Thursday, February 3, 2011

Finding the French

Recently, I reorganized my cookbooks. Among them, you will find "French Women Don't Get Fat" - one of my favorites. I couldn't believe it though! The spine had completely faded from sun damage after all these years. A good note-to-self: keep precious items in the home (same goes for our eyes, face, and skin) away from extended periods of sun exposure.

Okay, this has nothing to do with the theme of today's post. Let me get to the point! I glanced back at "French Women Don't Get Fat," and was reminded of the loveliness and chicness of France. I've been lucky enough to visit Paris, the South of France and the French countryside - and it feels as though my life has been enriched because of it. Being in France is a gift and it's something you miss when you return home.

Which got me thinking: why should I have to miss France when I can find elements of it in my life? All of a sudden, I've been obsessing over all things French - French food, French wine, French movies, French candles. My mind is in a whirl - take me there, I think to myself.

Well, that's not going to happen - for now at least. But there is a way to embody the joys of France right here in my own Californian life. Unfortunately, the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art closed a few days ago - so I missed that opportunity to get my French on. After perusing some of his work online, it's official: his candid photographs of French life really are remarkable. Featured above is "Martine's Legs," one of his photographs from 1967. Classic.

I missed the show, but all is not lost! With enough creativity and focus, there's still a way to be transported without leaving your timezone. I've been dreaming up ideas to cultivate that French essence. Some mere embellishments of daily life, some are simply outlandish fantasies - all are dreamy. All very French.

Reading the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, who wrote: A while back, if I remember right, my life was one long party where all hearts were open wide, where all wines kept flowing. Pas mal.

Enjoying the newest edition of "Madame Bovery," translated by Lydia Davis.

Revisiting Diptyque, where the senses are valued above all. Luxuriate in their bath line - in particular, Crème Riche Pour le Corps - rich butter for the body.

With Spring only a hop, skip and a jump away, maybe it's time for a fancy free haircut (seen here on Emmanuelle Seigner from "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" - easily one of my favorite French films).

Or Jean Seberg's classic crop in Godard's "Au Bout de Souffle." Too short for me, but breathless on most. Forget the haircut, watch the movie - one of the best ways to see Paris is through cinema.

You wouldn't be French without the stripped top (seen here on Audrey Tautou playing Coco Chanel in "Coco Before Chanel"). Top it off with a hat and a basket and you're ready for a stroll through the farmer's market.

Every so often, the Ferry building farmer's market has something like this: French lavender - edible, decorative and calming. Where would be without our scents?

Every city has those secret stairways and corridors - you just have to be curious enough to find them! Paris is a fantastic walking town - the Seine never leads you astray. San Francisco is up there as one of my favorite cities to walk - and bike. I'm not afraid to brave the hills, to get from one end to the other.

Biking or walking long distances, you'll want to ditch these - "Tres Francaise" Christian Louboutin platform pumps. Outlandish, maybe, but aren't these shoes so very classy? I'd say they're more for show (the decorative kind of lavender, as opposed to the edible kind). They would be perfect draped off the side of a chaise lounge, perhaps laced to Martine's feet?

Cultivating the French essence wouldn't be complete without some luxurious sweets.

Baking something French is always an option, especially when entry into your kitchen doesn't require a passport. When in doubt, take the Julia Child route. Or, better yet, the Barefoot Contessa route. Sunday night, Sarah and I had some culinary fun - mostly involving "French Chocolate Bark" from Ina Garten's Back to Basics cookbook. This elegantly festive recipe was so easy to make and even more enjoyable to eat, I made it again last night!

Feeling French? Here's the recipe:
  • 8 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces very good bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews
  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup dried crystallized ginger, 1/2-inch diced


Melt the 2 chocolates in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.

Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Using a ruler and a pencil, draw a 9 by 10-inch rectangle on the paper. Turn the paper facedown on the baking sheet.

Pour the melted chocolate over the paper and spread to form a rectangle, using the outline. Sprinkle the cashews, apricots and cranberries over the chocolate. Set aside for 2 hours until firm. Cut the bark in 1 by 3-inch pieces and serve at room temperature.

So that was my French...can you find yours?


  1. I love this post! All things French. Why is the French way of doing things so inspiring? Maybe because the French seem to know how to slow down and really savor these beautiful things in life. And I will definitely be making that chocolate bark. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Ah, "The Sweet Life in Paris," by David Lebovitz. A delightful, funny book with wonderful recipes by the former Chez Panisse pastry chef now living in Paris.

  3. Sis this is all so gorgeous. can't wait to make that bark. i'm sad i missed bresson show too! xo

  4. i can't find my FRENCH. i'm vegan!!!

    :) :)

  5. I made me a french omelette tonight. and am channeling my jean seberg with my haircut. can't wait to see you in 2 1/2 weeks!

  6. i love this post...beautiful.
    France. Sigh.

    I turn off the TV, turn on some Carla Bruni, cook, drink wine, eat stinky cheese. It all feels very French to me.

    We are brainstorming how we could take the girlies to Paris for six weeks next an apartment and "be French".

    It's a dream. We'll see!

  7. Ooh la la! @joslyn i love your idea of french. wine, cooking, carla - love it all.

  8. Was that bark delightful or what?! Délicieuse!

  9. @lu: yes, it was! How about that soul night???