture on a 2D surface was more of a challenge.

You didn’t originally go into painting as a career. Why was that and how did you journey back toward your passion?

Art school does not show you how to be a professional working artist. In my twenties, I worked as a makeup artist and I worked well into my thirties in that field. That was a creative outlet for me because I was able to paint faces. Now I’ve had some changes in my life where I have been afforded the opportunity to focus solely on my art.

You’re referring to your diagnosis of M.S. How has that diagnosis helped your art and how has it been therapeutic for your disease?

At this stage, I’m just looking to create beautiful things that make me happy and touch people. My diagnosis has taught me to slow down, be more aware, and to really listen and see what’s around me. I don’t stand every day when I paint. Sometimes I have to sit. But I still have the same emotional meditative relaxing experience when I pick up a brush. The act of pushing paint will never change for me. It’s magical.  Being able to portion out the right colors, mixing the right amounts makes me think a little more. I’ve messed up and I’ve created colors by accident that I’ve put in sealed containers for use at a later time. I’ve learned to balance and I’ve learned to create ways to simplify the process, such as I have my paints organized by tone and my brushes organized by the technique they offer.

Tell me about your series of flower paintings. How did that come about?

Fatigue is a common symptom of MS. With that said, when I was finally prescribed a medicine to address that fatigue, suddenly my creative juices started flowing. I became consumed by the idea of growth and reaching toward the sky. It became a metaphor for me and my life. And I do prefer wildflowers, things that grow in abandon, things that aren’t planned.  I’ve made 40 paintings over the course of two months.

How has social media helped you get attention and buyers for your work?

When I began painting again, I had posted a painting on Facebook. But it wasn’t as a “look at me. Buy me.” That was never my intention. I just wanted to show people I was painting again. Within the first hour, I had sold two paintings. Shortly thereafter, I gained two commissions and I built a body of work. Now I am looking forward to exhibiting on my web site and becoming more active in my community. I believe this has given me the opportunity to stay active, even with my MS. This is my business and I can choose to do it in any way that my MS will let me. I think that what draws me to art and painting and drawing is the process of seeing something, not just looking at it. I want to embrace the lights and darks of it. I think that’s the thing you have to learn in life, that there’s always light and dark, and you have to find the balance and accept that.

Things The French Do Right: Part One

Posted on April 10, 2014

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

I’m as guilty as the next person of sending work emails after hours so I can get one thing off of the following day’s to-do list. To wit: The email I sent LSU about the class I’d like to teach in Fall 2014 left my inbox at 9:20 p.m. Monday night. Yes, it probably could have waited until Tuesday morning, but I console myself thinking about how my husband was up far later than I was sending emails that probably could have waited too.

This sets up my latest argument for why our family needs to pack up and move to France.

Yesterday, French employers’ federations and labor unions signed a new, legally binding agreement that requires staffers to turn off their work phones after 6 p.m. The deal affects one million workers in the technology and consultancy sectors, and aims to keep workers from feeling pressured to look at or respond to job-related requests after hours. When I saw this story, I thought “Well, how about that? That’s more proof that the French have some shred of good sense about work-life balance. Vive la France! Let’s move!”

So I took this tale to the mister who said that it sounded really nice (in an exhausted sort of “Oh boy, here we go again. Another argument for moving to France.” way). But he added that he actually didn’t feel the pressure to respond to after-hours emails. He only felt the pressure to send the missives that happen to be the root of the problem. And before I could exclaim, “but we could move to France and reform ourselves (after we bang our heads on the wall sorting through all the requisite residency paperwork),” he actually found a way of tying up all his work-related loose ends by 6 p.m.

Husband: 1, Paige: 0

But the battle rages on…


Blogger, cookbook author and former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz has a new book of stories and recipes out called My Paris KitchenWhat I love about the book is that it puts a culinary twist on this centuries-old question the French like to ask themselves: What does it mean to be French? Lebovitz answers this in his own inimitable way, illustrating how global influences from India to North Africa and even his native United States have shaped classic French cuisine. Plus, you get a tantalizing taste of what he might serve with cocktails or for dinner on a given day.

And that’s what makes it so difficult to decide what to cook first. It all looks so good and, better yet, accessible for the average home cook.

Last night I chose to make his chicken with mustard sauce recipe, the dish featured on the cover. It was a tricky choice because my husband and daughter are not big fans of mustard and if I ever want to use it in a dish, I have to sneak it in and refuse to answer them if they ask me what’s in the chicken. When my daughter asked me what I was making last night, I replied “Chicken in Awesome Sauce” because by then I had dipped my spoon into the skillet enough to know that the sauce was, indeed, beyond awesome.

Sometimes I feel like this is my theme song when it comes to tricking those two into eating things that I like:

Anyway, yeah.

Here’s what you need to make this:

1/2 cup and 3 TBS of Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. of smoked paprika

4 chicken legs and 4 chicken thighs

1 cup diced bacon

1 diced small onion

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 cup of white wine

1 TBS mustard seeds

2-3 TBS heavy cream

chopped fresh parsley to finish


1. In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the mustard with paprika, pepper and salt. Put the chicken pieces in the mixture and cover them with it, rubbing some of the sauce underneath the skin.

2. Heat a skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon, cooking it until brown. Remove the bacon and drain it.



3. Leave 1 TBS bacon fat in the pan, then add onion and cook for five minutes until translucent. Stir in thyme, cook for another few minutes and scrape into a bowl big enough to fit the chicken.

4. Put chicken in the pan (adding olive oil, if necessary) and brown it well on both sides on medium-high heat. As Lebovitz advises, good brown color makes for a great tasting sauce.



Here’s the chicken when it first went into the pan. Please don’t deduct points because I used leg/thigh pieces.

5. When the chicken is well-browned, remove it from the pan and put it in the bowl with the onions. Then add wine to the hot pan and scrape up the fond (a.k.a. really tasty bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan).


Scraping up the fond. Loving the smell. Mmm…sauce.

6. Put the chicken, bacon and onions back into the pan, cover and cook on low to medium heat until the chicken is cooked through. This should take about 15 minutes.

7. Then, remove the pan from the stove, stir in the remaining Dijon mustard, mustard seeds and cream. Top with parsley and serve with linguine noodles (you gotta sop up that awesome sauce with something) and haricots verts.finalplatechickenmustardsauce

Et voila!

The husband usually hates mustard, but liked this tremendously. The child was a little less convinced (but she is a work in progress; I tend to take a Karen Le Billon approach to her eating habits, anyway…trying, trying, trying again). Me? I loved this and will absolutely make it again.

And so, the new score:

Husband: 1, Paige: 1

We shall see what the next inning brings…


Lebovitz had a great behind-the-scenes post this week about what went into making his recent book. Aside from all the gorgeous photography and anecdotes about rose wine consumed, I really appreciated the look at the often-agonizing process of seeing a book into print. Few people know that the proposal stage alone can take almost a year in some cases, sometimes requiring total overhauls and reshapings along the way. He writes:

Writing a book is an all-consuming process, at least for me. My Paris Kitchen started out as a non-cookbook proposal that took me nearly eight months to write. People who want to write a book are always astonished when I tell them that it takes that long (at least it takes me that long), to write a proposal. But it’s the most important part of the cookbook process. It’s where you clarify and distill your ideas, and create your vision of the book. And in turn, it allows the publisher to grasp your idea of your book, who you are, and the intended audience…

After I sent the publisher at Ten Speed Press the proposal I had slaved over, he sent me a message: “You should do a book of recipes about how you cook. What is your Paris cooking?”

Grrr, eight months down the drain. But as a writer, sometimes you write and write and write for hours, thinking you came up with something brilliant. Then you go back and reread it the next day, and delete the whole thing. And start all over again.

But the point is, he persevered and has a really gorgeous book to show for it. His account is inspiring to me at a time when I’ve just finished a total overhaul of my own book proposal. So he gave me faith…and great chicken. And sometimes that’s all a girl can ask for.

Merci, Daveed.


Monday Reader: 4/7/2014

Posted on April 7, 2014

Photo: The New York Times

Photo: The New York Times

Today marks the first Monday morning in a couple of months that I haven’t been teaching. I had gotten into the ritual of beginning each class with little weird and interesting tidbits about contemporary France, stories about everything from the decline of the noble snail to an experiment with social media among a select group of homeless Frenchmen. I found that these little tidbits got everyone (especially me) loosened up and ready to sit for a deeper dive into a topic like, oh, I don’t know…the French Second Empire. I also realized that by structuring the class this way, I was sort of thinking like a magazine geek — short departments in the front, long reads in the middle, a punchy closing note that set up for the next issue, er, I mean, class.

So I wanted to take a similar approach with my web site, at least for now. My picks won’t necessarily be France-related all the time, but there will be a decent diet of Franco-reads. You’ll also get a taste of the eclectic lifestyle pieces and features that tend to catch my eye. Here’s hoping they give you something fun or interesting to read while you sit with your morning cup of coffee or take a lunch break.

Here we go…

Rwanda: The Art of Remembering and Forgetting ( This is the third story in a series about the Rwandan genocide, which happened 20 years ago today. About 1 million people were murdered by their neighbors over the course of 100 days, an outrage that the international community has struggled to process and respond to even today. Now, “Rwanda bears few obvious scars of its cataclysm. Its rapidly modernizing capital, Kigali, is one of the jewel cities of Africa. A lacework of tree-lined boulevards and greenswards rises and falls over a cradle of verdant hills and valleys. New construction is transforming the city center, with upscale hotels, a grand shopping mall, and a state-of-the-art convention center. The airport bustles with tour operators picking up clients arriving to visit Rwanda’s national parks, which hold the nation’s famous mountain gorillas. Add to that Rwanda’s rising standard of living, steady economic growth, and low incidence of corruption, and you have a country that in many ways is the envy of the continent.” Still, there are the less obvious scars. Rwanda has laid some of the blame for the massacre with France, which, in turn, scaled back its presence at the ceremonies today. And yet there is the French governmental agency which was formed to find perpetrators of the massacre living within France. “Since this group was created, things are moving much faster,” Rwandan activist Dafroza Gauthier told NPR. “They’re moving really quickly. And there’s a judge who is dedicated solely to the cases of the Rwandan genocide. … Prior to this there was no money, there were no resources to focus on this and now there are.”

The Found Art of Thank-You Notes ( I used to hate writing thank you notes when I was a little kid, but my family stressed the importance of showing gratitude for gifts both large and small. Now I find that I’m trying to fight the ease of dashing off an email or text to show thanks, and instead buying nice stationery so I can stick with this old school — and much more personal — art. The New York Times published a feature recently about thank you notes, saying that “the boring stuff your parents made you do never actually goes out of fashion and that also inadvertently supports recent scientific findings linking gratitude to increased optimism, stress reduction and a better night’s sleep. Few who sit down to write a bread-and-butter note are likely to be aware that by doing so they are not only on trend but also on their way to becoming happier and more sociable people. Apparently, what Emily Post termed good manners (science prefers “gratitude intervention”) has all kinds of unexpected benefits. And as it happens, the handwritten gratitude intervention seems to be experiencing a moment of vogue.” Taking the time to find the special papers, and the right pen and best words shows “gives material evidence that the person really did appreciate something.” Are you a thank you note writer? If so, why do you choose this old school approach? If not, why do you think it’s fuddy-duddy? Do you prefer your thank yous digitally or by snail mail?

Some Thoughts on French Cuisine ( Lebovitz has a new cookbook that hits bookstores tomorrow. In the meantime, here are his thoughts on this talk about whether French cuisine is losing its je ne sais quoi. His view is neither gloom-and-doom, nor pie-in-the-sky. Rather it’s smart and even-handed, acknowledging globalization’s impact on the present-day attitudes and habits of French chefs and eaters. And yet, he writes “people in France are still making Coq au vin, omelets, crêpes, gratins, mousse au chocolat,tartes Tatin, and eating French cheeses. I think everyone can agree that those are, indeed, examples of French cuisine, with deep roots in the soul of the country. And while many restaurants have dropped the ball on some of those items, and you don’t find them very often on menus nowadays, quite a few people still prepare all those things at home and they’re still popular. There are a number of French restaurants whose food could certainly use rescuing, but no one could argue, after a walk through Paris, that the pastry shops, bakeries, butchers and charcuteries, aren’t doing a pretty good job upholding the standards of la cuisine française. Yes, the single-subject restaurants serving everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to meatballs are un peu trop (a little too much), but they are signaling a new way for a younger generation of cooks to present foods at a lower costs, as it’s cheaper to do one thing and do it well. True, many of these places were started by Americans or Australians, then adopted by the French, but if the result is better “fast” food than fast-food outlets, and better coffee, I’m for them.”

How To Dress Like a French It Girl ( Merci, Elle Magazine for breaking down French style for the rest of us. The magazine takes 11 icons, breaks down their style, piece by piece (and price by price), ultimately giving you an accessible way to look tres magnifique. Some of my favorite looks: Jean Seberg, Ines de la Fressange, Farida Kelfa and Lou Doillon.

Will Ortiz’s Selfie Be Obama’s Last ( Where to begin about the Red Sox? After the Orioles (my Orioles) beat them on Opening Day last week, the Bosox emerged true to form and began making mincemeat of the Birds’ pitching staff. In the midst of all this, they took the standard post-championship trip the White House and presented President Obama with a Red Sox jersey. Designated hitter David Ortiz took a selfie with the president, but that caused a stir because Ortiz is on Samsung’s payroll as a “social media insider.” Said White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer: “In general, whenever someone tries to use the president’s likeness to promote a product, that’s a problem with the White House Counsel.” Ortiz said the picture had nothing to do with any deals. He was just caught up in the moment and wanted to take a shot while he had the chance.

Paul Stanley dishes on KISS feuds and painful secrets ( KISS guitarist Paul Stanley has a new memoir out and I think I need to get it for my hair band-loving sister. His band just got into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, which he feels is more of a slap in the face than an honor. “The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is fluff,” he told CBS. “It’s a farce. It’s like an Addams Family bar mitzvah. I’m gonna go, but let’s not kid ourselves, you know. That’s not the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame is walking the streets…We are the bitter pill that they ultimately had to swallow. Because they don’t like us. And the only reason they’re inducting us is because they begin to look foolish at some point for not having us in.” Rock on, man. And read on, y’all.


Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes

Posted on April 3, 2014



I have a good friend who bakes Duff Goldman-style cakes. She does this for fun when she’s not teaching flamenco.

One year this friend made a hula monkey birthday cake for my daughter. I mean, this monkey had it all: a flower fondant lei, bold red lips and a sassy grass skirt. The detail was one thing. The flavor was out of this world. I have never been able to replicate the almond-flavored buttercream she made that day. Nor have I ever been able to bake a cake that moist and gently sweet. Kids fought over this cake in a way that was far beyond “I want the piece with balloons on it.”

So I bow down to anyone who can bake cakes with that level of artistry and flavor.

The one cake I can bake successfully (knock wood) is a yogurt cake. These cakes are a popular snack item in France for two reasons, a. because they’re really easy for kids to make (which means that even I can’t mess it up) and b. because the cakes turn out moist with a hint of sweetness. Everyone from Clotilde to Molly to Dorie has got a memory of or twist on this treat and it’s little wonder. There’s something about them that makes your household smell like comfort and warmth.

Although I like the classic recipe, there’s really nothing like goosing the simple batter with ribbons of melted dark chocolate, I’ve found. That’s what food blogger and cookbook author David Lebovitz did in his memoir The Sweet Life in ParisI used his recipe yesterday to bake an afterschool snack for my little one. It was such a hit that snack became dessert and breakfast too. When I asked my daughter which version of this cake she preferred, she got this dreamy look in her eye and said “I don’t know…they’re both pretty awesome.”

Indeed they are.

Lebovitz’s latest cookbook comes out next week and I’m looking forward to checking it out. I’m also looking forward to Alexander Lobrano‘s latest, Hungry for France, which came out Tuesday.

What cookbooks are you enjoying right now and why? Are there any recipes that bring back good memories for you? If so, what are they and what is the memory?

Tomorrow: I’ll be featuring an interview with Karen Pery, who has been featured in this space before. I’ll be catching up with her and sharing how she uses things like racecars and surfboards to help people tap into their hidden potential. It’s a pretty cool story and she’s a pretty cool lady, so I hope you’ll stop by tomorrow and see what she has to say!

A Spring Update

Posted on April 2, 2014

I just finished teaching a six-week class about the French for LSU’s Continuing Education. As a lifelong introvert, I knew it would be challenging (and exhausting) for me to stand in front of a group of people for a couple of hours each week, even though I’d be telling them stories about a topic that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. But as I’ve said before, I really wanted to get better and less fearful about speaking to groups this year, no matter how bumpy and ugly that road to “better and less fearful” was. And I can honestly say that I couldn’t have asked for a better and kinder group of people a. to teach and b. to learn from as I figured out how to get my sea legs in a classroom setting. Two weeks into the class, I seriously considered bidding teaching adieu after this class was done. Now, I know I’ll give it another shot in the fall. I am pretty excited about that and will be submitting a new class description to the curriculum committee in the coming weeks.

What does all of that have to do with a picture of green beans and a trellis? Well, I had to plant the seed in my head that teaching was something I could do, in whatever imperfect way. Now that I have done that, and haven’t managed to kill anything (or, heaven forbid, anyone) the next step is to encourage this little plant to go forth and prosper in whatever way it knows how. Right now, my teaching and writing seem to cross-pollinate each other nicely, so I don’t want to mess with what seems to be a good thing.

Knock wood.

After my last class on Monday morning, I finished revising a major project, before turning my attention to the vegetable garden I started a month and a half ago. That’s where you can find the above haricots verts, as well as some potatoes and kale, eggplant, wild garlic, asparagus, Vidalia onions, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries, among other things. We’ve had to fence off the space so Murray the rapidly growing office dog doesn’t dig it all up. And as I got to thinking about it, I started hatching some evil plans to add some fruit bushes and other things along the inside of the fence to maximize my gardening haul. My friend Karen told me recently that gardening is such a hopeful activity. I had never really looked at it that way due to my long history of killing plants. But now that I’ve had a couple of years of successes with a vegetable plot of some sort (not to mention some successes in other areas of my life), I suppose I’m willing to see how, yes, it is hopeful, and I am hopeful too. I have good reason to be.

So I’ll be sharing news and views from my garden in the coming weeks, as well as pictures of what I do with this stuff once it’s picked.

But tomorrow? I’ll put a decadent twist on a popular French snack cake.

Questions? Comments? Story suggestions? Don’t hesitate to let me know what’s on your mind in comments, or by shooting me a message on my contact page.





The Office Dog

Posted on February 5, 2014



A rare shot of Murray, also known as The Office Dog, asleep at my feet with his favorite toy pig. He’s usually trying to lure me outside to play, or forcing his way into my lap, or chomping on his quacking toy duck (also a favorite), or giving me that “Time for lunch” look with his big old brown eyes.