How the French Stay Thin

How the French Stay Thin

One question I am asked a lot on account of spending time in France is, “How do the French stay thin?”

And in light of my most recent Francophile food-related posts about delicious food in Paris, French bread and French cheese, I wanted to enlighten my mom readers on how the French indulge in good food but manage to stay trim regardless. When I first got to France I wondered, “How is everyone eating white bread and brie all day and looking better than Kate Moss?”

After three summers of fastidious research, here is how the French stay thin.

How the French stay thin

Small portions

As Mireille Guiliano famously noted in her best-selling book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, the French eat in small portions. They savor their food and eat slowly, using proper table manners.

Food in France is also more of an event. The French rarely eat standing up, and usually set a beautiful table and then sit down to eat a slow, leisurely meal. They put more thought into the preparation and consumption of the meal.

 

Fresh, organic food

Apricots

When I am working as an au pair in France I shop for the family’s groceries at the farmer’s market twice a week. While not all the produce is local, the overall quality of the food is quite high: fat, leafy lettuce, coiled-up homemade sausages, tiny red groseilles berries… in short, wholesome, delicious ingredients.

The French and Europeans in general have a greater appreciation for seasonal food. Black cherries in June are sweet and juicy, but in February? Not so much. As anyone who has tasted a Honeycrisp apple in October knows, when produce is in season it tastes worlds better.

And there’s no fake stuff- no Stevia, no diet soda, no I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Eating a natural diet is just better for you.

Indulging

Baguette

On any given day in France last summer, I treated myself to buttered toast, baguette and Nutella, platters of cheese, meat cooked in butter and chocolate. Despite this, I managed to come back a few pounds thinner.

This is because of the way the French would rather enjoy a small quantity of something scrumptious than a bulk serving of something mediocre. In other words, it’s better to eat a few pieces of high-quality dark chocolate than two whole Hershey’s bars.

Indulge in a small, high-quality serving of something naughty and you will be much more satisfied.

Damage control

Another way the French stay thin? Carefully monitored damage control.

The French, especially French women, carefully regulate their weight. If they gain a few kilos they cut back for a while to lose them.

Also, if the French order crème brûlée during one meal, they eat a light salad the next. It’s all about checks and balances, like balancing a bank account.

Soup and salad

Salad

The French fill up on low-calorie but high-volume foods like soup and salad. Lunch is often a soup or salad, while dinner is a heavier meal. These foods fill you up but don’t make you gain weight.

Active lifestyle

Most French people I know never intentionally exercise- I remember people making fun of former president Sarkozy for his jogging habit. And while they aren’t sweating it out on the elliptical, they still use their bodies. The French are very active by walking everywhere regularly and engaging in light recreation like hiking or tennis.

The 10 Most Crazy Delicious Foods You Must Eat in Paris

The 10 Most Crazy Delicious Foods You Must Eat in Paris

So, what’s good to eat in Paris? Um, if memory recalls, everything.

As I sit and wait for the French ministry of labor to send back my visa documents, I’ve been musing over some of the most delicious meals I’ve enjoyed in France over the past three summers. Hopefully the ministry sends the documents soon because this list is starting to make me hungry.

Note: This list does not include cheese or bread as both of these things are so spectacular in Paris that they require their own lists.

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1. Macarons

Macaron

Ah, macarons. These tiny Parisian cookies come in a hundred flavors, melt in your mouth and are neat enough not to crumb up your outfit. Perhaps the girliest desserts known to mankind, they can be found at the famous, adorably prissy pastry shop, Ladurée. My favorite flavor at Ladurée is orange blossom.

There are multiple Ladurée locations so check the website link above to find one near you.

2. Mussels Mussels- Au Pied du Couchon

Tiny, gorgeous mussels bathed in bacon and cream. Need I say more?

Find these and more pork-flavored goodness at Au Pied de Cochon, also known as the Foot of the Pig. This restaurant is one of the last-standing haunts from Les Halles, the working-class market that fed Paris for nearly 1,000 years. Sadly Les Halles was demolished in 1971, but Au Pied du Couchon carries the flame for simple, honest and fattening food.

Au Pied de Cochon
6, Rue Coquillière
01 40 13 77 00

Metro: Etienne Marcel and Châtelet Les Halles
Open for lunch and dinner

 

3. Chèvre chaud

Chevre Chaud Salad

This salad is one of my favorite bistro dishes ever. It’s a winning combination of shallot vinaigrette, tomatoes, and hot little rounds of melted goat cheese on bread.

As seen below, it pairs well with a glass of cold rosé and a bustling café atmosphere. This café, L’Arsenal, is located on the busy rue Saint-Antoine in the 4th arrondissement.

L’Arsenal
36, rue Saint-Antoine
06.32.60.33.87

Metro: Saint-Paul (Line 1)

 

4. The potatoes underneath the rôtisserie chicken

French potatoes

When you walk past the rôtisserie shops in Paris you will see rows of chickens turning on spits. If you peek below them, you will observe potatoes eagerly waiting to catch the chicken juices. You can buy these delicious, chicken-flavored potatoes and take them home for dinner.

And while we’re on the subject of chicken, the best chicken in France is poulet de Bresse. It’s really expensive but worth it.

5. Boudin noir

Boudin noir sounds a lot sexier than black pudding or blood sausage, but it’s the same thing. Don’t be scared of what it’s made of- it’s actually rich, delicious and full of iron. I especially love boudin noir antillais, which is a spicier version from the French Caribbean.

You can find boudin noir at any charcuterie and at also at many restaurants and bistros.

6. Galettes and Crêpes

Buckwheat crepe

While you often see street vendors whipping up freshly made crêpes with Nutella, banana or strawberry, they’ve always been a bit too sweet for me.

I never liked crêpes until I had Brittany crêpes at Cat’Man Crêperie. Once I tasted an authentic Breton buckwheat galette, with its nutty, earthy flavor, I was hooked. I highly recommend a galette complete, which is filled with Emmantal cheese, jambon de pays and a fried egg.

Also fantastic- sweet crêpes slathered in salted butter caramel.  Cat’Man’s version of a crêpe au caramel au beurre salé is the perfect combination of salty and sweet.

Sweet crepe

Cat’Man Crêperie
12, rue du Temple
01 42 74 43 32

Metro: Hôtel de Ville (1, 11)
Open for lunch and dinner

7. Financier (Almond Cake)

Financier

Whenever the lady I work for in France needs to bring a cake to a party, we make a financier together. The ingredients are simple: almond flour, butter, sugar and eggs.

This simple almond cake is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It is called a financier because it is an expensive cake, with almond flour being one of the pricier flours. It is also traditionally baked in a rectangular pan and resembles a brick of gold.

You can find this cake in mini form at almost any bakery.

8. Pâté

Pate

Wikipedia defines pâté as “a mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste.” While the definition is accurate, it’s actually much more appetizing than that.

Pâté is generally eaten before dinner with a generous slice of bread. You can buy it at any charcuterie. My personal favorite is rabbit pâté (pâté de lapin).

9. Salted Butter

Baguette and butter

This pat of butter while costing a measly 1.50 euro, was freshly churned and covered in crunch little flecks of salt. I brought it home to the kids I baby-sit for, and they raved, “It tastes like milk!”

It was truly the best butter I’ve ever had in my life.

If you would too would like to squeal in delight, head over to Pascal Beillevaire, a chain of cheese shops across France.

Pascal Beillevaire

77, rue St. Antoine

Tél: 01 42 78 48 78

Metro: St. Paul (1)

10. Chocolates

Admittedly I’ve been known to wander around Paris from chocolate shop to chocolate shop.

A favorite? Patrick Roger. This self-proclaimed chocolate artist not only creates perfect chocolates with flavors like Ethiopian coffee and jasmine flower, Roger also sculpts chocolate artwork. When I was there last summer his store was displaying an enormous sculpture of several hippos swimming together. It was quite beautiful, actually.

His store has two different locations in Paris so check his website.

For more great ideas on what to eat in Paris, Check out David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan‘s lists.

 What are your favorite foods to eat in France?

The Art of French Cheese Eating

The Art of French Cheese Eating

As we all know, the French love their cheese. I love their cheese. I love them for loving their cheese. And frankly, sampling oozing, raw-milk French cheese is one of the best parts of visiting the country, at least for this fromage-o-phile.

I have worked as an au pair for a French family for past three summers so hopefully I have learned a bit about cheese by now. Here are some tips for buying, storing and serving this delicacy properly.

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French Cheese Plate

From left to right: fresh goat, rocamadour and Saint-Nectaire.

 Buying the cheese:

Buy cheese at the fromagerie.

You’re never going to find fantastic cheese at Carrefour, so head over to the fromagerie. Most cheesemongers are knowledgeable, friendly and more than happy to recommend you some great choices.

Industrially made cheeses are never as good as artisanal cheeses.

Okay, except for maybe Merkts cheese spread. But seriously, mass-produced cheese will just never have the same flavor or integrity as cheese produced in small capacity. For example, many industrially produced blue cheeses are injected with penicillium (a bacteria related to penicillin) to speed up production and produce the characteristic blue or green veins. That’s just depressing.

Buy cheeses that make sense together. 

An ideal cheese platter has between three and five cheeses which possess a variety of flavors and textures. The cheese platter pictured below is a good example of that. The soft, creamy brie de meaux matches up nicely with the nutty slab of comté, which both work well with the dryer, more intensely flavored aged goat cheese.

French Cheese

 From left to right: aged goat, brie de meaux and comté.

Storing the cheese:

Serve it room-temperature.

Cheese will have its best flavor, aroma and texture when it has reached room temperature. Make sure to take the cheese out of the fridge a few hours before the party.

Don’t wrap it in plastic.

Wrap the cheese in the wax paper they give you at the fromagerie, not in plastic wrap. Plastic wrap doesn’t allows the cheese to sweat.

 

Serving the cheese:

Serve the cheese after the main course.

The order of the meal in France is as follows: main course, cheese course and then fruit or dessert to finish. Bring the cheese out on a platter with a fresh knife for each guest, and some bread, wine or jams to accompany if you wish.

Work from the blandest cheese to most flavorful.

If you first eat the cheese with the most powerful flavor (roquefort, for example), you will blow out your palate and be unable to taste the subtle flavors of the blander cheeses.

Don’t spread the cheese too much.

If you are eating Laughing Cow, do whatever you want. But if you are eating a nice cheese and want to have it with bread, be gentle.

 

How many times can you say cheese in one blog post? Anyway, my favorite French cheese is Coeur Neufchâtel. What is yours?

The Spice House in Chicago

The Spice House in Chicago

This is my love letter/free advertisement to the best spot to buy spices in the U.S., The Spice House.

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This place holds a special place in my cabinets because the spices are not only high-quality, they are also really, really inexpensive.

A few months back when I was still a Chicago resident I lived in an apartment about a mile away from The Spice House. The shop was around the corner from my gym, so I often rewarded myself post-workout by buying a new exotic spice or replenishing one of my staples.

The Spice House

If I wanted to experiment with a new cuisine, I would buy several one-ounce bags of the cuisine’s essential spices. One day when attempting to make an Indian eggplant dish I bought small portions of cumin, garam masala, turmeric and coriander all for about $7. Because the spices are so inexpensive and can be sold in quantities as small as one ounce, I found myself experimenting and having more fun in the kitchen during the time I lived nearby.

The Spice House

I  also love their spice blends. My little brother, Andrew, and I use to have “jerk chicken parties” and invite friends over to grill in the backyard at my old place in Chicago. He agrees the Spice House’s jerk chicken spice is perfection, and he has even been to Jamaica. Another one of my favorite spice blends is the Pilsen Latino Seasoning which I use on fish tacos.

And if you don’t believe a small fry like me, believe the head chef of the Palmer Place, the People’s Choice winner of the Hamburger Hop last year. I was working as a caiter-waiter attending the event with a group of friends and remember him dedicating his winner’s speech to the incredible spice selection at the Spice House.

Now that I no longer live in Chicago, I order the spices I need online. And whenever I’m in Chicago I use the Spice House as an excuse to wander around Old Town, the adorable neighborhood pictured below.

Oh Spice House. Couldn’t you set up shop in Detroit, too?

Old Town

Are you a spice addict, too? Have you visited The Spice House in Chicago or Milwaukee?

Best Souvenirs from Chile

Best Souvenirs from Chile

In honor of my good friend Christine who is moving to Chile today, I wanted to write a post about her soon-to-be home- and more specifically, my favorite souvenirs from Chile.

Chile is a country rich in mountains, seafood, backyard barbecues and really sweet people. I have been there seven times due to a boyfriend I had back a while ago.

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The other day I wrote a post about my favorite souvenirs. I decided to write another post altogether for my Chilean souvenirs, as there are so many to include. Here is what you should buy in Chile. Trust me on this.

1. Lapis lazuli

Souvenirs from Chile

Lapis lazuli is a beautiful, azure stone that can only be found in Afghanistan and Chile. It’s inexpensive in Chile so pick up some lapis lazuli jewelry at the Lapis Lazuli House in Santiago, where I bought this pendant.

2. Greda

Souvenirs from Chile

Like I’ve mentioned in other posts, I have a huge obsession with pottery. Greda is a Chilean clay that works well for cooking, and like cast-iron retains flavor over time. Many traditional Chilean dishes, such as pastel de choclo, should only be cooked in greda.

While you can buy greda is Santiago, the prices are often higly marked-up. The best place to buy it is Pomaire, a tiny town about an hour and a half from the center of Santiago. The town has one dirt road and shops with stacks and stacks of pottery. The pottery is very breakable so be careful on the ride home!

Souvenirs from Chile

Note: This pig-faced bowl is called a chanchito and it’s good luck.

3. Ceramic animals

You will see these little ceramic animal figurines, including birds, frogs and elephants, all over Chile. I love this little blue horse… very Chilean and so cute!

Souvenirs from Chile

4. Copper cookware

Chile is the world’s largest producer and exporter of copper. (It’s one of reasons Chile has the strongest economy in South America.) What does this mean for tourists like me and you? Inexpensive copper pots and pans! I bought this pan in Puerto Varas, Chile for only $40 USD.

Souvenirs from Chile

5. Merquén

Merquén is one of my favorite spices, and yields a smoky, spicy flavor. It is used a traditional Chilean dish called curanto, a meat, seafood and potato stew. It’s hard to find in the U.S. (it seems to be the ONE spice the Spice House doesn’t stock!) so it’s a good idea to bring some back from Chile.

6. Wine

Chilean wine is good. Very, very good. I prefer Chile’s Carmenere to Argentina’s Malbec because it’s much less tannic. While I don’t know much about wine, I do know this- bring home some good Chilean wines like Casillero del Diabo or Concha y Toro and your friends will be happy.

Note: Chilean beer is also delicious due to a large influx of Germans after WWII (They were absolutely not Nazis, mind you). My favorites are Austral and Kuntzmann Miel.

7. Neruda paraphenalia

Souvenirs from Chile

This is a box I bought at Isla Negra, one of the three homes of eccentric and brilliant Chilean poet and Nobel Prize Winner, Pablo Neruda. His symbol is the fish emblem on this box because he loved the sea more than anything else. His house in Isla Negra has a room exclusively designated for antique mermaid figureheads.

I would highly recommending any of his three homes; La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso and Isla Negra.

Me at Isla Negra after Delta PERMANENTLY lost my luggage. Please don’t hate on my hot outfit.