April 7th: Coffee and Cake

You know those days when everything in the universe seems to be absolutely perfect? Where you just want to sing and skip and dance because there’s this insane buoyant gaiety that is totally inescapable? Today was one of those days. Paris put on her finest and was STUNNING today: sunny radiant, beautiful weather with a slight chill and pleasant breeze. The flowers were blooming and everyone was happy. Me included.

So, to best profiter, I took advantage of the weather and walked all over the Marais hitting up two different joints I’ve been interested in for a long time. And took a few shots of the streets along the way. Because I couldn’t resist.

First stop was Boot Cafe, a place I’ve been hearing about on every insider Paris blog as the hipster hangout for a coffee. And let me tell you. There were hipsters. Plenty. And they clearly were regulars. It was amusing and wonderful.

Funny story, this place is actually RIGHT next door to where one of my good friends lived when we were studying abroad. It was always hopping and I remember her mentioning it being a really popular/known spot, but I never ducked in for a cafe and therefore couldn’t judge. The cafe is TINY so be prepared to swing in and get one to go (especially if you go during rush hour or early in the morning. The menu is simple, offering espresso, cortados, americanos, and cafe cremes plus bagels, scones, and such. I got the creme and it was loverly, though very strong. My poor system which has become much more sensitive to caffeine since I dumped my 3 cafe-a-day habit was a little overwhelmed. Rabbit heart all morning. But it was worth it.

I later wandered down Rue de la Sicile to visit another hyped spot, Comme à Lisbonne—a tiny bakery dedicated entirely to the pastel de nata—a Portuguese pastry with the sweetest most perfect cream (think creme brulée in a flakey pastry crust) and cinnamon.

The spot has recently expanded with a restaurant that serves Portuguese delicacies as well as specialty food goods (all the canned sardines you can imagine and more). Unfortunately, I had already lunched when I arrived, but I will definitely be heading back for déjeuner in the very near future.

It was honestly one of the most charming places I’ve ever been in Paris, the staff was friendly and cheerful and chatty and I was loath to leave them. Moreover, I can attest that the pastel de nata is seriously the tastiest thing ever. Not too sweet and just perfectly creamy, it now ranks among my favorite pastries EVER. And if that doesn’t sum up why you need to head to this little haven I don’t know what will.

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Hey there, sugar

First of all, I want you all to promise me that you will kick anyone who says that to you to the curb. Such a deal breaker…and super skeezy. Gross.

But let’s move on to the ACTUAL subject of this post: sugar, or rather, the lack of sugar in my life right now. Yep. This summer I decided to go gluten and processed sugar free, and it’s changed my life.

Okay, before you all start tuning me out, I’d like to dispel any notions that I’m one of those crazies who jumps on every diet bandwagon…definitely not true. For one thing, I’ve never had the patience to stay on a diet bandwagon, I also thought they were stupid. Because seriously, who eats only meat and eggs? Ick. And get rid of carbs completely? Have you seen the food pyramid??? And finally, well…I’ve just always loved food too much. The idea of cutting back or eliminating things depressed me, so I never did it. The day before I decided to cut back my sugar and gluten intake I vowed I never could or would do it. Because pasta you guys. And pizza. Amazing inventions that I never want to go without. Also bread and cake and lovely things….But mainly pasta.

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The super awesome pizza I had the night before I started cutting back on gluten. Best to go out with a bang.

This summer we discovered that  I  have a slight carbohydrate intolerance. Obviously, it’s not enough to mess me up — I’d been eating gluten and sugar all my life and never noticed it — but enough that eliminating gluten/sugar from my diet makes a huge difference. I used to get migraines ALL THE TIME (we’re talking one-a-day during my lowest periods) and I felt super tired after meals. Worse, I had no self control when it came to eating. I always knew when it was time to stop. I knew logically that I would have good food again, and I’d think “You probably don’t need more,”…and then I’d take another huge scoop of pasta. I ended up slowly gaining weight. picking up an extra 5 lbs every year.

So, inspired by my parents (Dad was going to try it too), I decided to try to cut wheat and sugar out of my diet for a few weeks. And here is what I learned:

  1. Sugar is EVERYWHERE. Seriously, everywhere. I mean, the usual suspects are the baked goods. But also mayonnaise. And peanut butter! EVERYWHERE.
  2. I was hungry a lot of the time. There was a lot of idle snacking that had to happen because all the wheat-based foods that filled me up were gone.
  3. You can still eat well. There are so many nommy foods and recipes for those who wish to avoid wheat and processed sugar. That said…
  4. It’s hard to figure out what to eat sometimes. I was basically completely reconstructing my diet, and it was sometimes hard to find things in the fridge that would be new and tasty and filling.

But the changes I experienced were extraordinary. The migraines stopped. I dropped 10 lbs in a few weeks. I had more energy and was happier. It felt so good to be in control and feel more healthy, even my skin was clearer!

That said, this hasn’t been an entirely easy transition. I missed my wheat and sugar like crazy sometimes, and I don’t know if I would have stuck to it if I hadn’t had my mother cooking fabulous gluten/sugar free meals and my dad doing the same process with me. I got the weirdest cravings. I remember a period of wanting brown bread like no one’s business. I kept craving cookies for my tea. And the ice cream…gah! It was summer and there were many a night where I hungered for something creamy and delicious to top of my dinner.

In the end, I got really good at finding substitutions. When I really wanted bread, a warm corn tortilla with a bit of butter and salt satisfied me. When I wanted something sweet, I ate fruit. And when I wanted ice cream I made a cuppuccino — satisfying the creamy crave. It didn’t always work perfectly, but it often helped.

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Homemade cappuccino’s give me the creaminess that I wanted from the ice cream. Not the same, but still good.

That said, I kinda…binged and splurged for a while. First there was my birthday. And you can’t have a birthday without cake, especially when it’s strawberry shortcake, guys. My mom’s strawberry shortcake is ACTUALLY the best thing ever.

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The best summer dessert ever.

Then we went to Houston, and I if associate Houston with anything, it’s food (and a great natural science museum, but mostly food). And, well…I don’t really get key lime pie that fantastic very often. Also I was visiting family who bought me another birthday cake…and it would have been RUDE to refuse that. And then the crème brûlée, and…well…you get the drift.

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Irresistible. Seriously. This stuff is magical.

Suffice to say, despite the tastiness of those treats they did NOT make my body happy. I got headaches, and once (after eating WAY more sugar/gluten than I should have) I felt nauseous and sick all day long. Not so happy. I went right back to no gluten the second I got home. And all was well again.

I think the best part of this process has been watching my diet change. I realized that I’d been relying on bread/wheat to fill my diet. It was dominating my meals. Now, my diet is  much more varied, and I eat a ton of fruit, veggies, and lean meats. I’m discovering all sorts of new foods and recipes I love and I feel so much better when I eat — especially since I’m better about stopping myself when I’m full. Here are just a few new foods:

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Tostadas! So yummy and filling! I love how colorful they are!

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If you are gluten free then Thailand (and Asia in general) is your friend.

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Summer fruits have been my friend. Fresh grapes, nectarines, and blackberries are my favorites!

Basically, this has worked for me. Occasionally I still get cravings for things I shouldn’t have, and occasionally I splurge (in very small quantities). I now allow myself a small square of very dark chocolate per day, if I want something sweet, and I occasionally taste friends’ cake/ice cream. Mostly, however, I stick to the plan and I’m happier and healthier for it. That said, I don’t recommend that every do this. If you feel like you can’t control yourself with the gluten or are tired/headachy a lot of the time, I’d suggest trying to cut back for a while. But otherwise, eat the gluten! Eat the sugar! And enjoy it! But maybe don’t judge if there are fewer gluten/sugar-food based reviews on this blog in the future, because I’m no longer a good judge.

Happy weekending everyone! May whatever you eat be tasty and nutritious!

Let’s eat cake

You know what I love? I’ll give you a hint, it’s in the title. But do you know what is better than cake?

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Cupcakes, of course!!

I love cupcakes. I love that it’s a controlled portion of cake. I love the icing piled high on top. I love the pretty little foils that they’re wrapped in. I love that everyone seems to have their own way of eating them. They are actually the best.

Northfield is also the best. As if we weren’t cool enough for having a fantastic Indian restaurant on our main square. Or The Tavern, where you can get a killer breakfast for just $4.00. Or the new bagel shop where you can get a delicious bagel with cream cheese for just $2.80. (I’m a college student, these low prices are amazing.) No, we actually just became the best with the (relatively) new cupcake shop. Yes, you read that right. We have a shop entirely devoted to cupcakes.

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I seriously think this was the smartest move. Want to make some money? Put a delectable sugar factory within 10 minutes of a college campus. And make that sugar excellent…decadent. Continue reading

Spring Break: Northampton’s Local Burger

S is one of the best eaters I know, so I was spoiled rotten while visiting her in Amherst. One evening she drove me over to Northampton to visit Local — a popular destination for burgers in the area. Since she was always my buddy when I craved a burger in Paris, it felt extra special.

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I ordered an angus burger from a local farm, fries, and a vanilla milkshake. The meal wasn’t extraordinary, but the ambience was great and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I also ate WAY TOO MUCH, but it’s alright. I’ve made up for it since. Sadly I forgot to take pictures of the actual food, but I’m sure you’ll forgive. I think you all have a pretty good idea what the meal looked like.

Spring Break 2013: Amherst BBQ

After my days in New York, I hopped on a bus and rode (for approximately 6 hours) to visit a good friend in Amherst, Massachusetts. As some of you may remember, I met S in Paris, and we’ve been sorely missing each other since our fond farewells last December. As luck would have it, Amherst  has the same break as Carleton, so I got to spend a few days sleeping on her floor and exploring small town, western Massachusetts. We had a blast and spent our days catching up and reminiscing about Paris while knitting, watching old Disney movies, and eating.

Naturally, our first stop was food. I’d been on a bus all day and S, despite her size, has an enormous appetite. So, we piled into the car and headed to one of her favorite joints — Bub’s BBQ. Continue reading

Montpelier Adventures

As I wrote earlier, I had the distinct pleasure of spending my winter break in the mountains of Vermont. Although the better part of this time was spent cozying up with the fam in the country house, I did get to venture down to Montpelier a few times.

Montpelier is easily one of my favorite towns in the U.S. It has a vibrant and lovely downtown area, full of fun and inviting private businesses and nice people who smile at you and wish you a good day. In the summer we always go on Saturdays to benefit from the fabulous farmer’s market and wander the sunny streets. This time of year, however, it is cold and slick so we made a beeline for the warm shops. Here are three of my favorites: Continue reading

Marriage frères

IMG_3646One of my intrepid friends convinced me that we needed a break from our work (or lack thereof) and that we should take it by visiting Mariage Frères one of the oldest tea salons in Paris. It was founded in 1854 by brothers Henri and Édouard Mariage (hence the name) and is one of the most celebrated tea salons in the city. There are currently 4 different salons in the city (the original being in the Marais). While other tea salons (like Angelina) are known for their wide assortment of teas, pastries, and beverages, Mariage Frères’ claim to fame is TEA. As in, you should be prepared for an overwhelming choice of teas and have some general idea of what you want before you go. I have never seen such an impressive menu as I did there. It’s is organized by regions, times of day, type, etc. Continue reading

Found: the Lost Generation’s favorite restaurant (and mine too)

The other night a friend and I (after many days of not seeing each other) decided that we needed to meet up. What better way to do that than over a lovely dinner?

The original plan was for moroccan food (a cuisine which I have been craving of late). I looked up a restaurant, told her when to meet, and after wrestling over whether to make reservation decided that we’d probably be fine. We were going at eight! No worries, right? Continue reading