29 April 2008

Paris: A Visit to Galerie Vivienne

Five years ago I sat in a hospital cafeteria while my husband, a relatively young man, had bypass and carotid artery surgery on the same day.

I was terrified, and had taken some medication to dull the terror. To keep my mind off the ordeal, I read - or tried to read - the then-current issue of "Paris Notes."

We so often recall so vividly the details of life-defining moments, and this was one for me: I was reading about Paris' indoor shopping galleries and wondering if I would ever visit one. It seemed unlikely at the time.

With each visit to Paris, I have learned more and seen more and experienced more. Finally, last year I visited Galerie Vivienne just north of the Palais Royal. We stumbled upon it, actually, in our search for Le Grand Colbert.

This L-shaped shopping area was built in the 1820s, but their popularity waned once the big department stores emerged.

For me, there is something elegant and indulgent about shopping at such a place. I imagine buying frothy lingerie, heady perfume, a slim volume of 19th century poetry.


I have yet to shop extensively in Paris, except for food and trinkets to bring home to family and friends. But when I am missing Paris and feeling empty because of it, I have a local shop that gentles and soothes me. It is a large boutique located on the lower floor of a big old-fashioned department store that has been restored and made into apartments.

Here I find silk scarves and beaded purses and textured jackets and glitzy necklaces cheek-by-jowl with Tiffany-style lamps and furniture from Asia and India and rich leather jewelry cabinets and the most delicate china. I try to visit once a month or so and I am always amazed at how the inventory turns over.

Recently I bought a silk scarf from Paris there, and knowing where it came from soothed me on a bad day.

A bit like a visit to lovely Galerie Vivienne.

Now that I've found this enchanting place, my next goal is a enjoy a meal at one of the galerie tenants, A Priori Thé, a restaurant savvy enough to serve desserts in half portions. Why can't more restaurants do this?

22 April 2008

Paris: The Jardin des Plantes

Last spring, we came upon this winged creature in the Jardin des Plantes, and since he is made completely of recycled materials, he makes a good photo for Earth Day.

Each year, I take small steps toward becoming greener. I recycle books, plastic bags, cans, jars, bottles - as do most of us. We never use styrofoam, and we try not to overdo paper towels. We've learned to cut down on our driving, and my husband prefers to bicycle to work in the summer. We compost. We try to use what we have instead of buying new. We try to buy locally and fresh, with no additional packaging.

But there is so much more we can do.

I am appalled at the wasteful packaging that runs rampant in the health and beauty industry; my goal for the next year is not to buy products that use lots of plastic molding.

I was encouraged recently when I found paper bowls that were made from corn, potatoes and limestone.

I've found one of the best ways to be green is to have the Frugal French Gene.

How about you? Got any tips for me?

12 April 2008

Roasted Red Pepper Salad with Almond-Stuffed Olives


When I looked outside Saturday morning and saw December instead of April, I was surprised but not disheartened. When it is cold and blustery outside, there are plenty of antidotes inside.

Start by lighting a scented candle. My favorites for days like this evoke the Mediterranean. In the dining room are eucalyptus and herbes de Provence, while the kitchen candle is apricot.

Next plan your menu for the day. Tomatoes and roasted peppers are what I prefer when the weather is gray. Perhaps some cheese. Voila! The basis for a roasted pepper salad.

1-12 cherry tomatoes, slightly roasted
3 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 red bell peppers,
2 garlic cloves
10-12 chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese
olives (mine were green and stuffed with almonds)
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
dash sel de fleur
dash pepper, freshly ground

Toss the the cherry tomatoes and toss them in one teaspoon olive oil. Roast at medium heat in a small oven until they are just soft; chill. Next, cut the red peppers into strips and chop the garlic. Toss peppers and garlic in a bowl and coat with the remainder of the olive oil. Roast at 425 for about 15-20 minutes until the peppers begin to turn black along the edges and the garlic turns brown. Place in a large bowl and set aside to chill.

Once roasted ingredients are chilled, toss with cheese and olives. Add parsley (and basil, if you have any fresh on hand; I did not). Cover and chill for two hours. Season after you taste test.

This is a sweet salad! I served it with London Broil that had been rubbed with herbes de Provence and garlic.

Just making it cheered me immensely. Preparing the countertop, chopping the garlic, and roasting the peppers gave me a purpose.

There is nothing quite like puttering about in the kitchen, is there?

07 April 2008

Key Lime Chicken






When I drive down Roosevelt Road at dusk, I roll the windows of my car down so I can hear the chorus of spring peepers and bullfrogs and other night creatures. No matter how cold, no matter how rainy, I want to hear this song, this celebration of my favorite season.

When I was a child, I'd sit on our back steps on April nights, one ear cocked for the sound of robins, the other taking in the sounds of post-supper cleanup in the kitchen and the boys playing baseball in Olson's empty lot three doors away. The clatter of pots and pans, the thwack of the bat against the ball: These were the sounds of spring evenings.

The smell of earth, newly released from winter's grasp was sensual, fertile, waiting. The color of the sky was azure turning to salmon.

I loved it. And the warmer days that followed.

Saturday was such a day, with everyone turned out with rakes and brooms and yard waste bins.

On these days, I seek certain food: seafood, tomatoes, citrus fruits. Like key limes.

Key Lime Chicken

  • 3-4 boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon key lime peel, grated
  • 2 tablespoon key lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger, ground
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 orange, sliced
In small bowl, combine lime peel, lime juice, ginger, and red pepper. Set aside.

Rinse chicken; pat dry. Brown chicken and garlic in a skillet with margarine, turning chicken frequently to ensure even browning and cooking.

Slice oranges while chicken is browning. Add lime juice mixture and orange slices to skillet. Cook for 3-4 minutes until chicken is thoroughly cooked.

I served this with a small green salad, rice and mango chutney. Green beans are another side dish that would pair well with this chicken.


This was adapted from a recipe I found on Everyday Health.

06 April 2008

Banana-stuffed French Toast with Cashews

If the temperature is 60 and the skies are blue, it better be a Saturday.

And it was. To celebrate, we had French toast for breakfast.

My husband, ever the purist, prefers his plain with no frills. Oh, maybe a dash of cinnamon in the batter.

I have grown especially fond of stuffed French toast. I have been experimenting for the past year or so, with varying results.

Normally, I would suggest using a home-baked or bakery whole-grain bread, but I was too hungry to shop for some yesterday.

Banana-Stuffed French Toast with Cream Cheese and Cashews

  • 2 slices whole grain bread, cinnamon with raisin would be perfect, lightly toasted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat milk
  • Dash sugar
  • Dash cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon Smart Balance (or butter)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup low-fat cream cheese
  • dash sugar
  • 1/2 banana, sliced
  • handful of cashews

Blend cream cheese with sugar and set aside.

Whip eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in a shallow bowl. Soak the lightly toasted bread just long enough to coat each side and slightly permeate the bread. While bread is soaking, melt butter in large skillet. Brown soaked bread in pan, turning frequently to ensure thorough toasting.

Transfer browned toast to plate. Smear one slice with cream cheese and top with sliced bananas. Then top with the second slice. Add butter or butter substitute, if you like, and top with cashews. I also added a tablespoon of low-sugar maple syrup.

It was a good start to a busy day.

The variations of stuffed French Toast are endless. Anyone know of a savory version out there?

24 March 2008

Rich Chicken Soup with Roasted Asparagus, Mushrooms and Shallots


I dreamed of my father last night. In the dream he was strong and whole - and living happily in the south of France.

Perhaps he is.

People who have heard me relating my vivid dreams often ask me, "What did you eat before you went to bed?" and of course, I tell them nothing, because late-night snacks are not part of of my diet.

But a good supper - and we tend to eat later - is essential. I am often hungriest at night, when we hunker down in our cozy snuggery with books and magazines and DVDs and a remote control at hand.

Last night, after our wonderful roasted chicken, I made a rich golden stock from the carcass. All day I imagined how it would be, simmering away on the stove, filled with the vegetables of late winter into spring.

Shallots and mushrooms I had on hand; asparagus I found at the supermarket - yes, it's beginning to show up there!

I sautéed the shallots and mushrooms while I roasted the asparagus, just enough to impart that delicate flavor roasting provides.

Added together, the vegetables gave the soup a sweet and dark and bosky flavor, like a forest in spring. I paired it with a slice of whole grain bread from a rustic loaf from the bakery.

Chicken Soup with Roasted Asparagus, Mushrooms and Shallots

  • 10-12 stalks of asparagus
  • 3-4 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3-5 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 cup chicken, dark and white meat, cubed
  • grated pepper and fleur de sel to taste
  • pinch of your favorite herbs 

Wash the asparagus, breaking off the tough bottoms of the stalks. Coat with a tablespoon or less of olive oil and roast until the stalks just begin to turn brown at the edges. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, slice shallots and mushrooms. Place in a deep sauce pan and sauté in a tablespoon of olive oil until the shallots and mushrooms begin to turn golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Empty chicken stock into saucepan (I like to chill it first so I can remove the congealed fat). Bring to a boil, then lower heat and allow to simmer, adding more water if necessary. Lower the heat and add the vegetables and the cubed chicken. Check the soup and season to suit your tastes. Allow to simmer about 5 minutes longer on low heat.

I kept the seasonings simple because I wanted the flavors to remain true. But I'd recommend a pinch of fresh parsley flakes. You may also add a bay leaf to the soup while it simmers.

Update: I have made this with fresh thyme, and also with a dash of herbes de Provence.

23 March 2008

Poulet Provencal (Roasted Chicken with Tomatoes and Olives)

They say it is spring, although you would not know it here in Wisconsin. I may hear cardinals and mourning doves in the morning, but what I see is snow and more snow, although patches of brownish-green grass have finally begun to show through here and there.

Easter began blustery with flurries and I had no idea what we'd eat for dinner. We are both still recovering from longish bouts with the flu and worse yet, suffering from acute cases of cabin fever.

Searching for a new way to make grilled tomatoes, I stumbled upon this wonderful recipe at Epicurious. Then I noticed it was from the March Gourmet, which for some reason I have two issues of - a good thing, because I can never get enough of this fabulous variation on chicken from the South of France. The recipe calls for all my favorites: tomatoes, garlic, onion, olives, herbes de Provence and fennel seeds. Did I mention chicken?

I added some potatoes to the vegetable mix to please my husband, and I stuffed a quartered lemon inside for additional moisture. These two ideas came from the readers comments on the Epicurious site.

This was possibly the best Easter meal I have ever made. I knew I did not want ham this year, and by happy coincidence, I'd picked up the chicken yesterday.

March was a trying month for me, with several big projects and an auto accident to cope with (I'm fine and my car is fixed already). But a good meal, some scented candles and bouquet of daffodils cheer me today.

Better days lie ahead. I am planning three trips, one for work and two for pleasure. Soon I'll be able to walk outside and enjoy warmer temperatures. Maybe.