Last month, our ten year old daughter, who is in love with Louis IV and all of his trappings begged us to have a Royal dinner party in which everyone came dressed as royalty, gave themselves royal names, and ate in a royal fashion. Putting her off for longer than we would like to admit, we sat down one day and talked about what this dinner party would be like.
"Royal costumes! Everyone has to come dressed like some royalty. They can be a King, a Prince, a Duke, or a Countess. I am of course, Comtess Zoe-Pascale de Saxe Roux of Languedoc, Rousillion."
Now, being a tween she was also aware of the fact that some of her friends might think she was "uncool" and therefore wanted to invite family friends. At first we tried to dissuade her, but realized she had actually come up with a solution to the problem she felt (operative word, felt) she had which was not to be "uncool."
In her eloquent Franglais, she crafted the Royal invitation and sent it out to a few family friends asking them to RSVP with their titles and come appropriately dressed. To our surprise, all the invitees answered with hysterical messages that asked, "Where should we park the carriage and horses?" "Will there be water for the horses?"
This week, my husband Jean and I attended a dinner and book signing by Mireille Guiliano, the author of Why French Women don’t Get Fat and The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook.
In a small intimate gathering at Moussy’s restaurant in San Francisco we were served a menu (taken from her book) that melted in your mouth. The appetizer was enough to make me swoon with flavors bursting with mixtures of prosciutto and blackberries and d’anjou pears and blue cheese topped with walnuts on toasted baguette.
Being a “when I have time to cook, cook” I have experimented over the last 5 years with a few of what I call my signature dishes. After talking with her I am determined to expand my repertoire and try what she suggested were some easy, fast, and flavorful dishes.
But first back to the menu. The first course was roasted gulf prawns with a citrus and fennel salad. I don’t know about you, but I love prawns but have never figured out how to cook them unless they are part of a shrimp cocktail. Grilled shrimp here we come! The entrée, a delicious grilled hanger steak with the long stemmed flowering broccolini was amazing. Most importantly we were reminded of the portions being small (why French women don’t get fat) and yet so flavorful that every bite was a trip to heaven. Okay, there was a superb chef cooking for us, but still anything is possible.
Conversing with Mireille over desert we discussed the Vanilla Panna Cotta with organic strawberries, candied pinenuts and Mint. The chef told me later he added his own ingredient of fennel pollen honey imported from Italy. Take away the amazing honey flavor Mireille attested that it would take 3 minutes to make the desert (albeit it does need to be prepared ahead of time to gel) and is both brilliant and healthy.
I shared with Mireille that we sit down at the table every night (I got ten points for that one) but our daughter was complaining that we ate too much chicken. She loved my lamb chops too, but I needed something else easy that wasn’t chicken.
If budgets are tight and you are still looking for a great mini vacation, try a 30 hour vacation in a city close to home. The key is to make it feel like a full weekend by staying close to home (within an hour's drive) arrive at your destination by mid-morning and stay until the following late afternoon. Besides saving on one night hotel, you don't fight the traffic on Friday night and find yourself relaxed and ready to go on Saturday morning.
This past Saturday, our family headed out to San Francisco to immerse ourselves in the festivities of the holidays and treat ourselves to our mini-vacation. Leaving our home in Marin county at 10 am we headed out to one of our favorite districts - Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights for a bit of shopping and an early lunch at Le Mediterranean, a small Greek restaurant that has been there for over 25 years. Next we headed down the hill to the Marina where Zoe-Pascale wanted to get desert at Miette, a French Bakery on Chestnut Street and so we said, "Why not. It is our vacation-- anything goes."
In our 20s and early 30s Jean and I had lived in these two areas and we felt our heartstrings being pulled back to the time we were young and childless, hanging out with friends at nearby restaurants. Gazing around we felt nostalgic and sad to say a bit older.
Birthday celebrations I believe are very important at all ages and meant to be celebrated, but why?
The history of birthday celebrations dates back (or so they believe) to the period when humans began to tell time and could count that a year had passed. The story goes that men, women, and children surrounded themselves with friends, food, and noisemakers to ward off evil spirits around the time of their birthday. Having a party and being noisy protected them from anything bad that would come into our lives. Today we may not believe we are warding off evil spirits, but indeed we are bringing the opposite- joy- into our day.
That brings me back to the point that why do we reserve one day a year to treat ourselves special, why not have the intention of celebrating our life everyday. In turn, we can do the same for others with a simple wish of a great day, a song, a lighting of the candles, and especially treating ourselves and others with kindness.
Today is my daughter’s 10th birthday. She woke up early, climbed into bed and had a huge grin on her face in the dark shadows of the early morning light. “I’m so happy?” She said. “It’s my special day.”
Next weekend cancel everything. Make no plans. Be spontaneous. Do what comes naturally. Go with the weather. If it is sunny go to the beach. If it is rainy turn on the fireplace and drink hot chocolate.
This past weekend was one of the most relaxing and also somewhat productive weekends my family has had in along time. The secret, we planned nothing.
We woke up on Saturday, lazed around, read, had coffee, did a bit of gardening, a bit on the computer and had a nice leisurely lunch outside in the sunshine. By 2 pm, my daughter asked if we could go to the Halloween store to buy her a costume. She no longer wanted to be a princess but now that she was 10, she wanted to be a vampirette. Casually we drove on over and found the perfect costume for a decent price. Next door was Borders and all being lovers of books and bookstores, we all agreed "let's go.: Wandering the aisles and settling down to read a magazine or a book, we had some ice tea and just let the time slide by-- one hour-- two hours-- we had no where to go and no one waiting for us. By 6:30 we decided to head home and make dinner and slide again into a DVD, all cuddled up in bed together. Upon waking up on Sunday morning to a gorgeous crystal clear blue sky, I packed a picnic and we headed out to Stinson Beach for a long walk and a beautiful morning. A latte in hand, a Sunday paper tucked under our arms we drove over the Mountain to the beach. There is nothing like Stinson Beach on a sunny fall morning with a few people walking the two mile strand, dogs snapping at the water, and the water glistening like diamonds.
Halfway back, Zoe decides she needed to build a deep hole. No reason, no purpose, no destination, it just was what she felt like. Jean on all fours digging like a dog found himself immersed in enjoying the dig with her. An hour later we grabbed our picnic, chairs, and blanket and sat down to eat and read the paper. ---and so the day continued. It just flowed. Zoe wanted to see a friend and we called and picked her up 5 minutes later. (How often does that happen?) A quick play date (which now is evidentally called a date that she is ten). A quick stop at a friend's open house because it felt right, not because we were committed and the home for dinner and hanging out before bed.