Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hot Chocolat

Ummmm. . .  At last a legitimate reason for adults to love Halloween:  a  milk chocolate "pumpkin" filled with morsels of dark chocolate from La Maison du Chocolat.

Morale at an all time low?   Feeling unloved and miserable? Searching for the world's most satisfying comfort food?

It's time for chocolate.  

Doctors, scientists and slinky French women know it's the only serious remedy any time, any place for just about anything. One can always turn to Champagne or red wine, undeniably two great French pick-me-ups, but since Paris is abuzz this week with the latest news on cocoa from the 14th annual Salon du Chocolat it seems irreverent not to pay homage to the "food of the gods".

"Le chocolat is the last thing people sacrifice in a time of crisis," Sylvie Douce, founder of the Salon du Chocolat, affirmed at the opening of the event. 

It's impossible to separate chocolate from pleasure and that's the message coming out of the Salon:  When the economy appears to be in major meltdown mode, place a piece of chocolate on your tongue and as the sweet, sensuous chocolate melts, so do all our troubles.  Pourquoi pas?  

A few fascinating facts about French chocolate lovers:
  • 50 percent prefer chocolat noir; 35 percent, chocolat au lait and 15 percent chocolat blanc.
  • Last year chocolate sales were up eight percent over 2006 to 2.7 million Euros.
  • In a poll from Le Figaro newspaper of 6177 men and women, 87 percent said "chocolate has a positive effect on my morale".
  • Some 41 percent of women respondents said eating chocolate gave them more pleasure than making love.  Hmmmmm.
  • Surprise. Annually the French eat more chocolate than we do: 6.8 kilos and 5.2 respectively.
When visitors to the salon get bored eating the confection they can test a chocolate depilatory product or watch a fashion show of chocolate costumes -- really.

Purple Reigns

The French call it prune, which means plum in English (pruneau is our word for prune), but whatever everyone is calling purple this year, it's cropping up all over the streets of Paris.  Pictured here are a few examples of the season's hottest color -- on and off the runway:  Above, shots from Chanel's fall/winter collection and left mega-mauve sunglasses from Dior.  Below: an adorable silk tank from J.Crew ($78); a baby cable cashmere sweater from Landsend ($109 and FYI, the plain cashmere crew is promotionally priced at $79.50).  Best of all the ultimate accessory, a cashmere turtleneck for your chien from J. Crew ($128, no size large, even in a canine world it's all about size, life's not fair), and off the runway, suede shoes and quilted bag from Dior.

Whether you're a prune person or not, the color comes in so many nuances that certainly there's some little slice of the plum out there you might consider adding to your wardrobe. Just think of the punch purple will give everything you already own -- like all the gray from last year for example -- while at the same time announcing to the world:  "Yes, I get it, this is the color that signals I too know how to make a fashion statement."

If you're into major gestures you could name your child, or one of your domestic animals Prune, it's a very big name over here and a lot cuter than Apple.

**Assuming you simply wish to dabble in the hue, here are some ideas:
  1. A scarf or better yet a big shawl.  Lots of French women have opted for the latter.
  2. Big, plastic bangles -- two on a wrist, the same wrist please -- big, fat beads; amethyst earrings; a flower at the throat of a white or dare I say it, mauve or purple blouse.
  3. A sexy little camisole, great under a strict gray suit.
  4. Nail polish.  I personally don't have the nerve to paint my fingernails, that's waaaay too out there for me, but I'd definitely do my toenails.  I love leaping out of bed in the morning and looking at my painted toenails.  It makes me smile.  Of course it's weird.
  5. A belt or in lieu of the real thing string a pretty ribbon through your belt loops and tie a floppy bow.
  6. A handbag.
  7. Sunglasses or regular glasses frames if you have no fear.
  8. Gloves in leather, wool or cashmere.
  9. Mittens.  Wouldn't that be sweet?
  10. Buttons.  Take all the buttons off your black winter coat and sew on -- anyone can sew on a button and it's not permanent -- prune ones.
  11. A little knit cloche or a beret (!)
  12. Shoes.  Roger Vivier makes his signature silver buckle decorated flats and low heels in a rainbow of divine colors, plum among them.  
  13. A little jacket, maybe in velvet if you can find one.  Remember you don't have to be timid. No one was ever as daring and brilliant with color as Yves Saint Laurent.  When he put purple and red or electric blue or Nile green or neon yellow together it was gorgeous.
  14. An umbrella, a slicker rain hat and shiny rubber boots.  How cool is that?
  15. I'd suggest lipstick, because heaven knows they're out there, but think that's a tough call.  And let's not even think about eye shadow.
  16. A pochette peeping out of the pocket of your blazer or suit jacket.  Try the men's department.
Et voila.

**If anyone knows where I could find paper-thin, long-sleeved silk T-shirts in a slew of colors at not break the bank prices I would love to hear from you.  


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ode To An Apple a Day

A couple of years ago I asked our generalist to give me a little "help" with my diet.  Since French doctors are renowned for writing prescriptions for just about anyone for just about anything, I was sure he would happily prescribe a little something that would effectively assist me in achieving my goal to look more like my French girlfriends.

I told him I was seeking a French pharmaceutical solution, a bullet d'argent, if you will.  This is what he told me:  "There are two secrets" -- I'm getting really excited at this point -- "the decision and apples."  Pardonnez moi?

Now, this is a man who would give me, no questions asked, a prescription for Xanax and Prosac on the same visit -- to our house I might add -- and was refusing to give me a tiny pill to curb my appetite. I was desperate, miserable and clearly not ready to move ahead with my plans.

Several months later I took his advice.  I made the decision and before stocking up on apples confirmed my resolve by scheduling an appointment with Claire Brosse-Dandrieux whom I now believe to be the best nutritionist in the world.  

As we move along I will tell you everything she has taught me:  how she breaks all the rules; how I've changed my eating habits; and yes, sadly, the daily battles with those ugly recurrences of my undisciplined self when confronted with certain irresistible objects of temptation. 

I've had great victories, minor digressions and a few major setbacks.  As I'm sitting here now on my expanding derriere I'm wrestling with the decision to lose the four kilos -- 8.8 pounds -- I've accumulated since my daughter's wedding in early September. (I admit there was rampant laisser-aller prior to and since the big event.)  In a perfect world I would like to lose seven kilos before the holidays.  Unlikely, but I'll keep you au courant.  There is a shiny Granny Smith sitting on my desk, right next to a big bottle of water.

        Apple Info
  • They control hunger longer with their high fiber and natural fructose content.
  • Apples are cholesterol and sodium free and high in pectin. (Ed. Note:  You probably knew this.)
  • One medium-sized apple contains a mere 80 calories.
  • They are an excellent source of dietary fiber; four grams per apple.
  • They are high in complex carbohydrates -- 22 grams -- and contain the valuable trace mineral Boron. 
Except for one friend who never leaves home without a couple of hard boiled eggs to stave off a snack attack, the majority of my friends are packing apples; so is our doctor, he usually eats three per day.  Claire likes them too and recommends homemade applesauce as the perfect after dinner dessert.  She says it makes us sleep like a baby.  

Please write to me when you have a moment.  My blog consultant tells me that for those of you who had problems with the "comments" option you have to take about 30 seconds or so to sign into blogspot. In answer to one question I received by e-mail, the contents of the white plastic Avene compact is a super creamy foundation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Compact Solutions

Eau Thermale Avene Compact Teinte - Tinted Compact for sensitive skin may not be the little jewel you want to whip out of your "It" bag, but remember beauty comes from within.

French women are remarkable for four very specific reasons:  discipline, realism, pragmatism and charm.  I see these qualities in every aspect of their lives from their marriages to their well-thought-out wardrobes.  What started out as shock and awe when I first arrived in France has turned into unabashed esteem for their lucid philosophy of life.  

Never dull, ever reinventing themselves and always active, French women of a certain age are formidable forces of nature and thus irresistible to watch, admire and emulate.  

In my quest to assimilate the positive and forget about the negative I've turned to gynecologists, dermatologists, pharmacists, generalists and one plastic surgeon for their learned counsel.  All are women except for our family doctor who looks like a rock star with his perpetually tanned, unshaven visage, slim jeans, light blue oxford shirt and navy single-breasted blazer, but I digress.  (He makes house calls.)

Back on message:  Dr. Elizabeth Achard, the above mentioned plastic surgeon, recommends a great makeup that doesn't require application with a sharp surgical instrument, has a SPF of 50 and works equally well on camouflaging spots, blotches and those pesky post surgical scars one might have after "a little freshening up" procedure.  (Note teeny picture above.)

She uses it daily and I have the compact with me at all times for those annoying breakouts we're not supposed to have at our age.  Since it's creamy I find it's not the best solution when the temperatures soar -- I've got another product for those days -- but it's great for the rest of the year.  

Monday, October 27, 2008

Water Works

First thing every morning I squeeze the juice of one of these into a tall glass of water.  Then I drink it.

To prove my dedication to the seriousness of my mission I have slathered myself in creams, serums and various other fluids.  I've ingested revolting herbal purifying liquids, the freshly squeezed (unsugared, of course) juice of thousands of lemons, every imaginable tea for untold numbers of unimaginable problems and enough water to fill a small lake.

Oh yes, I splash with demonic devotion in aqua gym classes at least three times a week, sometimes five when I don't have to be someplace that requires dry hair, and I'm walking, walking, walking.  Sometimes I strap weights to my wrists and swing my arms like a maniac.  Fortunately my jaunts are confined to the fields behind our house and my companions are our two dogs who don't care what I do or how ridiculous I may look as long as they can trot along with me.  

To my delight I recently learned that one water exercise class equals two times the benefits of the equivalent workout in a gym.

Coming up in the next few days -- two regular features:  Recipe de la Semaine and Idea du Jour.  Every week you can try a new weight conscious recipe.  French women may not get fat but they definitely go on serious diets from time to time.  And once a day you will discover tips on beauty, well-being, living well, style, charm and much more. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nobody Does It Better

Diane de Poitiers, the adored and pampered mistress of King Henry II.  He was 16 and she 35 when he became besotted with her beauty and joie de vivre.

For many years my preoccupation, bordering on obsession I admit, has been:  Why do French women d'un certain age look better than the rest of us?

Let me hasten to clarify:  They don't necessarily look younger than we do, but for the most part they do look better and definitely present themselves in a chicer, soigne, more polished package.  Plus, they seem to pull this off with the greatest of ease.  

I needed to understand this phenomenon.  After all, knowledge is power, n'est-ce-pas?

What do they know that we don't?  What do they do that we don't?  And can someone please tell me why everyone who has retained 25 words of French cannot refrain from using the ubiquitous phrase un-je-ne-sais-quoi, "that little inexplicable something," for lack of a better translation to explain why Frenchwomen are so clever at looking stunning?  Merci for nothing.

In no inexplicable terms I am going to tell you what, why and how they do what they do so well. I can assure you un-je-ne-sais-quoi has nothing to do with it.  I know this not only because I've been observing them for the last 25 years, but also because I've asked them what they do and how they do it.  

I've studied them like an anthropologist; interrogated them like a documentalist. To bolster my research I interviewed experts for their quantifiable scientific input and grilled observers for their highly subjective opinions.

Not merely trusting my studious observations or listening passively to explanations from scores of interviews, I've actually done just about everything les femmes francaises d'un certain age do -- every day, all the time, awake and asleep -- in order to scrutinize and absorb the effects and report back on the new me.

I am, if you will, my own science project.  Starting with the hypothesis, "they look better than we do;" followed by the research, "why's that;" supported by extensive experimentation, in this case "imprinting" (a scientific term meaning copying their strong behavioral patterns) and finally the results.

The study has shown the subject (moi) has experienced remarkable improvement though all findings are not, and may never be conclusive.

Even French women admit looking good is not a piece of cake.  It's a continually evolving process.  And as a fledgling work-in-progress I'm applying myself with the ardor of the newly converted.

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