Home Sweet Maison

As my Instagram followers already know, I’ve been devouring a new book, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home by Danielle Postel-Vinay. It is amazing!

Postel-Vinay walks the reader room by room (beginning with l’entree) to single out the little touches in each room that help give it that French mystique.  Note this isn’t “French Farmhouse” or “Shabby Chic” or “Parisian Modern” or any particular style at all. Instead it focuses on the purpose of the room and how the French tend to make it their own.

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Spending Out

A few weeks back I was listening to the audio CD of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home which details her efforts to change her home / environment in order to increase her happiness levels (I should note that this is a sequel to Rubin’s original book The Happiness Project). While the book is definitely worth a read for all its parts, one concept in particular jumped out at me: “Spending Out”.

As Rubin describes on her website:

[By] spending out, I mean to stop hoarding, to trust in abundance.

She describes re-using razor blades too often, keeping toothbrushes too long and just in general “making do” with things that are worn, stained or broken when there are better alternatives.

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Learning the Language: Part Trois

I’ve written about a couple different approaches to learning French: French in 10 Minutes a Day audio CDs and DuoLingo.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but neither will suffice if you want to become truly comfortable with the language. I decided to go to the best source available: Alliance Francaise.  From their website:

The Alliance Française is the place to learn and immerse yourself in all things French.

I looked up my city and sure enough there was a local chapter.

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Food Friday: Designing a Menu Template

Like most people these days, I have a busy schedule. Consequently, I try to make my life habits as efficient as possible in order to save time where I can.  One of my favorite approaches is having a Menu Template.  By using a template to design my meals, I ensure I have a healthy, varied menu, an appropriate number of calories distributed throughout the day, and I have fewer decisions to agonize over.

So what’s a template? Unlike a Capsule Menu (which I’ll cover at a later date) a template is a general outline of the meal(s) offering guidelines but not specifics. In other words, it doesn’t prescribe an exact meal or recipe but rather lets you select from within certain boundaries.  Here’s an example of my template menu:

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Learning the Language: Part Deux

I wrote last week about my initial foray into learning French, via the impressive and useful audiobook French in 10 Minutes a Day.  Despite its excellent introduction to the language, there are some limitations.  The series is designed for the casual traveler and thus focuses on words that tend to relate to travel.  More importantly, though, the series is strictly in present-tense.  This makes sense for travel — you are, after all, more concerned with ensuring you can understand simple instructions and make your own needs known — but it would be very difficult to have an actual conversation.

Thus after completing the series, I began using the free smart-phone app DuoLingo.

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Food Friday: Chicken Tarragon

As I’ve mentioned before, my favorite cookbook du jour is Wini Moranville’s The Bonne Femme Cookbook.  The cooking style is very simplistic, uses fresh whole foods and relies on herbs and cooking techniques for flavor.  Real butter and heavy cream are used, but relatively small amounts: a typical recipe for 4 might have 2 T of butter, for example. A surprising number of the recipes are actually paleo-friendly (desserts, of course, are the exception to the rule).

My favorite section in the book is “Sauté, Deglaze and Serve” which is just as simple as it sounds. Sauté your protein, deglaze the pan and add a few herbs to make a sauce, then serve. Super easy!  This recipe for Chicken Tarragon is a perfect example.

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Tarragon is a quintessential French herb, with a strong taste of anise (licorice). A little goes a long way when it’s fresh, although the flavor mellows in cooking. Combined with scallions, butter and tomato, it blends to a rich melt-in-your mouth sauce.

Recipe Modifications

  • The recipe called for 1.25 lbs of chicken, but the chicken breasts I got from Costco were enormous, weighing in at a full pound each.  I used one, sliced it in half across, then sliced each half horizontally as they were very thick and the recipe calls for pounding them down to 1/4″ thickness anyway.
  • Additionally the recipe called for tarragon vinegar or white wine vinegar. I used apple cider vinegar.
  • I didn’t bother peeling or seeding the tomatoes
  • Finally, the recipe says it makes 4 servings.  If you’re serving it with a starchy side like rice or bread, I can see that. In my case, though, I only ate the chicken and a side of Brussels sprouts, so I had a double serving.  It still came out to barely 400 calories, including the sprouts!

Now let’s get started!

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Housekeeping Routines

When I first began my second “career” as a full-time housewife, I wasn’t sure where to start. In the corporate world, routines were already in place and deadlines helped decide my priorities. I did not want to slip into slacker mode and become the stereotypical dowdy bonbon-eating, soap-watching hausfrau.  But where to start? With my “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” approach to life, it would be equally easy for me to become a perfectionist cleaning sink pipes with a toothbrush.

Enter Flylady.

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Learning the Language: Part Un

As mentioned in my About page, The Mister and I are toying with the idea of spending a year in France. Even if that doesn’t materialize, however, we will certainly be vacationing there frequently — our next trip to Paris comes up in June as a matter of fact. Therefore it only makes sense to learn the language to whatever degree possible for me.

I qualify this statement because I truly suck at languages (e.g. I’ve lived in the American Southwest for decades and only know the slightest bit of written Spanish, forget spoken). Having always been a quick learner in every other aspect of my life, it pains me to the core to feel so … well, stupid. Unsurprisingly, I tend to give up quickly.  Knowing this, I’ve resigned myself to accepting my limitations and continuing to learn despite the inevitable frustrations.

That said, I began my journey with an audio CD series that I LOVELOVELOVE:  French in 10 Minutes a Day.

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Food Friday: Roast Chicken Dinner

How can you get any more classic a comfort food than roast chicken? The Mister and I have roast chicken pretty much every Sunday.  Not only is it filling and tasty, it requires very little work while still looking impressive. And need I say leftovers?

I like to use my cast iron dutch oven to roast the chicken. I start by cutting up potatoes or sweet potatoes and onions into quarters and dropping them into the bottom of the pan along with a few cloves of garlic.

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Fine, more than a few cloves. I love garlic.

Anyway, this is a tip from Alton Brown: when you put veggies at the bottom of the pan, it prevents them from drying out while roasting AND it keeps the skin on the bottom of the chicken from getting all slimy due to essentially stewing in its own fat.  Gross, amirite? A roaster rack serves the same purpose, but cleaning one of those suckers with the baked-on chicken bits is a major pain.

After putting the veggies in the bottom, just plop the whole chicken on top like so:

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Seriously, that’s all it takes. It’s not rocket science.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to take the giblets out of the bird if there are any!  I’ve managed to come across an unwelcome surprise while carving the chicken on at least a few occasions.

For an average size roaster, I tend to keep it in a 350 (F) oven for about 2 hours, sometimes 2 1/2 .  I’d rather be safe than sorry (nothing worse than undercooked chicken) and the vegetables can’t overcook due to being tucked away under the bird.  When in doubt, use a meat thermometer and pull out the chicken when the thermometer reads 160-ish on the thickest part of the meat.  The chicken will keep cooking while you let it rest, which you should do for at least 10 minutes. It will still be plenty hot, but you won’t have all the juices spilling out onto the platter when you cut it, leaving you with dry meat.

Some recipes / instructions call for varying the temperature while roasting, starting it high then turning it down halfway through or vice-versa.  I’ve never bothered and it’s never seemed to impact the end result.   Other recipes call for tenting the bird in foil either during the roasting process or while it’s resting.  Again, I’ve never done it and have still been happy with result.

You can make the chicken fancier by stuffing it with fresh herbs (rosemary is good for this, as is sage) or citrus slices, or sliding garlic cloves between the skin and the meat.  A dry rub is also an excellent way to zazz up the flavor.

For serving, I tend to cut the chicken into quarters and serve a quarter along with a seasonal non-starchy vegetable and the roasted root vegetables.  I also use some of the chicken fat to make a bit of gravy for the Mister, who drizzles it on potatoes, chicken, vegetables and pretty much everything except the dog.

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While the entire process takes close to three hours, the hands-on prep time for this meal is about 15 minutes (!), which includes cutting up the roasting vegetables, making the gravy and steaming the side vegetable prior to serving.  Not bad for such a lovely and filling repast, no?  As an added bonus, the roasting time is a perfect excuse to sit back and read a book, practice my French or take a nap.

 Bon appetit!