Oh la la!

August 01, 2013Leave a comment

When I was a junior in college, I spent a term in Paris. Though I had studied French in high school and college, I struggled to understand and speak the language all day, every day for the first few weeks. By evening, I had a pounding headache. I couldn’t tell you what I ate in those early days. Meal times were great practice for conversation, but they were high pressure affairs requiring chewing and verb conjugation all at once. I wanted to participate and get it right. And I had things to say, dammit.

Once the language came more easily, I could pay closer attention to my surroundings. I began noticing the people, studying their gestures as they spoke, their mannerisms as they stood pressed together in the bus and how they interacted with their children. I was fascinated by French mothers, in particular. They appeared impossibly polished, dressed smartly in pencil skirts and flats as they chased their children in parks or walked them to school before descending the stairs to the metro for work. I couldn’t understand how these women lived on jam-slathered baguettes, pastries and buttered ham sandwiches without taking on an appearance as doughy as their diets.

By the end of the term, the elastic in my underwear cut off my circulation. I had no access to a scale and even if I had, my weight in kilos required too much thinking. You know you’ve chubbed out when even your underwear doesn’t fit. Ironically, I had been eating like a French woman. Or so I thought.

In truth, I was behaving like an American at an all-you-can-eat buffet of French food. I reasoned that I would only be there for a short time. I’d escaped the notorious “freshman 15” a few years earlier only to be rudely saddled by the “French 20.” Oh la la! It took me a full year to shed the weight and much longer to see the error of my ways.

Years later, I returned to France with Andy in celebration of our fifth wedding anniversary (the photo above was taken in Sancerre at a wine tasting in the cellar of a vintner’s home). I discovered what I wish I had known back then. The secret isn’t in what they’re eating. It lies in how they eat it. I spent those college days mowing down a plump, flaky croissant each morning before washing it down with a creamy cup of hot chocolate. I barely tasted the meal, simply delighted to have access to this divine food. I inhaled it as if it was going to skitter right off the plate before I could finish the last buttery bites. Where is the enjoyment in that?

The French savor each meal. They eat slowly, taking time to taste, chew and savor. They don’t eat standing up. They don’t walk down the street with breakfast in one hand and an iPhone in the other. At least they didn’t back then and it wasn’t just because the iPhone hadn’t yet come to market. No, the savvy, svelte French woman is satisfied at the end of her meal because she took time to cherish it. She’s not immediately sorry it’s over and thinking about her next meal. She’s not hurrying through so she can get to where she is going next. She isn’t thinking about her long to-do list while she’s eating. She’s enjoying her lunch at a leisurely pace, with a good friend, over stimulating conversation. And she probably even has a glass of perfectly lovely table wine with it. Damn her. I want to smack be her.

I made similar observations last summer when we traveled to Italy for our tenth wedding anniversary (I snapped the photo above along the Cinque Terre. I think this is Vernazza?). Oh no, I thought. Here we go again. I’m going to be surrounded by pasta, bread, wine and gelato. We were only there for a week, far too little time to outgrow my undergarments.

Once again, I studied the locals closely. Meals were casual, relaxed affairs that went on for hours. Nobody rushed away from the table. People didn’t sit there playing with their smartphones. I watched the Italians tear pieces of bread, slowly chewing each bite. They laughed out loud. They twirled long pasta laced with nutty pesto onto their forks between sips of wine. Lively conversation carried on while they digested. There was no Tweeting. And then they ate dessert! Two hours lunches with wine and dessert? I watched incredulously. I could get used to this. How could I bring this spirit to my life, where daily two hour lunches are not realistic?

I discovered another parallel between the French and the Italians. The joie de vivre they display is not only about meals and conversation. It’s also about slowing life down, resting and finding time to unwind. If you’ve ever traveled to Europe in August, you know that just about everything is shut down. People have closed their shops for the month. They’ve checked out to find peace and tranquility at the beach or in the country.

I’m not drinking wine with lunch (most days) and I have no country get-away cabin or beach house. But I’ve been slowing things down in the spirit of those mysterious and chic European mothers. I’m taking a little extra time with my boys, enjoying some soul-searching long runs with my girlfriends, eating good food while taking time to savor each bite. I’m lazing around my backyard with a good book. (The photo below is not my back yard. It’s an adorable hotel in Lake Como, Italy. I wish it was my back yard.) For the month of August, I plan to do more of the same…only slower and with more purpose.

Today is August 1, which means that my month long holiday begins today. I’ll be taking a break from posting here, but in the meantime, I leave you with the following list of dishes I’ve made, treats I’ve discovered and old favorites that find their way to my table again and again. But it’s not all about food and drink (is it?). I’m also including links to some good reading on bringing a little more joy into your life. Yes! You, my love.

To make…

And a few Weekly Greens classics…

*I used to get a ton of food magazines. No longer. The only subscription I’ve kept is Bon Appetit. The writing is fresh, funny and relatable. The recipes are simple and have gotten so good that I cook at least six to eight recipes from each issue.

To drink…

To savor…

To LIFE!

Enjoy the rest of your summer and I’ll be back in September! A toute a l’heure! Ciao!

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