Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Favourite Chic Breakfast

One of my favourite breakfasts is poached egg on toast. It is nutritious, delicious and keeps me going until lunchtime.

I used to make it in an egg poaching pan we have which has four little cups, one for each egg. If ever there was a one-trick-pony it's that pan. It's very quick and useful, but I never felt chic eating an egg which was moulded into a perfect round shape, like a jelly. And I had to use an aerosol oil spray to coat the non-stick surface beforehand.

I just couldn't imagine my ideal French girl Sabine using that pan or spray oil in her Paris apartment!

So I simplified to a small saucepan, in which I pour boiling water and a dash of malt vinegar (if you don't already know, a tiny amount of vinegar helps the egg white emulsify quickly for a more successful poached egg).

I'd also just like to say please use free-range eggs. I can't bear the thought of those hard-working little chickens crammed into cages. They deserve better than that. It always makes me sad when I see battery eggs in folks supermarket trolleys. Free-range eggs look a lot healthier too - bright orange/yellow yolks.

Once the water is on a rolling boil I crack in an egg. After a broken yolk disaster and advice from a cafe-owner friend I now open the egg into a small dish and have it waiting. Every so often if the yolk breaks I then have scrambled eggs (better to have it break in a dish, than in boiling water).

What I also do before the egg meets the water (like 'the rubber hits the road', but the kitchen version) is to swirl the water around like a whirlpool with a spoon. Then, when the egg is introduced, all the white starts wrapping around the yolk to make a lovely round bundle, just like you would receive in a cafe.

Oh, and use a deepish pot rather than a flat pan to poach with. Have the toast waiting, as it's only a minute or two before the egg is done (I take it out with a big holey spoon as soon as the white looks done, and the egg yolk is still beautifully runny).

I often ask cafe staff what their secrets are and they are always happy to share. One of the chefs from my favourite cafe was shopping in our store once and when he said where he worked I fell all over him - 'what's the secret to your scrambled eggs there?' I asked. 'Lots of cream and butter', he replied. So when I'm having a more treat-y breakfast I always add a dash of cream to my scrambled eggs and cook them in a little bit of butter.

But back to my poached egg breakfast. Whereas scrambled eggs require two eggs and a dash of cream (so a few more calories), I can happily exist all morning on one egg poached, on a piece of lightly buttered whole-grain toast (Vogels is great bread available here, it's very dense and heavy, chock-full of seeds and grains, and the slices are a lot smaller in size. Nice and chewy too).

Lately I have been tearing up a few basil leaves over the plated egg/toast since our herb pot is growing well. Fresh parsley snipped over the top would be delicious also. The touch of green looks very designer-y. A sprinkle of salt and a crunch of black pepper and it is a dish that would do Sabine proud.

And of course breakfast is not complete without a cafe au lait. I make mine with a shot of strong coffee (brewed in a Bialetti) topped up with with milk, then microwaved hot. If I run out of real coffee, I make a very strong coffee with a teaspoon of freeze-dried coffee and a tiny amount of hot water, then top up and microwave as before.

Bon appetit.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chic Habits: Get More Sleep, Body Maintenance, Early Face Wash

I've decided to set myself mini-goals each week, ones which are heading in the direction I want to go in. They will be simple, and things I want to work on. This week I plan to:

Get more sleep. I've been having too many late nights recently, and the black circles and bags under my eyes aren't chic. I want to have 8-9 hours per night. My preferred time to get up in the morning is around 6am, but lately I have been sleeping until nearer to 7 because I have been going to bed too late. I plan to be in bed by 9pm, so I can have a relaxing read, with lights out by 9.30.

Commit to everyday body maintenance. I'm not too bad at this but I want to be better. 1-2 times per week I will exfoliate my whole body in the shower, with scratchy gloves and shower gel. 2-3 times per week I will shave my legs and underarms. Every single morning I will apply moisturising lotion to my whole body. Currently the tallies are 0-1 / 1-2 / 5.

Wash my face after work. As opposed to just before bed when I'm already tired. I'm not sure about this one. I can see the benefit of washing off the day's grime as soon as I walk in the door, and all that lovely moisturiser has longer to soak in. However I don't know if I want to sit there with a pink and shiny face all evening. That's only the first five minutes though, after that I may transform into dewy and ravishing. I've already missed tonight, so I shall begin tomorrow. After a week I will decide if I want to carry on or go back to my old time.

Bonne nuit!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Anglo-Saxon Remembers

In my three years of single days between my two marriages I rented a gorgeous large heritage home with my sister and two other flatmates. One of them was a Frenchman. Probably not the Frenchman you would imagine, this one looked more like a hobbit. But he was still French so my sister and I chose him over all the other people who had come to look at the room.

At the time we had just started attending French night class lessons at a local school so we thought it would be helpful to have someone French around. It wasn’t; he laughed at our trying to speak French rather than help. We quit the lessons halfway through.

One good thing I do remember about our French Hobbit though, was from one Sunday lunchtime when I was sitting at the big antique table which ran along a wide window-seat, with bi-fold windows the length of the wall which had sun streaming in. It was lovely to warm my bones.

I had my lunch there, and from what I was eating I was possibly hungover, possibly. A big bowl of mashed potatoes and peas, with plenty of butter, and a large glass of Diet Coke (obviously I hadn’t been told about Sweet Poison yet).

I was a single girl after all and my Saturday nights involved high heels and cocktails out. No wonder I never had any money...

So sitting there with my hangover lunch and Diet Coke, the French flatmate shuffled past shaking his head. ‘Ah, you Anglo-Saxons, always drinking Coke with your meals' he spat in his French accent. And continued on his way.

Wisdom from a French person - it doesn't come wrapped in pretty words. But I am glad to say I haven't had a soft drink with a meal since.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Week 5 Update

This week I feel like my changes are bedding in. It's routine for me to make a salad to eat with lunch, just as it is to prepare vegetables to steam or stir-fry with dinner. It's routine now for me to have no snacks if I have an after-work drink . It's routine for me to have a piece of fresh fruit in the morning and/or afternoon.

And I don't crave crap food any more. Well most of the time anyway. Once or twice I have thought, some chippies would be nice tonight, but then remember they are not chic, and I stop thinking about them.

Is this really me?

And when in the supermarket I remembered how nice the Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate tasted when I had it a few weeks before, I stopped myself and reminded myself that Dairy Milk isn't a 1-2 squares type of chocolate, it's eat the entire large size in one night with your husband. Not chic. So I didn't buy it and instead had a square or two of the dark chocolate I already had at home.

I really do take it day by day though, as I'm terrified of waking up to how I used to be, Miss All or Nothing. Now I'm Miss (or should I say Mrs) Balanced In The Middle.

My weight is still steady. It hasn't dropped and is similar to the second week but I have noticed my midriff/torso feels slimmer. My stomach doesn't poke out quite so much! I have heard it said before that you can weigh the same and yet appear or measure smaller. I think this is what I am doing.

We were out for dinner this week with a big group of friends for a birthday party. The birthday girl is from Europe and is pregnant. I was talking with her and asking how she was. She said she found it hard eating 'safe' foods and really missed her salads, as she could only eat them if they were freshly washed, so mostly at home. She couldn't prepare them beforehand to take into work or purchase, as this wasn't considered safe.

She is sometimes looked down upon by some as being uptight or too strict and her slimness is testament to the fact she is 'no fun' according to some of the more oaf-ish (my words) people in the group of friends. What she actually is, is European!

Even though I am becoming European in my eating habits, my husband often says I am very European in my dress. He says this European friend and I are the most similar in the way we dress, and quite different from our local friends. I take this as a huge compliment!

I wore a beige wool beret in at the beginning and out of the restaurant at the end as it was a very cold evening, and she said how much she liked it. Praise from a chic European person is high praise indeed.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Girl Crush

I have a girl-crush on Aerin Lauder. I have had for a long time and I think it will last forever. Despite the fact that she is practically American royalty and fabulously wealthy as well, she comes across as very ordinary, in a glossy and polished kind of a way.

In the photos I have seen of her, she hardly wears any makeup, yet her family is a cosmetic super-power. She may be very canny and good at marketing herself and the Estee Lauder company brands, but she seems really unaffected and hard-working.

If I wore my hair long and unlayered and parted in the middle, with just about no colour on my face I would look beyond drab. What's your secret Aerin? What makes you glow from within? Is she like the French girl who wears makeup which looks like no-makeup I wonder?

Any girl crushes you'd care to share?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chic Baking

I felt like I wanted to do some baking today, but not the standard fare that leads to unchic eating behaviour. I was inspired by Stephanie's Skinny Italian biscotti, but sadly did not have a couple of key ingredients so will have to save that recipe for next time.

I decided on Oatmeal Molasses Cookies as I had some molasses and oatmeal and googled some recipes. I blended about three of the recipes together and came up with some very light and delicious cookies.

They lend themselves to eating only 1 or maybe 2 at a time. In the past when I've made cookies (white chocolate and vanilla, yum) it was impossible to stop eating them. Oatmeal Molasses Cookies are the equivalent of dark chocolate in that I can enjoy them in moderation.

This is another of my food criterias I've realised. Can I stop eating it? It is always unchic food which I cannot stop eating once I've started, or cannot have in the house without it calling my name (I'm talking to you, Copper Kettle chips, Sea Salt flavour).

Here is my hybrid recipe for Oatmeal Molasses Cookies:

Preheat oven to 380 deg F or 190 deg C.

Sift together:
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons brewers yeast (optional)

Then mix into the sifted mixture:
2 tablespoons lecithin granules (optional)
2 cups rolled oats (I had only just over one cup so added two crushed Weet-Bix)
1/2 cup coconut threads (optional)

In a separate bowl beat together:
2 lightly beaten eggs
1/3 cup melted butter or vegetable oil
1/2 cup molasses
3 tablespoons honey

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well. Drop spoonfuls onto a baking tray covered in baking paper and bake for 8-10 minutes.

I love that this recipe has no sugar. The more natural molasses and honey provide sweetness. I will enjoy one of these after my lunch with a cup of hot tea with milk.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Simple Changes

Thinking back over the past month since I started this blog, I have made some simple changes which have really made a big difference to how I feel. And I think it's through writing on this blog I have been able to identify them.

I've realised it's only by putting these changes into practice that I've been able to benefit. I need to do things, not just read and think about them. I've always pooh-poohed magazine articles that said 'walk 2-3 times per week' and 'drink eight glasses of water a day'. The tips seemed too easy.

But if you actually do them you benefit. You don't need to throw yourself into something strenuous and life-changing like I thought (and have done, for a short while before I go back to the way I was). The gentle way is the best (for me anyway).

My simple changes so far:

Food and nourishment. Making an ongoing effort to eat 'real' and 'chic' food. Really I could just call it 'real' food, as I can't think of a 'real' food item that is not chic. My consumption of raw vegetables and fruit is vastly increased, and my consumption of lollies, chippies and crappy lunches is vastly decreased.

Errand walking. Last week I walked three times, doing errands. I was gone for 1-1/2 hours, walking most of that time. And it was enjoyable. I said hi to customers I knew, window-shopped on the way and saw cute dogs going for a walk too.

This week I have walked once so far, today. I walked for an hour and twenty minutes, and visited the library, post office and supermarket. I feel physically tired tonight and it is a nice feeling.

No personal internet at work. I started this one today and it was quite hard. It's so easy to 'hop on' and check my personal email, blogs, google reader. But it's never quick, I get distracted, and all those little bits of time (or not so little bits) add up over the day. I got so much more work done today.

I think by sticking to 'no personal internet at work' strictly I will be able to keep up with my work. I was trying to think of ways to outsource jobs (on a very limited budget) and save time, but all I needed to do was work at work. Simple. This will be an ongoing challenge for me I know. One day does not a success make. If I give myself an inch I will take a mile (or give myself five minutes I will take an hour more like).

When these become part of my everyday, I will add more. But less is better for now. Three simple changes that have helped out in the areas that have bothered me the most.

Any simple changes you've done lately that have turned out to be really successful?

Monday, June 21, 2010

How to Look Wealthy

I copied down the following passages when I had a book out of the library called The Rules of Wealth by Richard Templar. I love that a book about becoming prosperous includes sartorial advice. I've read a lot of personal finance books over the years and this is a first.

These notes remind me that I'm never able to hide a lazy-dressing day. People notice and react (mostly subconsciously).

I especially like the last couple of lines of the excerpts about quality and simple lines, and the phrase 'restrained elegance'.

- Excerpt from Rule 22: Only by looking wealthy can you become wealthy

The lack of effort is directly related to the lack of results. The poor look poor. Not because they have to. They wear a uniform that marks them out. If they change that uniform they change their circumstances because people will react differently to them.

We aren’t too far removed from the great apes and they relate to each other based a lot on how they move and look. Those who look weak and needy are treated as such. The powerful will strut and look confident. What I am suggesting is that you need to look powerful and confident. We should all look powerful and confident.

- Excerpt from Rule 23: You need to look powerful and confident

It’s about the way you walk rather than what you wear. It’s about the overall image you project. Dress wealthy and people will assume you are and treat you accordingly. Learn style, class, how the wealthy dress. Look poor and you’ll get poor service. And whatever you do, no bling. Restrained elegance is what we shall aim for. Old money. Quality. Simple lines. Good haircut. Clean nails.

Do One Thing

I seem to be behind on everything at the moment. My sewing room/office is a mess, there is mending to be done and sewing projects not finished. Not to mention cluttery corners which are taunting me.

I have things at work that have been on my to-do list for so long and they directly affect our business, so it’s not good enough that I haven’t done them. Why? I don’t know. Sometimes I’m such a procrastinator. When there are simply so many different jobs/chores/errands to do both at work and at home, often the only course of action is to do nothing. I’m frozen!

Yesterday I thought, I’ll do one thing. I’ll do one piece of mending this afternoon. Not the whole pile, just one. Small bites eat the elephant they say. There’s something to be said for clearing one particular area of jobs, but at the moment ‘do one thing’ is going to be my mantra.

Another behaviour that hasn’t served me well is ‘I don’t have time to do that now, I’ll mend/file/clean it later’ and put it on a pile. Not the right answer! If something won’t take long, I’d do better to tackle it at the time. Otherwise I am doublehandling (and the teetering pile grows bigger).

At work I will also do a series of ‘one things’ within bigger jobs. One step at a time.

Sometimes I really do feel like I’m learning life lessons all over again. All these things I already know, but still haven’t put into practice. Better late than never though, and perhaps stepping through life requires constant reminders.

Sometimes a feel like a failure at Living Well because I have to constantly pull myself up and give myself a talking to. But maybe that's the way humans are. We constantly look for the easy and no-effort way.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Week 4 Update

I'll warn you now, I have a lot to talk about today! Verbal diarrhea as my mother would say.

I can’t tell you how freeing my new way of chic eating is. It’s totally different to how I felt before. When I thought WW points were the only way to get slimmer and I would sometimes (often) decide to ‘not count points that day’ sort of like a day off work, I would eat everything in sight. And preferably bad stuff. Then I would feel sick, bloated and start on points the next day. Yeah, that’s a fun way to live life.

I have used WW points successfully in the past but maybe I focused on dieting too much. Would it be too much to ask that I become gradually and noticeably slimmer while going about my life and enjoying it, no thought required?

If we were asked to join friends for dinner and I was having a ‘strict points week’ I would be stricken with the fear of not being able to stick to 18 or 20 points for the day. Then I would decide, oh well, I’ll have a day off points if dinner won’t fit in, and then... eat everything in sight - crappy food. A day off points never means salad for lunch. Or even worse would have gone to dinner proclaiming, I can’t have that, I’m dieting. I don’t think those words passed my lips, I just dove in.

Of course this week I haven’t eaten chicly 100% of the time. And that’s OK. At the end of Anne Barone’s Techniques book she says it’s a trap to try and change everything at once. You will fail and then do none of it. Better to change one thing at a time. So I’ve decided my first change is adding more salads and fresh food. I’m reshaping lunchtime. Breakfast time is already good, dinner is too.

Here are Anne’s words:

‘I believe the key to permanent positive change is a gradual approach. Try to change too many eating and lifestyle habits at once, your mind and body will revolt. (That is one reason traditional ‘diets’ fail.) A gradual approach will also allow your friends and family to adjust to the ‘new you’.

Yesterday I did something that worked out quite well. After work I always look for something to nibble on before dinner, as well as something relaxing to drink. Knowing the energy from the snacks is held onto by the body while the body uses the alcohol energy to go on I decided to take my cheese and crackers into work. About an hour before I left work I had ten rice crackers (my favourite cracker type, from Weight Watcher days) with ten thin slices of Edam cheese. I wasn’t hungry after work and had a glass of chilled Chardonnay before dinner and no snacks. No snacks, I say!

And I’ve discovered I am so enamoured with vegetables now. When you’re eating faux foods, the bright colouring and artificial flavours make real food taste dull by comparison. It’s slow to turn around (I’m just getting there at the moment) but now I crave the jewel tones of lettuce and celery green, capsicum yellow, red and green, brights whites of garlic and onion, ruby red of tomato, the brilliant orange of carrots and rustic brown of the potato. Whereas before a bag of brightly coloured sweets would excite me now the raw vegetables I am preparing do.

It’s only by doing the hard yards of turning away from the food that has comforted me for a long time that I can fully and truly appreciate real food.

Something that has surprised me – I have always had time to freshly prepare a salad for lunch. Funny that. I initially thought I would have to do a couple at a time the night before. Now it’s a priority not just a thing I should do. Sometimes I don’t get to eat it until 2.30pm if we’re busy in the shop, but I still prepare it and enjoy it.

I used to think of salads as boring and a waste of time, but now I understand they have wet, crunchy fibre, phytonutrients and lots of goodness. When I’m parched at lunchtime a cool and crispy salad quenches my thirst. I really am starting to crave them! And you can’t crave them first, you have to eat them every day (or most days in my case) and then you’ll find you look forward to them. And if you’re eating a salad you’re not eating something else.

I bought a treat lunch yesterday. It wasn’t treat lunch in the baked potato with sour cream from Wendys way though. It was from a cafe around the corner where I bought a coffee for my husband and I in the morning. They have filled artisan bread rolls and I spied one with cress and a tuna/caper/red onion mayonnaise filling. It looked so divine I bought it for my lunch and put it in the fridge. At lunchtime I prepared a salad and ate the roll and then my salad. There just wasn’t enough green in the roll for it to be a complete lunch!

I have also resumed my two brazil nuts a day habit. In the country I live in, our soil is selenium deficient. I have taken selenium supplements in the past, but then found out that two brazil nuts each day provide the recommended daily dose of selenium. I would much rather a couple of yummy nuts than swallow a white pill.

I haven’t even thought about weighing myself daily/weekly like I used to, but I have noticed I am becoming a little skinnier this week and that my main stomach roll is a touch smaller. Small mercies!

I’ve been for three walks also, so that would have helped with my being a bit more svelte. Because my husband and I run our own small business together, we are both able to do our exercise during the day. He goes to the gym, I go walking. I used to go to the gym but I dislike it with a passion. This week rather than put on my exercise clothing and go for an exercise walk, I had my normal clothes (jeans) on and just changed into walking shoes.

One day I went to the post office, bank and supermarket for a couple of things with a tote bag. It was about an hours worth of walking and I got to pop into interesting shops along the way for a browse. The other two days I visited someone in hospital. The hospital is about half an hour walking each way so that worked out perfectly too. It was quite cold so I had my French trenchcoat on, beret, scarf. I just put my phone and sunglasses in my trenchcoat pocket. I felt very Francais walking through the city. It’s far more enjoyable doing errands and walking than power-walking in exercise clothes!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mademoiselle Coco

I have the book Mademoiselle Coco Chanel Summer 62 on loan from the library at the moment. It is the coolest book ever. When I saw it on a new releases display at the bookshop I thought... ooh, I've got to order that from the library. Et voila, four months later I am reading it. Don't tell me I can't do delayed gratification. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – I love the library.

This book is all black-and-white photos, where a young American photographer follows Coco around during the creation of her summer 1962 fashion collection.

In the early pages Coco Chanel is photographed walking to work through the streets of Paris, paparazzi style. She looks like she could wear the same clothing today, her hair, makeup, pearls are all classic and modern at the same time. It’s only the people around her that give the time away as 1962.

My Great-Aunt, who nursed Coco Chanel at the American Hospital in Paris in the late 1960s was recently giving me her review of the latest Chanel movie to come out – Coco and Igor. She was not impressed. She said the entire movie was of longing looks and silence. Apparently this wasn’t exactly what Coco was like in real life. ‘She never shut up!’ my Great-Aunt said. ‘Coco Chanel was forever talking, very fast, and always in French’.

Looks like who wrote this movie didn’t do their homework (or preferred to be arty rather than factual). She also told me there was a lot of explicit nudity in the movie, taken from all angles - side, top... I said to her ‘did you look away?’ ‘Oh, I looked alright!’ she replied. Most of the time I forget she is 76.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Aaah, the Serenity

The title of this post comes from one of the greatest Australian movies of all time - The Castle. If you haven't watched it, put it on your list.

Today the car boot was loaded up with all manner of goodies including but not limited to paper sewing patters, a creme brulee blow torch, a frying pan, wok, socks, slippers, two egg cups, loofah soap, loofah, green tea pot, hair brush, two oil vapourisers, six green tea cups, two espresso cups and saucers, two glass teacups and saucers, one side plate, two measuring jugs, empty ring boxes, a zip coin purse, bikini from the early 90s, two lanyards, a white cotton sunhat, six books and... at least 60% of my magazine stash.

I think I conquered the 100 Things challenge in one day.

Doing it the way I did it was a little traumatic for me though, and I pulled some of the magazines from the pile at the 11th hour. I felt like someone was taking them away from me!. I did things quickly though, not slowly and methodically, and I didn't analyse whether I would actually use it, I just got rid of it. This is good in the initial purge, but taking everything away within 24 hours was the unsettling part.

Now that all this stuff is gone, our office looks much more manageable. I still have things that have to be sorted and taken away, but I feel like I can exhale now. And I know I can be much more ruthless on a day to day basis.

I've only briefly glanced at FlyLady's website a few times, but I remember her 27 fling boogie. Each day find 27 items to take out of the house - and do it quickly, within 15 minutes. Don't take hours floating around deciding if you want to keep or discard something.

In the book I have already quoted from here, 'Younger by the Day' by Victoria Moran, she has another essay called Solution-27. Solution-27 is the belief that 27 is a number that has powerful meaning. 27 signifies completion and putting a problem to rest. Feng shui practitioners advocate moving 27 objects in your home and you can change your life. Victoria says she applies it to clutter. Every day she puts back to its rightful place 27 items.

I wonder if it is a coincidence that 27 is the number both these women use?

The Solution-27 essay is on page 154 if you're passing a bookshop and want a quick read. Do you think Victoria would mind me putting this one on my blog as well as the Postcard from Paris I already have? It's a very cool book to have, not one that can be taken out of the library and read cover to cover. I flick through it when I need a shove.

One of my favourite blog reads at the moment is Faux Fuchsia. She is unstoppable and often talks about being good at 'actioning things quickly' when folk ask her how she does all she does in a day. She's also a gun declutterer. I thought about her words as I fired box loads out the door.

And in the twin spirits of decluttering and thrift, I made a beef casserole in the slowcooker today (it's Autumn here after all). The base ingredients were canned tomatoes, fresh mushrooms, beer and beef stock but I also added the last few craisins (dried cranberries) from the fridge, frozen pieces of capsicum, bay leaves, chunks of pumpkin and other things I had tucked away in the freezer - a tablespoon of tomato paste here, a few rosemary twigs there. My freezer is decluttered and dinner is almost ready. Nice one.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Decluttering Magazines

My mother thinks I'm odd because I'm always either decluttering or going on about decluttering. I have inherited her inability to get rid of magazines. Since I was a young'un I have always loved magazines. I love books too (more so) but don't seem to have the same problem. I do have a number of books but have regular decent cleanouts and are happy to pass them on.

But back to magazines.

At intermediate school I used to have my favourites on order at the local bookstore - English 'Girl' magazine was one of them. It had photo stories with speech bubbles like cartoons. Then at high school I loved English music magazines (Culture Club and Boy George, Paul Young, and all manner of pop and new romantic bands).

Then in my 20s I bought all the Vogues and remember subscribing to US Elle by writing to them from my job at the city council (actually I wouldn't even have been 20 then) with my credit card number. Pre-internet you had to make much more of an effort to subscribe to international magazines.

From my late 20s I started on home interiors magazines like Vogue Living Australia, US Elle Decor and many, many others. The American one with Dominique Browning with the incredible eyes as the editor. And also Oprah. I subscribed to her magazine almost from the beginning but eventually stopped as I couldn't keep up with all the reading.

Are you stressed right now? I am!

I still have most of those Oprahs and I think (I know, humour me) I will read them cover to cover one day.

If my fairy decluttering godmother could wave a wand and make every single magazine in my house disappear I would be happy.

The reason why I still have a lot of magazines despite rigorous decluttering episodes is because they have cost me money. And on some level I believe they have important information for me, if only I had the time to read them.

If I added up how much money I spent over the past thirty years I would be shocked. I think my biggest problem is that I think of magazines as permanent possessions, when actually they should be thought of as disposable.

I would never use disposable plates, dinner napkins or cutlery, because that would be wasteful (and unchic). But I waste way more money on disposable reading and then get stressed out because the disposable reading is piling up because I haven't disposed of it.

And, the Universe is playing tricks on me. Since I stopped purchasing magazines (ages ago, at least a few years) I am given them from everyone I know, and I seem to regularly be gifted subscriptions as well as offered ridiculously cheap deals from the companies.

I feel quite trapped and I swear I am not being melodramatic!

Then I got to thinking, what's the worst that could happen if I got rid of all the hundreds of magazines I have stored in the house, right now, without opening a single one?

Sophie Dahl

Her dressing table is spotless with candles, jars of creams and good light. She's flawless, very feminine, smells delicious, and her hair's always clean whether you see her at a party or drop round on a Sunday.
- Bay Garnett, Stylist, on Sophie Dahl

I re-read this quote often I adore it so much. It inspires me when I'm tempted to get 'one more day' out of my hair and it's my dream to have a sit-down dressing table in the hopefully-not-too-distant future.

It came from the book The Cheap Date Guide To Style which was pretty dire actually, but worth the $1 reserve fee at the library, just for this quote. It doesn't take much to make me happy.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Inner French Girl

I was out having a drink with my husband after work one night last week before we met up with friends for dinner. I was tired and grumpy and complained (yes, again!) to my husband that my drink didn’t even reach the line on the glass. I really can’t help myself sometimes.

I then thought, what if I was Sabine sitting here on the tall stool with her date. Would she be sour and slumped? In that moment I decided to channel Sabine and instantly felt more effervescent inside. My shoulders lifted up and back. I asked my date/husband how his gym workout was and complimented him on his muscley arms (they really are something else, like a tennis ball stuck to each arm).

By channelling my inner French girl I was able to be instantly feel/be more elegant and charming. And we both had a delightful evening. I wasn't Sabine the whole night, but channelling her helped me back into the right frame of mind and it carried through from there.

I will remember this technique next time I am feeling less than chic. The thought originally came from Anne Barone’s Chic & Slim Techniques No. 1 book – the Sabrina technique.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Week 3 Update

This week I have made pleasing progress towards my chic eating goals. And by progress I mean infinitesimal steps in the right direction. I had a salad with almost all of my lunches. Sometimes salad was the main attraction, with leafy things, more solid things and protein, and sometimes it was just a side salad.

Yesterday I had leftover Indian fish malabari curry and naan bread from dinner out the night before. Pre-chic-eating I would have just had the leftovers. Post-chic-eating I added a simple salad of torn lettuce, tomato, carrot and celery. This is big for me. And like anything it will become a habit if I make a point of remembering to do it everyday until it is ingrained.

Then, in the shimmery, perfect haze of future, I will not be able to have lunch without a salad. Dinnertime already includes plenty of veg but who knows, maybe I'll get really adventurous (and more French) and add a salad course then too.

Nary a potato chip has passed my lips this past week. Also impressive for me. Some things I just cannot have in the house and every day make a conscious effort not to buy.

I have had at least one piece of fresh fruit per day. Sometimes two, but mostly one. Just simple things - at the moment apples, pears, mandarins, oranges. In the summer though I love watermelon and strawberries (it's Autumn here in the southern hemisphere).

My weight is the same as two weeks ago and I am fine about that. My stomach actually feels a little flatter (not flat, I hasten to add, but flat-er) and it feels really good not to think 'I'm fatter than I want to be' all the time. Forgetting about that and focusing on eating good food is so much more relaxing.

Too Many Books

'The one thing I regret is that I will never have time to read all the books I want to read'. - Writer Francoise Sagan (photographed above by Sabine Weiss, 1954)

This quote is the story of my life!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chic Lunches

Lunch is a real problem area for me. Often I just don't know what to have. When I come across (or in this case think up) a great lunch I am tempted to start a 'lunch note-book' with lunch ideas.

Today I dreamed up the following:

Warm Pumpkin Salad

Roast in a pan at moderate heat small dice of pumpkin, onion chopped into chunks, a few garlic cloves crushed, big pieces of capsicum and fresh rosemary using a drizzle of olive oil and a tiny drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The balsamic caramelises and is a lot more mellow than when used in a dressing. I planned to add pumpkin seeds also but forgot. Next time!

When the roast mix was cooked I stirred through a small-ish amount of cooked brown rice and topped with torn basil leaves and a sprinkling of grated gouda cheese. Then a grind of salt and fresh black pepper.

This recipe can be served hot, warm or cold. The acid test of course is can I imagine Sabine eating this in her apartment or a cafe. Yes I can. And, it was delicious.

On my mid-week day off work my husband takes our sole car to work, so I either have to drop him in and pick him up, or be organised food-wise for a day at home. There is nothing I like more than a day at home so I very rarely want the car.

I always am organised the day before with dinner provisions, but often forget about lunch. The ingredients for my warm salad above were all in the pantry/fridge/herb pots and dictated the flavours somewhat.

To the roast mix you could also add any or all of carrots, beetroot, kumera (sweet potato) and potato - make them all the same size dice. Any herbs could be used - sturdy ones in the roast mix, leafy, delicate ones at the end. The brown rice could become cous cous and you could add any type of cheese, meat or canned fish for protein.

From Anne Barone's book Chic & Slim Encore I loved her version of Tabouli which I used to make a lot for lunch, but haven't in a while. Revisiting her books reminded me of that recipe and my warm salad lunch was born.

Tomorrow, back at work I plan to use the leftover baked pumpkin mix over lettuce, with a bit of cold brown rice and other raw salad ingredients. The cooked caramelised component really adds a bit of je ne sais quoi to the basic raw salad.

What's your favourite chic lunch? What could you imagine dining on in your Paris apartment?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Transported By Sound

In this new, globalised world we live in, one of the things I am most grateful for is the easy availability of international music. When I was a teenager in the mid-to-late 80s I would read music magazines from England and wait months before the single or LP was available here.

Fast forward (on my tape deck of course) to 2010 and I can read a review on an overseas website or blog about a new French (naturellement) CD, and within a few days have it on loan from the library for a listen, purchased from a local store or on order from if it's not available here. I could buy a download of course, but I haven't ventured into that territory yet. Perhaps I could be brave.

I can then enjoy that music at home and be transported to a different country. By playing a Hotel Costes CD I can feel almost as cool as the establishment itself.

And I certainly feel all slinky and lounge-like as I beautify our home on my day off work with it playing in the background. By listening to a chic hotel's soundtrack I feel inspired to do the little extras about the place to make our home like a French-style boutique hotel.

I love the feeling I get from playing French music at home, both old and new. My number one favourite is probably Edith Piaf. And for more modern chanteuses: Carla Bruni, Barbara Carlotti, Francoise Hardy, Madeleine Peyroux and Keren Ann.

Putumayo have put out some great CDs also - my sister has Putumayo Presents Paris and it is divine.

Loungey electronica is my thing too: Buddha Bar, Hotel Costes and Cafe de Flore compilations, Air (I think I wore the CD out several years ago when I first discovered this band) and Gotan Project - I could listen to Gotan Project CDs over and over - they are all quite similar which was a review criticism of their latest 'Tango 3.0' but that's a plus for me - I love their sound! I first found out about them when Dior released a new fragrance (Pure Poison I think). When I heard the song in the background of the advertisement I was on a mission to find out who produced such provocative and beautiful music.

And of course soundtracks are always fun, such as Amelie, to really feel like you live in a steep side-street in Montmatre.

What are your French music favourites and anything different that I should know about?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Complain Ye Not

Last night my husband said something to me in conversation that I have been thinking about since. He is such an easy-going and good-natured man that I could count on one hand the number of times he has said a less-than-positive word to me since we met seven years ago.

Basically what he said is this: because I am a person who notices the details and has high standards, when there is something that is not done well, that colours the enjoyment for me and then for him because I am unhappy.

It could be a terrible entree in a restaurant or offhand/unreasonable service in a store. But the example that started this brief discussion was mineral water and fruit. This weekend we stayed two nights in a suite (a suite! with a living room as well as a bedroom!) in a gorgeous hotel in our city.

They had a two-nights-for-the-price-of-one deal. Part of the package was ‘daily delivery of fruit and mineral water’. The first day when we arrived there was a dish with four pieces of fresh fruit and two bottles of mineral water on the coffee table. The next day passed with no such delivery.

When I mentioned it my darling husband offered to ring reception. No, they said, you don’t get fruit on the second day but we do bring up more water when we turn your bed down. ‘But it’s here in black and white that it’s a daily delivery’ I moaned to my husband when he got off the phone.

This was halfway through a hugely enjoyable (so much!) two night/three day stay at a five-star hotel where the furnishings are very French and ornate and the whole place is just gorgeous. For the sake of a few pieces of fruit and bottles of water (which was freely available in the club lounge which was also part of the package) I was making my husband unhappy because I wasn’t satisfied.

He said when I am unhappy about something, it makes him unhappy as all he wants in life is for me to be happy. I felt terrible but I am so glad he felt able to speak up about it. Sometimes it takes others to open your eyes and it was quite brave of him to do so.

I want for him to think of me as sweetness and light, as someone who is easy to live with, easy-going and forgiving to others. It is so clear now for me to see myself through his eyes, so this is an area I am going to work on. It’s easy to be self-focused and think how something is going to affect me (and speak of it accordingly). In fact, most of the time I just don't think about it and complaining words simply tumble from my mouth.

What I don’t think about is my sweet husband who really does worship the ground I walk on suffering as I complain (and others around me too – family and friends) about some perceived slight that others may not have even noticed. I already know that I am too sensitive and perhaps could learn to just go with the flow.

My thoughts are to now:

- Think before I speak – is it necessary and kind?
- Stop complaining – incessant daily moans are not good for serenity and happy relationships.
- Appreciate the good things and dial down the times when my high standards are not met. When I think someone else hasn’t reached my 'high standards', look at my own. No-one is perfect, least of all me.
- Remember that ‘high maintenance’ is not an attractive trait.
- Remember that complaining and whining is not chic.

My mum has always said 'if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all'. It applies to a slightly different situation (speaking of others), but I'm going to use it for general everydayness as well.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Week 2 Update

I've been coasting this week, food-wise. I haven't been terrible (not much anyway), but I haven't made a great effort to eat 'real' and 'chic'. I don't know if I've been busy, disorganised or just plain slack. Actually I do know. I've been slack and lazy, and I've let myself slip back into old, comfortable habits.

I need to re-read my first post every day to keep uppermost in my mind what I want to achieve. My goal is to feel slender and chic, and for my husband to feel proud that I am his wife. When I eat gross foods indiscriminately and look and feel frumpy these things will seem further away. Not that my darling would ever say anything to suggest he's not happy to be married to me, but I want to look my best for him and well as myself.

Anne Barone says as much in her Chic and Slim books - French women want to look good for their men, and it's a very effective method.

The next week will involve more planning of meals and more reading of inspirational material to encourage me (my Frenchy books). I also plan to have a salad with lunch each day. Doesn't matter what I have, add a salad. Very French.

My main problem with salads is the preparation time, so I will make a couple of salads at a time the day before and put them in the fridge at work. I know it's better to make them just before you want to eat them, but often I find that's not an option. Better to eat a made-ahead salad than not at all I say.

Living Happily Within Your Means

A recent newspaper article read:

Happy people not too fussed about their pay.

Keeping up with the Joneses makes you miserable. An academic study has found that workers who compare their salaries to those of friends and family are less happy than those who do not.

The researchers questioned 19,000 people from 18 countries and cross-checked frequency of income comparison with happiness and found ‘those who compare more are less happy. There is a negative and significant correlation between comparison intensity and subjective happiness’.

This was published in Britain’s Economic Journal. I do wonder about studies sometimes but I agree with this one.

Since starting our own business just under six years ago, the salaries of my husband and I are a fraction of what they used to be. We decided to pay ourselves what we needed to live, and put the rest back into the business. Not that we used to be huge earners, but to slide back down the salary ladder feels ‘interesting’. You wonder what you are doing it for (‘it’ being self-employed).

The funny thing is, I have never been so happy and so content in my life. And I feel wealthier than I ever have. Our savings are steadily climbing, even on our small income. And while we’re not millionaires with our business yet, we are building up a business which has progressed well in these tough economic times.

I think one of the main things is that we are as frugal at work as we are at home and are happy and content with what we have. Just as we sit on elderly sofas at home which have travelled with me through my first marriage and shared accommodation, we have second-hand desks and chairs at work. These are not in public areas, so it doesn’t matter if they aren’t fancy, new and matching, as long they do the job.

In the city where we live, a city of 1.3 million people, a lot of people keep up with the Joneses. My husband and I don’t. We live a small-town life in a big city. I came from a provincial village (population 8,500). While my husband grew up in the place we live in, he is very down to earth and not too ‘city’ (just city enough perhaps).

Most of our friends and family earn a lot more than us and have all the gadgets and trinkets – frequent holidays to Thailand and Fiji, second homes at the beach, jet-skis, boats and meals out often.

Our friends who have children mostly put them in day-care (because you need two jobs to survive the big mortgage and city lifestyle). I sound judgemental I know, but there is no way I would put a six month old in the care of strangers if I had a choice, no matter how trained they were. No one cares about your child the way you do.

A friend who called in today complained about their 14-month old’s day-care centre not putting her down for her 2½ hour sleep which she needed (the child was running riot at 5pm). ‘She would be lucky to get half an hour there’ the mother said. My mind was spinning. Why would you do this? I wanted to say.

This is a family who chose to buy a home on a 100% mortgage, knowing they were planning to try for a baby a year or two later, and who regularly travel and eat out. They have chosen the two-income lifestyle. For the most part they seem happy, but I also know they have financial stress. They think it’s funny and quite novel that we are so frugal (and we don’t trumpet it, if they knew half of what we do!).

Another couple we know, the wife complains every time we see her about how hard things are, how they can't afford anything. And they have more than a lot of people (including us), she just can't see it. It's actually to the point that we don't make plans to see them, she's just too depressing to be around!

And from what I’ve read, it is like this in Europe and particularly France. Young couples starting out don’t feel the need to have everything new, rather they have items gifted to them from their family. And they value serenity, happiness and experiences over possessions and presenting a fancy front.

I didn’t get any old family antiques, but while we rent, my husband and I use what we have. Because of investing in our business we have yet to buy a home just yet. Everything we have is in the style we like, it’s just... older. I am really, really looking forward to the day we can purchase new sofas – the ones I have on my list are like Coco Chanel’s ones in her Ritz Paris apartment – but I actually saw them in Frasier Crane’s place on the tv show.

We have also talked about buying the best bed we can, in about three years. After staying in fancy hotels now and then, I can still remember the amazing night’s sleep I got on a bed which was like lying on a cloud (firm, yet cloud-like, heavenly in fact). Looking forward to these things is half the fun, and we certainly aren’t running out tomorrow to put these things on credit. When we buy them they will be paid for with savings.

I really do believe that the less you want, the happier you are. I’ve proved it to myself.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I have the most wonderful book out of the library at the moment - 'Parisiennes: A Celebration of French Women'. It is filled with vintage black and white photos and some more recent ones of... women in... Paris.

Sprinkled throughout are brief essays on different aspects of the Parisienne's life (essential topics like love, appetite, elegance and flirtation among others) written by such people as Mireille Guiliano and Carole Bouquet. This book really is a feast!

Below is one of my favourite essays from the book which evokes thoughts of the idealistic Paris life. One could imagine one really does live upstairs in a bijoux Paris apartment, sparsely furnished with well-worn pieces of furniture passed down through the generations.

'Work and Play'

It was my father who made me proud to be a Parisienne. It was through him that I fell in love with the quarter he believed to be the most beautiful in all Paris, home to the Louvre, the Opera, the Tuileries, the rue de Rivoli, place de la Concorde... I know every last nook and cranny. My current typical Parisienne day? I get up at seven a.m., tumble down the stairs and out onto the street for my first cup of black coffee at the pavement cafe nearby. I listen to the day’s talk, and breathe in the atmosphere. Then I climb back up the stairs for a few hours of writing. On the stroke of eleven a.m., mission accomplished, I interrupt my solitary labours for the beginning of my second day, the one with people in it.

What shall I see today to enrich my heart and soul, my daily life? For the Parisienne everything is urgent, important, joyous – provided your schedule is organised down to the last fifteen minutes! I try to organise my outings into ‘bouquets’: a visit to the doctor on boulevard Raspail will be accompanied by a trip to the Gallimard bookshop, with an outer loop taking in the grocery department at the Bon Marche for designer sardines, rare coffees, and other delicacies.

Should I include in my account of Parisienne hyperactivity all those things I haven’t yet done, and absolutely intend to do some day – a visit to the Musee Guimet, to Delacroix’s workshop, to the tribal art at the Musee du Quai Branly – not forgetting all the things I’m dying to do again, such as another trip to the Picpus cemetery, the place du Tertre, the Petite Ceinture tramway, the gardens at the Musee Rodin, the Parc Montsouris...

Active life, Parisienne style, is lived at a hurried – not to say furious – pace, and quite capable of being filled to the brim with shopping, fashion houses, trips to museums and theatres, strolling and idling, outings into town, and furtive escapades to the green spaces beyond.

Paris pulls you in every direction at once, keeps you constantly on the move, whether to avoid something, admire something, buy something, or let a tiny detail pierce you to the core, so that nothing is missed in the great spectacle of a bubbling, effervescent city. Thank goodness for tomorrow, I tell myself, and the chance to make up for lost time!
- Madeleine Chapsal
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...