Book Review: Mastering the Art of French Eating

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I will admit, I bought this book after a friend recommended it solely based off the title. I had a vague idea of what it was about, a woman eating dishes known for their French roots,  I like food and I dream of international travel so I was sold. But what I was not prepared for was her honest look at being married to someone in public service, and the emotional hurdles that come with it. Some might find it similar to that of a military spouse… Hm… It may or may not have struck a nerve.

The author, Ann Mah, is married to a diplomat, who gets the dream station assignment of Paris. It was a life they had wanted, Paris together for a few years to explore and find their neighborhood spots to eat and drink and be merry. Unfortunately, soon after the move her husband was sent to Baghdad where he was needed (the book takes place during the early 2000s to give refernce). This left Ann alone in Paris for a whole year by herself, with her shaky French and few acquaintances. With a background in writing, a love of food and some encouragement to follow her curiosity, Ann delved into the history of classic French dishes.

She explored the origins of Steak Frites in Paris, Andouillete in Troyes, Crepes in Brittany, Salade Lyonnaise in Lyon (duh), Soup au Pistou in Provence, Cassoulet in Toulouse/Castelnaudaey/Carcassone, Choucroute in Alsace, Fondue in Savoie/Haute-Savoie, Boeuf Bourguignon in Burgundy, and Aligot in Aveyron. Before I read this book, I had heard of and/or was vaguely familiar with 5 of the above dishes, French cuisine is somewhat uncharted territory for someone who hails from the land of Tex-Mex. In each region, Mah speaks to local experts on the dish about where it came from, who ate it, why these ingredients to give a well rounded story of the region and the food, before trying them all herself.

While I enjoyed learning about the French food and history of the regions, it was really Mah’s honesty about her emotional experiences during this time of separation and exploration that made me enjoy the book the most. While spending a year in Paris traveling to the different regions to eat may sound like a dream come true, I thought Mah’s expression of her nervousness for traveling alone, self-consciousness about her speaking ability, and struggle to enjoy balanced with the worry over a spouse in a conflict zone made it an honest account. It did not read as a privileged person bragging about their travels and name-dropping. Instead we find Mah in humble settings with locals. Much more relatable. I haven’t read that much about Julia Child (shame on me) but Mah referenced her often, and

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Quick Life Update

Hi friends,

It’s been forever, I know, and a lot has changed and there hasn’t been a lot of stability around us recently so most of my time and energy has been going into trying to create a sense of “home”. So where have we been? What have we been up to? Here’s a quick life update on Jon and I so we’re all on the same page and hopefully you can excuse my absence.

First and foremost, Jon and I got married in April 2015. Two days later, I moved out to Georgia where Jon was currently stationed. That lasted a whole five months then we moved to North Carolina where Jon is permanently stationed as long as he is in the military.

Now that we’re more settled and spring is coming up, we’re hoping to explore North Carolina and get to share our travels with you. I will also continue to post book reviews because books = life.

I may have not been posting on here but if you would like to see little snapshots of our life in Georgia and NC,  you can check out my Instagram!

Peace and Blessings,

Rachel & Jon & Kira

Finishing the 3M Half Marathon

The sun hasn’t come up, its 40 something degrees outside and there are around 6000 people standing around in very little and tight clothing, only runners on race day. As we waited to get started, we all stood a little more closely to the person in front of us, everyone wins with shared body heat and I was ok with using the man in front of as a wind shield. Then it starts and gloves, hats, jackets, shirts all start being shed as we shuffle forward. Let’s go.

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13.1 can be done! Make that your new mantra. You’ll need it when you drag yourself out of bed before the sun comes up 6 out of 7 days of the week, when you find it hard to bend your knees after your distance days, when you find yourself “running out the soreness” and when you cross that finish line. Because truly, that’s what it took for me, and I can’t be that far off from other people new to distance running. A while ago I posted about how I was learning to actually enjoy learning and now look at what I accomplished!

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I followed Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon plan for Intermediate runners because I had run some 5Ks and a 10K and was regularly running 6 miles on my distance days already but he has other plans for Novice 1 and Novice 2. Hal Higdon’s plans came highly recommended to me by a close family friend, my cousin, and a neighbor who all have followed them and completed half and full marathons. I didn’t follow it to a T and I gave myself more time to cover holidays out of town (yeah right like I’d run in the Colorado mountains) but I still recommend taking a look.

I didn’t join a running group, I didn’t follow a running plan exactly, I didn’t give up any food or drinking and I certainly didn’t start from a lot of experience in running and I still completed a half marathon and even beat my goal time (thank you adrenaline for kicking in). Basically, I just gave up some sleep and a few hours on my weekends and I was able to finish without walking and without practically killing myself. 13.1 can be done. It may seem like an insurmountable goal right now when you run 3 miles but that’s where it starts. These things take time and effort and commitment but it was totally worth it.

I chose the 3M half marathon for a couple reasons, one my dad works for 3M and he’s been trying to get me to run one since I was in highschool, second is he got me free registration (put those 80 dollars back in my pocket), but most importantly is that this half marathon is mostly downhill or little change in elevation. Hallelujah to that! 13.1 miles is not the time for hills. It’s just not. Of course Austin and the surrounding area and just Texas in general has a lot of half marathons and full marathons going on, but I highly recommend doing some research into the course.

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And you know what? I actually enjoyed it. Even after the endorphin induced joy wore off. I thought it was fun and already looking for my next one. And don’t forget the swag. I definitely rocked that bad boy all over Whole Foods for my post race feast.

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So to all my runner friends out there, buena suerte and see you at the start line!

Thanksgiving in Colorado

Welcome to 2015!

I am far behind on uploading pictures and posting something new so I’d thought I’d try and capture your interest with a peak into my Thanksgiving with Jon and his dad in the foothills of Colorado. His dad moved up on Conifer Mountain around 8000 feet above sea level with a view of Pikes Peak from his front porch and I immediately came down with post-mountain depression upon my return to Texas. Let’s take a looksy and see how jealous you get.

On Friday Jon and I hiked to the top of Conifer Mountain (where the marker is so it definitely counts as summiting) and I was a little worried when I got winded just climbing to the top of the driveway but my years of swimming and then running came to my rescue and my lungs decided to work with me so I could take in this view:

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Pikes Peak in the distance

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bear sighting on top of Conifer Mountain

Pikes Peak from his dad’s porch. And no, there is no way that this view gets old.

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On Saturday we went out to one of Colorado’s newer state parks, Staunton State Park, for a hike. I was so ready for this hike thanks to Jon’s dad being a gear guru, something about working for PMI and volunteering on a mountain rescue team for years made me trust his advice, I dunno. Where we started was about 8000 feet up and then up up up we climbed.

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some Colorado pride

If I remember this correctly, I believe this one is called Mt. Baldy and is a popular climbing spot.

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I’ve always liked the line from Pride and Prejudice “What are men to rocks and mountains” and without getting to John Muir-ish philosophical on you, that line could not be more true. I have always been humbled going up into the mountains because you immediately know that you are not the big-shot you think you are, in the best way possible.

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this is Colorado in the “ugly season” according to Jon’s dad…

why yes… those are some snow-capped Rockies you see down there. Have I convinced you to pack your bags yet?

this is the highest we went and it was well worth the huffing and puffing

this is the highest we went and it was well worth the huffing and puffing

Thanks to our guide dog and the newest member of the Hauser family, Gabe. Part rotty, part lab and a whole lot of love and couch-potato. He was a trooper on this hike.

DSC01855Until next time Colorado! Thanks for letting me put my new hiking boots to good use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for a Simpler Move

Now I’m not saying that your move will be flawless and stress free but it sure can be less of a nail biting hair pulling experience than you picture when you first survey all the belongings you have accrued. It really just takes the right planning before hand to lead to a successful move, and that’s where I come in. Let the OCD person tell you how it’s done with a few quick tips.

I recommend starting the process a month before you move. This will you give enough time to thoroughly go through your things, take your time in choosing what stays and what goes, buy enough packing supplies, then go buy more bubble wrap and tape because you’ll never have enough and then have the time to sleep the night before the move.

1. Start with going through each room, closet, shelf, nook and cranny and decide what is definitely going, what might go, what should be thrown away and what can be donated. After going through all your other rooms, go back through the maybe piles and I guarantee you can lessen them in some way. If it’s broken or warped go ahead and throw it away because a move is certainly not going to help it’s condition. Be brutal. Be thorough. Think about when the last time you used the object. Now is not the time to be a hoarder.

2. Decide on a numbering system for each room. Example: Kitchen starts with 100. Living Room starts with 200. Bedroom starts with 300. As you pack each box, jot down what’s going in each box and assign it a number. Label the box with which room it’s going in and it’s box number. Like Box 203: Throw pillows. This will save you so much time when unpacking and trying to organize your new home. It also lets you keep track of what is fragile or not, so you can appropriately label the boxes.

3. The first things that should be packed up will be decorative objects: pictures, paintings, mirrors, vases, etc. If it’s not serving a function beyond aesthetic, it can be packed. Your home will look bland for a little bit but be focused on the end game. Besides, how much entertaining will you be doing during this time in your life? Pack books early on too, and in small boxes. No need to try and impress anyone with how much you can carry because a hernia is never impressive.

4. For the kitchen, since this is where the bulk of my fragile belongings are, I found other ways to protect my belongings besides just buying the Container Store out of their bubble wrap supply. Use disposable plates to separate your dinnerware. Wrap things in dishtowels, they belong in the same room so why not. Put glasses in koozies for extra padding. Put measuring cups and spoons inside of storage bins. Get creative. Use what you have in front of you.

5. If you have the space, leave open boxes in the rooms so as you use something for the last time it can be packed. Once a box is packed and taped shut, move it out of the way (garage or other outside storage or against a wall) so you can better survey what’s around you.

6. For the last couple of weeks, set aside a place setting for each person and just re-wash those. Set aside one set of sheets and one towel per person and just re-wash those as well. Bonus points if the sheets and towels can be washed together. You’re getting the hang of this now. Live like a minimalist for a week or so.

7. Pack a clear tub with all the things you will want as soon as you get to your new home. This can include cleaning supplies, toilet paper and paper towels, chargers, and toiletries for the first night. If you take it with your or if the movers move it, you’ll be able to see what’s inside and set it aside early on so no frantic searching for a toothbrush!

As a future Army wife, I am positive that I will have my fair share of moves coming up and hope to update this list as I get my system streamlined but these will have to do for now!

Hope these tips help you breathe a little easier during such a stressful life event.

Autumn Resolutions

I read this article about setting autumn resolutions on the Atlantic the other day and it was hard to dismiss. I’ve been mulling over it and now took the time to reflect back on my New Years resolutions, and see if they really applied to my life right now and for the rest of 2014. Some did, others did not. The ones that didn’t carry over from earlier this year did seem grand at the time but it was really before I even knew what I was getting into for this year with my mind still in holiday gear. Now that I’m in the thick of the year, I would like to set autumn resolutions. Autumn is the beginning of a new chapter for a lot of people: anyone returning to school, anyone starting their jobs after school, starting a new job after the budget has been made and so on. So why not set resolutions in the fall? They can be completely new ones (in addition to or instead of the goals set in January), edited ones, or the same ones that maybe you need to remind yourself of. I say go for it!

Baked Pesto Pasta

I did something good. Like really good. And it was easy too so it made it that much better. I made this baked pasta dish with pesto and veggies and cheese and goodness in abundance. I got the inspiration from here but subbed in some other ingredients to fit Jon and I’s taste and it turned out so well I can’t wait to make it again. Lets begin shall we:

You’ll need:

-3/4 lb- 1 lb angel hair pasta

-1/4 cup olive oil

-1/4 cup pesto

-1 Tbsp Italian seasoning

-1 Tsp dill

-1 Tsp crushed red pepper (or however much kick you like)

-1/2 container of mushrooms, sliced

-1/2 onion diced

-1/3 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, drained of oil

-3 red bell peppers, sliced

-8-10 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded

-freshly chopped basil and grated parmesan for topping

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil pasta to al dente and drain well.

While pasta is cooking, slice your mushrooms and peppers and dice your onions (SLICE AND DICE–name that reference)

To your baking dish (I used an 11″ gratin dish that worked great, or a 9 X 13 of course) add the oil, pesto and seasonings to coat the bottom of the dish.

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Add your pasta and chopped veggies and sun dried tomatoes and toss to coat with the oil and pesto.

Add 3/4 of the shredded mozzarella on top and then add the peppers on top, followed by the rest of the cheese.

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Bake for 45 minutes or until peppers have cooked down.

Top with parmesan and fresh basil and enjoy!

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Hope this makes for an easy weeknight dinner that all will enjoy!