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2018-01-21T00:57:53.424Z
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Christmas is just a few days away (not to stress you out or anything) and I was shocked to realize that, in fourteen years of Chocolate & Zucchini, I have never offered an actual post outlining how to host a French holiday meal.

So whether you’re seeking to add a little Frenchness to your holiday celebrations, attending your first bona fide French holiday meal this year, or even hosting one (gah!), let me break things down for you, and suggest some winning French holiday recipes.

Christmas and the New Year

French families get together for a Christmas Eve dinner (le réveillon de Noël), and often there’s a second meal for Christmas Day lunch (not breakfast or brunch), either with the same cast or with a different part of the family.

Christmas is largely celebrated in the home; most restaurants are closed that night for staff members to celebrate with their own family. It is considered an intimate occasion reserved for family members and close family friends, so if you are a guest from outside the family, it’s a big deal. Presents are opened either after dinner on Christmas Eve, or in the morning on Christmas Day.

The French New Year’s Eve (le réveillon du Nouvel An) is often celebrated with friends rather than with family, and it is more of a grown-up occasion. If there are small children, they will...

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You have no idea how excited I am about this.

What I have for you today is a recipe for Mexican chocolate discs that you can make at home in 15 minutes, wrap up, and give to your friends and family members this holiday season to gain their eternal admiration, love, and gratitude. Not a bad return on your investment, right?

If you’re not familiar with Mexican chocolate discs, let me explain. They are round pucks of coarsely milled chocolate flavored with a little cinnamon, wrapped up in paper, that you buy in stacks.

The official way to use these chocolate discs is to break them up into sections — conveniently marked on top of the discs — and melt them in water for hot chocolate, using a little corn starch for thickening. You can sprinkle a little more ground cinnamon over your cup, and ideally you will serve these steaming cups of champurrado with freshly fried churros, because YOLO.

I’ve never been to Mexico myself, but I have had Mexican clients on my private walking tours (you know I offer walking tours of Paris, yes? get in touch to know more if you’ll be visiting soon!) and...

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This post is made possible by the support of La Maison du Coco. More info below!

My pantry doesn’t feel quite right if I don’t have a stack of coconut milk cans handy. I find a million and one uses for them, and I wanted to share some of my favorites with you today.

A cornerstone of Southeast Asian cuisines, coconut milk is the liquid that is pressed from the grated flesh of a fresh, ripe coconut. (It is different from coconut water, which is the clear liquid that’s in the center of young, green coconuts.) And for those of us who don’t live where coconuts grow, coconut milk is mostly available canned.

And once you have a couple of cans stacked up in your kitchen cabinets, what do you do with them? Here are 10 delicious things to do with coconut milk.

The coconut milk I get from La Maison du Coco

The coconut milk I like to buy is from La Maison du Coco, a French company that works with coconut growers in the Philippines to offer certified organic and fair trade coconut milk. I find...

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It’s never too early to fall in love with Paris!

Whether you already have a young Francophile on your hands, or want to stimulate the interest of your child, your nephew, or your friend’s kid in the City of Light, here’s my selection of tasteful and whimsical gifts for all ages.

Gorgeous books, fun toys, colorful stationery, French learning games, cool shirts…

All of them are great opportunities to discuss French culture and history, and they will prompt many questions you’ll love answering about this glittering, inspiring city. You may be so charmed that you’ll decide to order them for yourself, too!

Best Gifts for Paris-Loving Kids

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We’re just a couple of days into January, and already you are being assailed by messages of diet this and detox that.

And certainly, you will feel the pull. Who wouldn’t? It’s everywhere, and you feel a little food-ed out from the holiday celebrations. But. There is more than one way to handle this feeling, and I’d like to offer an alternative to self-punishment.

Instead of diving head first into group guilt, self-loathing, shame, restrictive eating, imaginative cleanses, and the inevitable backlash they breed, consider directing these vast (VAST!) amounts of time and energy and brain juice toward making peace with food and with your body.

It’s revolutionary.

I don’t believe anyone passionate enough about food to read cooking blogs — or, um, write one — has a perfectly carefree relationship to food and body image. In fact, I’ve long surmised that many of us food bloggers start their blog in part to make sense of that relationship; I know I did.

And it’s no wonder, friends. We live in profoundly body-obsessed societies that hold up impossible standards for us to beat ourselves up over. And French women, with their worldwide reputation of slim figure and effortless elegance, are in no way immune to this. I don’t remember a time, past the age of nine or ten, when I was a-okay with the...

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How did your November turn out?

Mine has been a little bit of a blur. 2017 has been a year of planting seeds for me, and some of them have sprouted and grown a little sooner and with more vitality than even I anticipated. All of a sudden I have a whole garden of young things to tend to. It’s a good problem to have, certainly, but add to that two small children — including one who’s not sleeping all that well — and you have to manage your mind even more carefully.

I remind myself that overwhelm is not a function of how long one’s to-do list is; overwhelm comes from not knowing what to do first. So I work on keeping that to-do list realistic, yes, but also maintaining clarity on what my priorities are. Does that resonate with you in any way? (If it does, have you already received my 3 Secrets of Productivity?)

Anyway. Amidst said blur, here are the things that brought me delight:

• The Atlas Obscura website, all about the quirkiest and most surprising places on Earth. I recommend their newsletter — I find myself wanting to share just about everything on social media — and you can dive into their newly created food section, Gastro Obscura.

I haven’t seen their book Atlas Obscura...

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A love of cooking and baking often goes hand in hand with a creative streak. It’s certainly what drew me to cooking in the first place! And I find I need to feed my creativity beyond the kitchen, so I make sure I carve out time for drawing, painting, and lettering.

If this is you, too, or if you have an artistic friend or relative to shop for, I have put together a round-up of the tools and books and classes that keep me inspired and joyful year-round.

So here’s my selection…

Best Gifs for Creatives

Start Where You Are

An uplifting journal for self-exploration that encourages mindfulness and creativity, gorgeously (gorgeously!) illustrated by Meera Lee Patel.

20 Ways to Draw Everything

From amazing illustrators Lisa Congdon,‎ Julia Kuo,‎ and Eloise Renouf comes this lovable sketchbook. Each double-page gives examples of the many ways one can draw a certain plant, animal, or everyday object, with lots of room to copy or riff or invent your own.

My Favorite Dotted Notebook

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Our relationship to beauty products says so much about ourselves: do we spend a fortune on tubes smaller than our pinkies that promise to erase any proof that we once smiled? Have we been buying the same stuff, month in, month out, since age fifteen? Do we follow the (totally unbiased) magazine reviews and share in the enthusiasm for this or that new molecule? Do we lose sleep over sulphates, chlorides, glycerines, and nano-particles ?

Do we go full granola and… make our own?

If you’re in the latter camp, but feel intimidated by the long lists of exotic ingredients you would have to special order and then store in some cabinet until they rot or stale, this post is for you!

I’ve put together this list of quick recipes for homemade all-natural cosmetics, selecting ones that are very easy to follow. You can often make them your own by swapping ingredients for ones that will work best for your skin type, and the best thing is, they mostly use ingredients you already have at home!

No excuse not to give them a go, and any of these would make a lovely homemade gift this holiday season.

Homemade Face Scrubs for Every Skin Type

This recipe is a mix-and-match formula for face scrubs. So, no matter what...

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Current enrolment to Food Blogger Pro will close on November 21, 2017, so I’m sharing my review with you!

If you’re a Chocolate & Zucchini reader, there’s actually a good chance that you have a blog of your own, or are thinking about starting one.

And whether you’re just in this for the fun of it, or have ambitions to turn your talents into an occupation that pays the rent, I’m sure your number one goal is to grow your food blog: blogging is such an all-consuming activity that it’s natural to want the greatest number of eyes on the fabulous content you strive to create.

This means working really hard to hone your craft and put out content you’re excited to share (if you lie sleepless because you can’t wait to hit publish in the morning, you’re doing it right) but it also means staying in the game in terms of social media and, for those with professional goals, monetization.

And when it’s just you and your computer, these considerations can easily throw you into overwhelm mode. There are dozens of avenues you could explore and research and experiment with, but you only have so much time in your day (or your nights and weekends, if you have a regular job...

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France is such a beautifully diverse country, I want to make sure you see and taste the best it has to offer! When it comes to Paris I’ve got you covered (ask me about my tours!) but there are many other places with exciting and delicious things for you to experience. So I’ve asked a team of French bloggers from different cities to share their favorite spots, and I am offering them to you in this series.

In Grenoble, Valérie recommends…

Valérie Décoret is a pastry chef who’s passionate about travel and photography. She takes us on a tour to discover Grenoble, her hometown and the capital of the Alps. She writes the blog I Love Cakes, in which she shares her love for authentic things and delicious desserts.

The perfect day in her book is a beautiful autumn day in the countryside, with a walk in the forest and an elaborate meal prepared with her family. Follow her on Instagram, too!

A market or food shop: Marché de l’Estacade

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Quick announcement before we begin, for the Instagram enthusiasts among you!

The good people of Food Blogger Pro, a blogging resource site I belong to and love, are hosting a Free Live Q&A this Thursday, November 9, at 12 pm CST / 1 pm EST / 10 am PST / 7pm Paris time, to discuss how they grew their Instagram community to 500K members. I’ll be listening in; register to attend too!

And now, on to the recipe…

~~~

Picture in your mind a love story between a Belgian waffle, square and sturdy with deep grooves, and a chouquette, puffy and dainty with a soft heart.

Immediately they would see that they have pearl sugar in common. The waffle would make the chouquette feel safe, and cared for; the chouquette would give the waffle a sense that life is full of whimsy.

Now, what would happen if they had a child together?

This is what would happen: a chouquette waffle, crisp around the edges, tender inside, easy to love, with sugar crystals.

In my kitchen, its destiny was sealed on a Saturday afternoon* when I had choux pastry leftover from an éclair test the day before, but not quite the...

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In addition to planning my menus, I have been doing more and more batch cooking these past few months.

The idea of batch cooking is to block out time one day of the week to prep or cook a bunch of ingredients in advance, which you can draw from and combine for low-effort homemade meals the rest of the week.

It is the shortest path to feeling like a kitchen superhero, saving you brain juice and money along the way.

And today, I am offering you the vegetarian batch cooking plan for fall I’ve created and test-driven with great success: 1 hour of prep work for easy 6 meals on subsequent days.

  • Meal #1: Peanut Noodles with Kale and Mushrooms — the noodles of your choice in my deliciously peanutty “magic sauce”, with garlicky sautéed kale and tender mushrooms.
  • Meal #2: Fall Buddha Bowl — a plentiful bowl of flavor with bulgur, beet hummus, a raw kale salad, and crispy falafel, topped with roasted peanuts.
  • Meal #3: Warming Red Lentil Soup — a warming bowl of soup full of immune-boosting ingredients to keep colds at bay!
  • Meal #4: Lemony Bulgur Salad with Feta and Mushrooms — a filling salad of bulgur with tangy feta, marinated mushrooms, and raisins.
  • Meal #5: Toad-in-a-Hole Toast with Beet Hummus — a kid-friendly favorite served with...

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Hey, you know what I did fourteen years ago, like, to the day? I went ahead and created a blog! About food! And I called it, wait for it, Chocolate & Zucchini. Because it had a nice ring to it, and I liked chocolate, and I liked zucchini (and fortunately still do).

It has been an utterly amazing fourteen-year ride, and most of my life’s blessings have come directly or indirectly from that single decision.

Where and who would I be if I hadn’t created C&Z? It’s anyone’s guess and it makes me a little dizzy just thinking about it, but I can’t imagine possibly finding a more fulfilling, happier life path. (It’s a good feeling.)

To celebrate, I’ve put together this little bonus for you:

First, I want to thank you, whether you’ve been reading for fourteen seconds, fourteen weeks, or fourteen years. None of this would make sense, or even be possible, if it wasn’t for your interest and your readership.

I have done a lot of learning, thinking, and growing over the past fourteen years, and I want to pass on these fourteen lessons for blogging and life. I hope some of these resonate with you. I’ll look forward...

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Happy fall!

It’s been a wonderful month of September for me, full of exciting projects and bursting with fresh ideas. Here are some highlights.

• I have scheduled a full day of recording later this month, to capture the material needed to craft my pre-order bonus for Tasting Paris. Tasting Paris is my new cookbook that will come out in North America* on March 20, and to reward early buyers of the book, I am putting together an exclusive bonus that I think you will like very much.

(Anyone who orders the book before March 20 will get it, so you can pre-order it as soon as you like; you’ll just need to email the receipt to a dedicated address when I announce the pre-order bonus is ready.)

• I started writing a novel — something I’ve been wanting to do for 30+ years — and I am working on it daily in short bursts of Wild Writing (a technique taught by Laurie Wagner) and I am planning to participate in NaNoWriMo. Have you ever taken part? Have you written novels yourself? Do you know how impressive that is?

• I’ve been writing for MindBodyGreen, a popular lifestyle and wellness website, and in my most recent article I share The Instant Cold Remedy French Women Rely On —...

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If you’ve been feeling blah about the official arrival of fall this week, I have a lovely and easy recipe to make you feel every shade of happy about the shift of seasons and the new produce it brings.

{Related: Never sure what’s in season when? Grab my free seasonal produce calendar right this minute!}

Today’s recipe is a simple dish of noodles dressed in a peanut sauce, and tossed with garlicky kale and sautéed mushrooms.

It is the kind of vegan dish that feels satisfying and savoury. One you can serve to conventional omnivores without them complaining about being fed rabbit food; one that you will look forward to when you go home to make it on a weekday night and suddenly realize that, wow, the days are getting shorter fast.

These peanut noodles with kale and mushrooms taste vibrant and rich, they are nourishing and well-balanced, and they also fit easily into a busy schedule. You can have it ready in about 30 minutes start to finish, and you can break down the preparation by preparing the sauce and sautéing the vegetables the day before, and cooking the...

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The fall is near, students are going off to college, and young adults are moving into their first apartment.

Outfitting a kitchen for the first time can be daunting: there’s so much stuff available in cookware stores, what does one really need?

I have put together a selection of (what I consider to be) kitchen essentials for beginner cooks, allowing them to spread their wings and begin their cooking life on a solid foundation.

You will notice that I did not select the cheapest option for each item, but rather I picked models that will last a lifetime.

Certainly each cook will have to adapt the selection to their financial constraints and see what they can afford. But if you’re the parent, the big sister, or the older friend who wants to get them something nice as a housewarming present, this is what I would wholeheartedly recommend.

You’ll be giving them the gift of learning to cook with equipment they can trust, and these are pieces they’ll take with them from one apartment to the next.

They’ll hold that saucepan in their hand for decades, remembering the pasta days of their youth.

For the experienced cooks among you: is there anything you would add to my list? If you had to start again from an empty kitchen, what would you get?

The Essentials

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This is a strange time of year, when the universe conspires to tell me summer is over — Paris is again full of life and the kids are back in school — but I want to prolong the feeling of it for just a little while longer.

My favorite way to do this is to continue, for another couple of weeks or so, to sip cold-brew coffee that I prepare at home.

My earliest memory of iced coffee comes from making café frappé at my parents’ house in my late teens. We would make coffee from instant coffee granules, pour it with some ice cubes in a promotional plastic shaker we’d received from the brand of instant coffee, and shake shake shake, shake and shake some more. The sound of the shaking was at least as delicious as the beverage, and my sister and I felt very sophisticated.

I confess I have become a leeeeetle bit of a coffee snob in the two decades since, and now I would not touch instant coffee granules with a muddy stick, unless I found out it can be used as a natural cleaning product of some sort.

(Related: My Best Gifts...

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Amsterdam As A Family

French children had a school break in October, and we decided to spend a week in Amsterdam.

It’s a city Maxence and I are quite familiar with, having spent a number of long weekends there over the years, pre-kids. We were delighted to find it is a very family-friendly city, and we had a wonderful time strolling along the canals, exploring local playgrounds, dodging the bicycles, and spotting as many Fiat 500’s as we could.

Some highlights were:

  • Renting our own boat to sail along the canals,
  • Visiting the Nemo science museum,
  • Having dinner at Café Restaurant Amsterdam,
  • Shopping for food at the organic market on Noordermarkt,
  • Stocking up on delicious and gorgeously packaged chocolate at STACH food,
  • Marvelling at the amazing organic salads served at SLA,
  • Finding a wonderful local sitter so we could have a couple of evenings to ourselves! ;)

For many more tips and recommendations, check this Instagram post where readers contributed their own favorites.

Tasting Paris Audio Bonus!

Just before we left, I spent a whole day with my producer recording the audio bonus that I will be offering you if you pre-order my cookbook Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes to Eat Like A Local.

It’s an audio...

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This post is made possible by the support of La Maison du Coco. More info below!

I am dedicating this particular post to the beautiful souls who follow me on Instagram, several of whom clamored for this recipe when I shared a casual shot of it in my Instagram story a few weeks ago.

“What is it?” they asked collectively. “It looks really good! Where’s the recipe?”

In truth, it is a recipe so simple, and one I make so often and with such ease, that I hadn’t thought to share it until then.

And I am glad indeed for the nudge, because it is the kind of dish that I would happily eat, in one variation or another, every day of the week, every week of my life. I can only assume, if it is true for me, that it will be true for some of you.

So there you have it: my recipe for red lentil curry (or dhal) with roasted cauliflower and crunchy coconut chips.

It starts with a tray of cauliflower florets you slip into the oven to roast until brown at the edges.

While that’s...

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This is a guest post by Anne Elder, my friend and former assistant, who has lived in Paris long enough to know the city like the back of her hand.

Anne is the writer behind Hardly Snarky, where she shares her stories of delicious adventures. She learned how to cook in the tiniest kitchens of France and how to taste cheese in the Jura mountains.

She now lives in New York, where she works as a freelance writer and social media consultant. She still has a tiny kitchen. Follow her on Instagram!

As Paris becomes easier to reach via layover en route to so many European cities, I’ve had several friends come to me overwhelmed by the many ways to spend their precious few hours in the City of Light.

This 24-hour guide, adapted from the many personalized schedules I’ve crafted for friends, combines must-see tourist sites with the charming streets Paris is known for, as well as some stellar views of the city.

Bring your prettiest walking shoes, and make sure to stop at the closest boulangerie for a nice fresh croissant before you begin, like a true Parisian.

Allez, c’est parti!