A balanced and pleasurable life


Yesterday was Bastille Day and while there is not a drop of French blood that runs though my veins (as far as I know) I couldn’t let the holiday go by unnoticed. I am a self-proclaimed Francophile, after all. I’m not sure how the French celebrate this historic day in their country. I would hope it’s a little more respectful than how the majority of Americans celebrate our Independence Day. This year, Kevin and I headed down to the beach in Chicago to meet up with some friends before having a BBQ later in the afternoon. We arrived at the most popular of the lakeshore beaches and were shocked at the amount of people gathered there. Just as we were searching for a place to settle a voice came over the sound system and said, “Happy 4th of July North Avenue Beach!” People starting cheering and raising their Solo cups high into the air. Then the National Anthem started playing and not a soul took notice. Everybody went back to partying and cooking out while the American flag waved like a lonely forgotten banner up above the restaurant/bar on the boardwalk. I’m pretty sure I was the only one who stopped what they were doing and took the few moments to honor our flag and the brave people who fought for our independence. I hope I’m wrong in thinking I was the only one but I didn’t notice anybody else. It made me ashamed of my fellow Americans gathered on the beach to celebrate our day of independence.

I’ve never lived in France but I respect the history and the battle for French independence. Aaaaand it’s always good to have an excuse to have a dinner party. My girlfriends and I were planning on meeting for dinner anyway and since Kevin was out of town on business I suggesting having dinner at my house. What was on the menu? French food, of course! I consulted the recipes of Bon Appetit and put together the menu for the evening. When I came across the recipe for Roast Provencal Chicken I knew that would be our main dish. Last year, my best friend Jenny went to France with her husband and his family. She brought me back a jar full of fragrant herbes de Provence and I knew this was the perfect opportunity to use some of it. The chicken came out so moist and flavorful! Since potatoes go so well with roast chicken there wasn’t a question as to what one of our side dishes would be. This was my second attempt at making this Crispy Potato Cake with Garlic and Parsley. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing wrong but both attempts have not turned out the way this cake is supposed to. It never ever sticks together and I have ended up simply piling the potato slices together after turning them out of the baking dish. It just completely falls apart. C’est la vie. It still comes out tasking pretty yummy but it is definitely not a crispy cake. To me, leeks are such a quintessential French vegetable. Maybe it’s because I first became aware of their potential after reading French Women Don’t Get Fat. I love that book, by the way, and suggest it to both men and women alike. Forget that the word “women” is in the title. It really is a lifestyle book for anybody wishing to create for themselves a balanced and pleasurable life. Go read it if you already haven’t. Anyway, I made the quick and easy Leeks in Vinaigrette to add to the meal. I could have made a trip to my favorite local bakery to get a loaf of French bread but I wanted to make something a bit more special instead. I decided to try my hand at Classic Gougeres. I had never made this before and followed the Bon Appetit recipe to a tee. Somehow the batter DID NOT turn out the way it was supposed to. I used the electric mixer like they suggested and everything. Not wanting to give up on them I  made up my mind to consult the queen of French cuisine. I went to the shelf and took down my copy of Juila Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her recipe was slightly different (more butter, less flour) and it instructed me to use a wooden spoon and my elbow grease to get the batter to the desired texture. By God, Julia was right. The dough came out perfect and the cheese puffs were delicious. Last but not least, was a rustic Raspberry-Hazelnut Galette for dessert. This dessert was perfect and came out exactly as it should have. What a desirable way to end the meal.

Sitting at the table decorated with a simple vase of fresh French lavender and set with my grandma’s china and silver we popped open a bottle of Cotes du Rhone and toasted to the long-gone spirits of the Revolution and the incredible stand they took for a better life. My girlfriends are the best and totally indulged me with this excuse for a dinner party. Hmm, perhaps I should consider cooking in honor of other countries throughout the year…