Up until a few weeks ago, I didn't know much about blogs, nor did I ever think I'd want one of my own. The name itself was never too appetizing. Then my friend Emily sent me a link to Chocolate & Zucchini. I couldn't have asked for a more delicious introduction.
Not only does Chocolate & Zucchini focus on two of my favorite things (sweets and healthy foods), it's also about Paris, the place that I called home for 8 months, exactly 8 years ago. It was there that my own passion for good food truly blossomed.
For as long as I can remember, I've always had an incredibly hefty appetite, one that didn't seem to match my somewhat smaller frame. In college, I gained some of the freshman 15, but it wasn't until the summer before I left for Paris that my so-called fast metabolism just couldn't keep up with me.
I was living in a house on Martha's Vineyard with some college friends. My days were spent languishing in a lifeguard chair and my nights were devoted to devouring fatty foods and guzzling a whole lotta beer. Believing that I would always be able to eat exactly what I wanted, I did just that. Scoops of peanut butter cup ice cream from Mad Martha's as a post-work treat, saucer-sized bowls of fettucine at Among the Flowers for dinner, free chocolate chip pancakes at a local church on Saturday nights (random, I know, but I'm a sucker for free food), handful after handful of chocolate covered pretzels while grocery shopping, half a box of sugary cereal every morning before work. I ate mostly carbs and sugar, with an apple thrown in for good measure every now and then.
When I got home in August, I couldn't understand why my clothes didn't fit. I was officially chubby for the first time in my life and didn't like it. Not to mention that I was leaving for Paris in four months and could only imagine what all that calorie-laden French food would do to me.
And so, I'm embarrassed to admit, I went on a "diet" if you can even call it that. Let us not forget that I was your typical clueless college female when it came to eating: I was afraid of all the right foods for all the wrong reasons. Rather than replace my beer and fro yo with fruits and vegetables, I loaded up on lots of fat-free salad dressings, cereals, yogurts and cookies, somehow convincing myself that all this stuff was healthy, because it was fat-free and fat as I learned over the summer was baaaaad.
As my trip to Paris grew closer, I knew I had to continue leading a boring, fat-free loving life or they'd have to roll me off the plane at the end of the semester. Pathetic, I know, but considering my lack of knowledge about food, this ignorance is slightly forgivable.
When I arrived in Paris, my host family welcomed me into their home with a lavish lunch: red wine, fresh baguette, pate, a platter piled high with lamb, a full cheese course, AND DESSERT. What gluttons, I thought! Hadn't they ever heard of a sandwich? It was only 12pm for chrissake.
I had never been a big meat eater, and now with all my new food fears, I decided it'd be best to tell Mme Collantier that I didn't eat it at all. Better to nip that one in the bud than be forced to eat meat cooked extra rare, if even cooked at all. She was not pleased.
On weekends, my new French family gathered around their dining room table for both lunch AND dinner, a complete anomaly to me. At Lafayette, my midday meal consisted of an everything bagel with half a tub of low-fat veggie cream cheese scarfed down on the couch in my dorm room. Never these multi-course affairs that sometimes lasted for hours. Didn't their four children, who were all in their 20s like me, have places to go and people to see? These neverending meals soon became a major source of frustration and anxiety for all of us. They were upset when I didn't show up for them, and I was annoyed when they insisted on inviting me.
To accommodate my sudden stint as a vegetarian, Mme Collantier whipped up a variety of meatless meals (including some of the best quiche I have ever eaten). But it was her insistence on proclaiming: "J'ai fait ca parce que Lia n'aime pas le viande" (I made that because Lia doesn't like meat) every single night that eventually forced me to take a walk on the wild side of eating and never look back --- HALLEFREAKINLUJAH.
It didn't happen overnight, but I'd try a bite of something new here, order something different there, and before long, I was slurping up mussels steamed in white wine and garlic at brasseries, slathering rich chunks of pate on doughy baguette, dunking a buttery pain au chocolat into a big bowl of cafe au lait, scooping up the last meaty bites of a hearty pasta bolognese, sampling all sorts of stinky cheeses, and ending most meals with a thick WHOLE milk yogurt sweetened with just a swirl of honey. Goodbye processed, nutritionless food, hello gastronomic heaven!
In order to make up for lost time, I spent the next seven months eating my way throughout all of France and the rest of Europe. And while even in my third year after college I was still paying off everything from that chicken souvlaki in Mykonos to antipasti served on colorful ceramic bowls at Borgo Antico in Florence, it was worth every single penny.
Not to mention that I didn't gain a pound. I felt better than ever. No longer was I craving a whole box of fat-free cookies when just one scoop of creamy straciatella gelato would do the trick. While the foods I began eating regularly did include fat, and sometimes a lot of it, they were not laden with chemicals and all the other crap that we poison ours with. Plus, I was eating them in moderation which left me completely satisfied and never searching for something else every time I finished a meal (except maybe those delicious Veloute yogurts that I bought in bulk at my local supermarche).
I'll never forget when I tried to call my Mom one day from my friend's apartment. It was around noon on a Saturday and she wasn't home. This being the age before cell phones, I wasn't sure where she could be and pondered the possibilities aloud. My friend's 14-year old host brother Alexi turned to me and said: "Ehh, maybe she went out to buy zum bread?" The funny thing is that he was dead serious. His mere really did go out to buy a fresh baguette, every single day. So to him -- voila!-- that's where my mom just had to be.
When I returned back to Lafayette for my senior year, I started to experiment more in the kitchen, often whipping up elaborate breakfasts and multi-course meals for my roommates and neighbors (including my future husband, Daniel). Gathering around a table to laugh, drink wine and eat good food just because, reminded me of Paris and my time with the Collantiers. Nothing made me happier than eating and eating well.
So here I am, ready to try my hand at this thing called blogging. There are many more layers to my life as a foodie, but this is my first post after all. We have plenty of time to get to the rest, but what's a blog without a little back story any way?
What else will you find on future posts you ask? A list of my favorite restaurants in New York, Rio de Janeiro and beyond (so stop sending me emails for them -- you know who you are -- and come here instead), stories about memorable dining experiences, This Little Piglet moments (such as Tuesday night when I convinced Daniel that ordering three desserts after a two-course dinner was completely acceptable), funny food discoveries, recipes I've tried, food-focused trips I've taken or are planning to take (we're heading to the Pacific Northwest next week and there will be lots of eating!) and much, much more. So please, do come back.